By: Dr. Scott Loveless, DVM
Water is the essence of life. It is always important to make sure our pet friends stay hydrated, but especially in the heat of summertime. During hikes, play, walks, or runs it is important to take frequent breaks for yourself and your dog to cool off and drink plenty of water. Dogs do not have sweat glands except on the bottom of their feet, so they can only cool themselves through panting and through normal breathing. Certain breeds are more susceptible to overheating, including short-nosed breeds like Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, etc. and double-coated breeds like Siberian Huskies and German Shepherds.
A dog’s normal water intake is around an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. This amount will go up as a result of panting during heavy activity or heat. If your dog is consistently drinking more than this amount without increased physical activity, you should contact your veterinarian but do not restrict your dog’s water intake. Urine tests and bloodwork can help determine if there is a problem. Diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, Cushing’s disease and urinary tract infection can all cause increased drinking and urination, which is necessary to compensate for their organ dysfunction. It is important not to withhold water from a dog who is drinking more water than normal on a daily basis. Their body may not be able to adapt to the decreased water intake, and they can become dehydrated quickly, which can lead to life threatening medical problems.
Can my dog drink too much water? Although it is rare, some dogs will drink excessive amounts of water to the point of having water intoxication. Some dogs will have an obsession with water and will drink extreme amounts of water at once. Our last case at Animal Hospital of North Asheville involved a dog that was obsessed with playing with and attacking a lawn sprinkler. While biting at the water for hours he ingested a very large amount of water. Also some dogs have been reported to accidentally drink excessive amounts while swimming. Often these dogs will vomit large amounts of water up at a time. Extreme excessive drinking causes the sodium, potassium and chloride electrolytes in the body to be severely diluted out. If the condition gets serious enough, the low electrolytes in the bloodstream can lead to fluid moving from the blood into the brain, causing edema, or swelling of the brain. Consequently if not corrected this swelling can lead to neurological signs, coma, and/or death. The decreased electrolytes can affect the heart function as well. Treatment requires hospitalization with electrolyte containing fluids, medication to decrease edema, and time. Sadly, the dog that was playing with the lawn sprinkler did not make it to us in time, and did not survive. This is a rare condition as most dogs will normally not drink enough water on their own to cause this condition. But it is important to be aware of how much your dog is drinking, to provide a source of clean cool water at all times, and to make sure that water playtime doesn’t turn into a tragic event.