By Eric M. Cryan, D.V.M.

Water is the essential ingredient of life as we know it. Once thought unique to our planet, NASA’s search for it in our solar system has found evidence of past oceans on Mars and potential frozen seas existing on the moons of Saturn and Jupiter today. With this water evidence, scientists now search for evidence of life on other planets because our current understanding of biology is so closely tied to water being the necessary lubricant for life to exist.

We know how essential water is for ourselves and our furry companions, especially during the hot muggy summers in Northern Virginia when we are warned continuously to “drink plenty of fluids” while suffering through yet another heat wave. During these colder months of the year, however, an owner is more likely to notice a change in filling up the water bowl and bring it to my attention. Drinking too much water, or polydipsia, could be an indication of a serious medical condition. On the contrary, not drinking enough water causes dehydration and can lead to muscle cramping and eventual organ failure. So how much is too much water and what amount should your dog be drinking to remain adequately hydrated?

Upon arriving at an appointment one of the first questions I ask is, “Has there been any change in eating or drinking?” Many times an owner is unaware of how much a dog is drinking until it becomes excessive and they need to refill the water bowl frequently. At veterinary school, we were taught that a dog should drink between 4466 ml/per kg of body weight. As an American, I cannot relate to the metric system, but I am fairly familiar with how much 12 ounces of cold liquid is especially after a long work week. An easy rule of thumb, it is roughly one ounce of liquid per pound of body weight. Thus, the 12 pound Bichon would need roughly 12 ounces a day, the 24 pound terrier would need two 12 ounce servings, the 48 pound field spaniel would need four 12 ounce servings or 48 ounces daily, you get the picture. After giving clients an easy way to measure how many 12 ounce bottles of water a dog consumes daily, they can report back to me if it is too much or too little. If a dog is found to be drinking excessively or not enough, generally the next step is to perform some testing to determine the cause.

If a dog is not drinking an adequate amount of water they can become dehydrated and quickly deteriorate in health. For some dogs, the cause could be as simple as stress in an unfamiliar environment or situation, or anxiety after a move. Encouraging a dog to drink by adding water to food is a way to augment the water that is naturally obtained from the digestion of food. For some dogs, the decrease in water consumption is not behavioral but medical in origin. Significant dental disease can cause dogs to avoid water as can foreign bodies or trauma to the oral cavity. If no obvious psychological or mechanical cause in the oral cavity is identified, often dogs drink less water because they are feeling poorly in general. Fever from infections, organ failure, cancer, and of course obstructions from eating nonfood objects can all halt normal drinking patterns. Awareness of the general volume of water consumed can often be the first clue in detecting a potential critical problem in your dog’s health.

Drinking too much water can be due to numerous causes as well including kidney disease, diabetes (mellitus and insipidus), Cushing’s disease (hyperadrenocorticism), infections, psychological (psychogenic polydipsia) and more. Generally the doctor will start with routine bloodwork and a urine sample, something I recommend at least yearly for all dogs seven and older. These tests yield vital information about a dog’s metabolic status and a picture of their organ health and electrolyte balance. Using this information a veterinarian can intelligently recommend a course of action and discuss further diagnostic and treatment options available to you and your canine.

Water is an essential element of life so monitoring the consumption of water is an important barometer of your dog’s overall health. Identifying when your furkid is not feeling well by drinking less water might mean the difference between quick intervention and preventing your pooch from spiraling downward into dehydration and requiring hospitalization with intravenous fluids to recover from a deepening illness. Conversely, identify too much water consumption in a condition such as diabetes mellitus might prevent a life threatening crisis called diabetic ketoacidosis. Using a simple measuring device found in the recycle bin can provide an important at home diagnostic tool to check your dog’s health.  ND

Dr. Eric Cryan is the owner and chief veterinarian of NoVa Mobile Vet and provides veterinary care throughout northern Virginia. 1-866-946-PETS(7387).