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How to Spot Dehydration in Farm Animals

| Updated September 26, 2017

How to Spot Dehydration in Farm Animals. Many factors influence the water requirements for livestock including level of activity, lactation, rate of weight gain, pregnancy, diet and environment temperature. Inadequate water supplies can result from evaporation in summer heat, freezing in winter or poor management. Dehydration can be lethal, especially in young or depleted animals, and can promote secondary health problems such as acidosis and kidney failure in otherwise healthy stock. Symptoms of dehydration are similar across species. Read on to learn more.

Observe the animals' behavior. Dehydrated animals may at first appear restless and irritable, and as the condition persists they can become listless and appear to have no energy.

Check the mucous membranes. In dehydrated animals the mouth, tongue, nose or nostrils and eyes will be dry.

Compare an animal's weight with what it was a few days ago or what it should be. Dehydration leads to weight loss because so much of the body's weight is made up of fluid.

Monitor lactation. In lactating animals, notably dairy cattle, milk production slows dramatically or ceases altogether in dehydration.

Look at the eyes. Besides being dry, the eyes of dehydrated animals appear sunken and dull.

Do a skin pinch test. This is especially useful on horses. Grasp skin between thumb and forefinger and pull it up and away from the body. On a dehydrated animal, the skin will remain tented like this for a few seconds. Well-hydrated skin should snap back into place quickly.

Test capillary refill time. Pull back the animal's lip and press your finger against the gum. The resultant pale, whitish spot should turn pink again instantly. If it doesn't, this slow capillary refill time could indicate dehydration.


  • Animals with diarrhea are at high risk for dehydration. Monitor sick animals carefully. The symptoms of dehydration can also be symptoms of other medical conditions such as shock. If symptoms are present, consult your veterinarian immediately.