We pet parents can empathize when our dogs have an upset stomach. Besides being uncomfortable, gastrointestinal upset—namely vomiting and diarrhea—can quickly trigger electrolyte imbalances and dehydration.
While you should always consult with your personal veterinarian whenever your pet is ill, your vet may suggest that you monitor your dog at home and provide therapies for mild conditions.
Since kids (and even adults) rely on Pedialyte to restore electrolytes and combat dehydration, you may be tempted to administer it to your dog when she is experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.
But can dogs drink pedialyte? How does it work? And—more importantly—is it safe to give to your dog?
What Is Pedialyte?
Pedialyte is a commercially-available, over-the-counter oral electrolyte solution specially formulated to help prevent dehydration and maintain electrolyte balance in infants and children. When Pedialyte is consumed and absorbed by the gut into the bloodstream, it will help maintain proper water and electrolyte properties inside the blood.
Pedialyte, which was developed by a physician and is sold by Abbott Laboratories based in Columbus, Ohio, has been available in the United States since the 1960s. Its formula is based on electrolyte rehydration products developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the 1940s as a supportive therapy for children affected by acute gastroenteritis, inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract, and vomiting and diarrhea.
Pedialyte supplies the body with the important electrolytes sodium, potassium, and chloride, which are lost via vomiting, diarrhea, and poor appetite. It contains a higher electrolyte content compared to plain water. It also contains some dextrose, a sugar easily broken down into glucose, the most basic energy source which helps feed gastrointestinal cells to prompt a quicker recovery from gastrointestinal disease.
The electrolyte drink can also help improve pediatric hydration secondary to the stomach flu, food poisoning, sweating caused by heat or exercise, and travel. Additionally, some adults swear by its effectiveness as a hangover remedy. It is also marketed to aid pregnant women experiencing morning sickness.
In addition to its flavored and unflavored classic version, Pedialyte also comes in powder and freezer-pop forms as well as other liquid formulations, including AdvancedCare and AdvancedCare Plus, which contain prebiotics and 33 percent more electrolytes, respectively.
Electrolytes for Dogs: Understanding the Benefits
Maintaining proper hydration and electrolyte balance is as important for the health of your dog as it is for human children. Water makes up the majority of the body composition of both dogs and humans, so staying hydrated is vital for normal cellular and organ function.
Water is also the main component of blood, which helps carry important molecules, such as oxygen, to every cell in a dog’s body. Furthermore, water maintains blood pressure and helps flush toxins out of the body as the kidneys filter the bloodstream.
Electrolytes are essential to preserve water balance as well as aid electrical impulses in a dog’s muscles and nervous system.
Important Electrolytes for Dogs
Key electrolytes for dogs include sodium, potassium, and chloride. These electrolytes are primarily kept in balance by the kidneys and a complex hormonal system known as the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). This balance can become thwarted due to disease processes, such as gastrointestinal upset.
Let’s take a closer look at how each of these electrolytes functions in a dog’s body:
Sodium is integral for water balance. Sodium may be lost from the body due to vomiting and diarrhea, chronic kidney disease (CKD), and endocrine disorders such as hypoadrenocorticism (Addison’s disease). When sodium levels drop too low (known as hyponatremia), dehydration occurs. Severe hyponatremia can cause neurological impairment due to swelling of the brain.
Potassium is fundamental for a dog’s muscle and cardiac contractions. Hypokalemia, or low potassium concentration in the blood, may arise due to poor appetite, CKD, and vomiting. Weakness, incoordination, and poor muscle action result.
Chloride is sodium’s buddy. It tends to follow and bind to sodium as the salt NaCl. Chloride balances sodium and potassium in cellular electrical activities.
These three electrolytes are vital for complex bodily processes, which help keep our pets healthy.
Can Dogs Drink Pedialyte?
Now that you know how important electrolytes are for our dogs’ health, you may be wondering whether Pedialyte can be safely given to your dog.
Small amounts of the classic, unflavored Pedialyte solution is typically safe to be administered orally to dogs on a short-term basis to help replenish fluids and electrolytes lost via mild vomiting or diarrhea.
However, Pedialyte is only a supportive therapy to help manage the symptoms associated with dehydration and electrolyte depletion. It does not stop ongoing fluid losses and is not a cure for underlying disease processes. It also won’t correct severe dehydration or treat significant electrolyte imbalances.
If a pet is sick and dehydrated enough to require Pedialyte, she should really see a veterinarian for treatment, including more effective means of hydration therapy, such as injectable fluid administration. Therefore, Pedialyte should only be given under the direct guidance of your personal veterinarian.
Your veterinarian might permit at-home Pedialyte use for mild, self-resolving cases of vomiting or diarrhea. However, there are other veterinary-approved electrolyte replacements such as K9 Thirst Quencher or Rebound Oral Electrolyte Solution that may also be recommended.
