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Water makes up approximately 60% to 65% of an adult animal body's weight and is essential for nearly all bodily functions to occur. Fluid balancing cats and dogs, including how water's absorbed or secreted is intrinsically linked to the concentration of certain molecules known as electrolytes. You will be familiar with two of these, sodium and chloride. When bonded together in crystal form, they make table salt. Sodium is positively charged and chloride is negatively charged and the balance between the two is vital for normal physiology. Even slight alterations in electrolytes can significantly impact hydration levels in the body and therefore normal functioning of cells and organs. Electrolytes also play an essential role in a regulated body PH, muscle and nerve action and are therefore vital for normal heart and brain function.

Healthy animals, just like humans, will continually gain and lose water and electrolytes each day through normal actions such as urinating, panting, defecating, exercise and sweating. Animals usually replenish these fluid losses via eating and drinking and in healthy animals, regulatory mechanisms ensure that minor daily variations of fluid and electrolytes have a minimal impact on normal physiology. Problems begin to arise, however, when an animal reaches a point where fluid loss exceeds intake, causing the fluid level in the blood vessels and cells to fall below normal levels. This is called dehydration. One of the major results is a drop in blood pressure, hypotension. As dehydration starts to occur, the imbalance in fluids and electrolytes in the body results in the cells, tissues and organs no longer being able to function optimally. This has a direct effect on the whole body as key organs such as the heart and kidneys now must work much harder to try and correct the situation. Severe dehydration can lead to clinical shock, which is a critical situation that can be immediately life-threatening if not properly addressed by a veterinary surgeon.