Water, Water Everywhere, But How Much Water Should A Dog Drink?

The answer to how much water should a dog drink can get complicated, and changes in drinking habits might be more important.

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It can be difficult to monitor how much your dog is drinking, but it's important to know if he starts to drink a lot more or a lot less. caelmi/iStock/Thinkstock

We have two English Bull Terriers, and I always thought they both seem to drink a lot. But guess what? I found out I’m a total owner cliché.

“Just about every pet owner thinks their dog drinks a lot of water,” says Tony Johnson, DVM, the “Minister of Happiness” for the Veterinary Information Network, where he is also a consultant.

Whether we call it water, agua, H2O or life’s elixir, we know that dogs need a full bowl of the clean, clear hydrating stuff at all times. We’re used to hearing the mantra of eight glasses a day for humans. But what about the “dogtra” of how much water for our canine companions?

Turns out there are no hard and fast rules, but there are some guidelines that both new and experienced dog owners can use to monitor drinking habits, as well as address any doggy dehydration.

Water Watching
While humans may have fancy water bottles and count off how many ounces we’ve had before lunch, it can be challenging to get an accurate portrayal of how much dogs drink.

“It is difficult,” says Joe Bartges, DVM, with Cornell University Veterinary Specialists in Stamford, Connecticut. “It isn’t just the amount of water that a dog drinks from the bowl — it is also the amount of water in the food, drinking out of toilets, puddles on the ground, etc. There are a lot of factors that play into quantity of water drunk per day.”

Bartges pointed out that some of those factors include dogs eating canned food or homemade diets. They’ll drink less water than dogs eating dry food because the water content of the canned and homemade diet is higher than what is in dry food.

“Total daily water intake — water from all sources — in an average active dog will be somewhere in the range of 30 to 40 ml/kg,” Bartges says. And, just like us, more active dogs will require more water depending on the type and duration of their activity.

More important than dogs drinking a specific amount is owners noticing a change in drinking habits, explained Johnson, who is based in Indianapolis.

Dog Water-Drinking Facts
When do dogs start drinking water? Long before they are dogs; newborn puppies start out life consuming water.

“Technically, they start drinking water as part of milk with nursing immediately,” Bartges says. “As their eyes open, and if mushy food is available, they will consume water as they start eating semi-solid food — depending on when it is made available — usually around 2 weeks of age. As they get to weaning age and after, they will drink water.”

Johnson says that, in general, puppies recognize water and they’ll usually drink it.

Our dog Medusa definitely recognizes water, but because she “bites” it by putting half her snout in the water, we’re pretty sure her mom didn’t teach her the typical way of lapping it up.

On the other side of the age spectrum, veterinarians have differing opinions on whether a natural change occurs as a dog ages.

According to Bartges, “It has been shown that in otherwise healthy dogs, that as they age their kidney function does decrease and so they produce less concentrated urine.”

In Johnson’s experience, he said a healthy older dog will tend to drink about as much as he did previously.

A Link Between Water Drinking And Dog Health
So, what about canine health and water? If there is a dramatic change in consumption — something that couldn’t be explained by an extremely hot day — it could be an indication your dog is sick.

“Most illnesses are associated with decreased water intake; however, some diseases, such as diabetes mellitus and kidney problems, will result in more water intake,” Bartges says.

Johnson says that with most diabetes patients, there is more frequent drinking and peeing.

“If a dog is really sick, you may see water decrease,” Johnson adds.

If your dog isn’t drinking enough water, that can cause dehydration. And if your dog is dehydrated, that can cause some issues.

“The main problem is with the blood volume,” Bartges says. “This results in low blood pressure and concentrated blood — an increase in packed cell volume, which will affect oxygen delivery to tissues.”

Johnson further explains the importance of water: “All the body systems take place in water. Everything would start to slow down. The body can’t do its normal housekeeping when there’s not enough water.”

Bartges provides a few signs of dehydration that can alert you to the problem:

  • Decreased moistness in gums
  • Increased skin turgor (when you lift the skin up, it does not quickly snap into place)
  • Sunken eyes

To determine the skin’s condition, Johnson suggests this test: Pull the skin up around the shoulders. If it snaps back down there’s good hydration. If it creeps down, it could indicate dehydration. However, there are some differences in this test based on a dog’s age and breed.

“Older dogs tend to have less compliant skin and so it will snap back more slowly,” Bartges says. He also pointed out that using the skin as a hydration test is more difficult to assess with dogs who have a lot of skin, such as English Bulldogs and Chinese Shar-Peis.

Another sign of dehydration that goes on “under the hood,” as Johnson says, is the condition of your dog’s gums.

Johnson describes those telltale gums as “sticky, like the back of a postage stamp.”

Bartges explains a possible cause for this. “Dogs with oral disease may have less or more saliva, which will affect the assessment of moistness of gums.”

The good news is that a change in drinking may not need an immediate trip to the veterinarian. If the dog is otherwise healthy, it’s less of a concern, but if a dog is showing other signs of illness then he should be seen, Bartges recommends.  However, if an owner is concerned, they should take their dog in to be seen by a veterinarian. A lot of emergency clinics are available, and it is better to be safe than sorry, he says.

If you do take your dog to the veterinarian for this reason, expect the vet to perform a physical and a chemistry panel to check organ function, Johnson says.

Determining whether your dog is getting enough to drink may not be an exact science, but through monitoring his behavior and noticing any dramatic changes, you’ll have reason to raise a glass — and a bowl — to toast your furry friend’s good health.

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Dogs · Food and Treats

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