At other times, your vet may instruct you to avoid Pedialyte altogether, as it may worsen gastrointestinal illness or delay other treatments. For instance, your vet may recommend withholding food and liquids for several hours to help calm the stomach if your dog is vomiting. In this instance, Pedialyte use may trigger more vomiting by further irritating an already inflamed stomach lining.
Pedialyte is not a cure for puppies (or dogs) with parvovirus, which causes severe vomiting and bloody diarrhea as well as destruction of red and white blood cells and even death. To improve prognosis, sick puppies should seek veterinary care before being administered Pedialyte at home.
Keep in mind that no published research has been conducted to validate Pedialyte’s safety and efficacy in pets. It is specially formulated to meet the electrolyte needs of children, not dogs, whose needs slightly differ. For instance, the sodium content in Pedialyte is higher than the corresponding canine requirement.
If your vet permits you to offer Pedialyte to your dog, the unflavored form is preferred over flavored varieties. Of the various flavors (including strawberry, mixed berry, grape, bubble gum, and coconut), no flavor is necessarily better than any other though your dog may have her own preference. While real grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs, the grape flavoring in Pedialyte is artificial and does not contain actual grapes. However, the unflavored version is less likely to further nauseate or irritate the gastrointestinal tract of a sick animal, making it a better choice.
How to Give Dogs Pedialyte
When giving Pedialyte to dogs, do not offer large amounts at a time. This can trigger further vomiting.
It may be either diluted as one part Pedialyte to one part water or else offered as is without diluting. Some dogs may be more inclined to drink it plain while others prefer it diluted in water.
Unless otherwise directed by your veterinarian, you may offer your dog a few laps of solution to drink every 1-2 hours. The recommended dose is approximately 2-4 mL of Pedialyte per pound of body weight.
The solution can also be frozen and offered as ice cubes. If your vet has instructed you to feed your dog (likely a bland diet as she recovers from GI disease), you can also pour the Pedialyte dose over food as long as your dog still eats the meal. If your dog is picky, you may dissolve a low sodium bouillon cube to entice your dog to drink the Pedialyte.
Pedialyte should only be administered orally as a free choice to your pet. Forced oral syringe feeding (without a needle) is not ideal. If your dog is sick enough to require syringe-feeding, she is sick enough to go to the vet.
If vomiting persists or returns, discontinue use and consult your vet. To reiterate, unflavored Pedialyte should only be administered to your dog if authorized first by your veterinarian.
Pedialyte Side Effects for Dogs
While unflavored Pedialyte is safe in small doses, it may worsen vomiting in some dogs.
It’s important not to administer more than the amount of Pedialyte your veterinarian recommends. You do not want to overcorrect electrolytes, causing an overdose. High levels of sodium (hypernatremia) can cause high blood pressure (hypertension) and fluid loss from the brain while elevated potassium (hyperkalemia) can cause severe cardiac issues, including low heart rate (bradycardia), abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia), and cardiac arrest in extreme cases.
Since Pedialyte contains higher levels of sodium than is ideal for dogs, dogs with fluid retention, such as those with congestive heart failure (CHF), should avoid Pedialyte in most instances. Also, dogs with diabetes mellitus should likely avoid Pedialyte due to its sugar content.
Flavored Pedialyte contains artificial sweeteners which can further irritate the gastrointestinal tract, may not be suitable for dogs with food allergies, and may interfere with normal gut flora (healthy gastrointestinal bacteria).
The biggest problem that Pedialyte can cause is giving pet parents a false sense of security when a veterinary visit may be necessary. That’s why it’s extremely important to discuss your dog’s illness with your veterinarian first.
Can Dogs Drink Gatorade and Other Electrolyte Drinks?
Dogs should not be given Gatorade or other electrolyte sports drinks that are formulated for humans.
While Pedialyte has its own caveats for when it is safe to be used, it is much safer for use in dogs than other human electrolyte replacement drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade. These drinks can worsen gastrointestinal upset in pets.
Traditional Gatorade contains roughly twice the sugar and half the electrolyte content in comparison to Pedialyte. Additionally, some Gatorade products contain sucrose, a sweetener which can worsen diarrhea (and thereby, dehydration) by drawing water out of the bloodstream and into the gut. In contrast, Pedialyte products contain no sucrose.
Sugar-free sports drinks which contain the artificial sweetener xylitol should also be avoided in dogs as xylitol is toxic to pets, causing low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and liver failure, which can lead to seizures or death. You should also avoid making your own sugar water/electrolyte solution unless advised by your veterinarian since the recipe may contain incorrect amounts of sugar and salt.
In conclusion, avoid sports drinks and only use Pedialyte after consulting your personal veterinarian.
Featured image credit: David Tonelson / Shutterstock.com
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