Water nourishes, cleanses and hydrates all living creatures on earth, including our canine companions. Dogs, like humans, are made up of nearly 80 percent water. Without enough of it, they can suffer — or worse, notes Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, who is board certified in veterinary emergency and critical care and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s school of veterinary medicine in Philadelphia.
“Just like people, most of a dog’s body is made up of water,” says Otto, “And so it’s absolutely essential for every function of his body. A dog can go a long time without food, but without water he’s not going to survive.”
Just how much water does a dog need?
It all depends on her activity level, size, age and the weather, but in general, an average dog needs to drink between 8.5 to 17 ounces of water per 10 pounds (55 to 110 milliliters per kilogram) per day, according to Otto. To translate: A 50 pound dog needs between 42 and 84 ounces of liquid refreshment to stay happy and hydrated — or 1.25 to 2.5 liters per day for a 23 kilogram dog.
“If he’s active, he’ll need even more water,” Otto advises. A dog that’s dehydrated, or in need of water, may have sticky gums, or his eyes might look a little dry, adding, “It depends how fast he loses water, but as dehydration progresses, the dog may lose his skin pliability,” which is the skin’s ability to slip back into place when pinched. Adds Otto, “That’s a really concerning sign of dehydration.”
Dog guardians can manage mild dehydration cases themselves, Otto says, but they’ll need to seek emergency care for a pet that’s losing water rapidly or showing severe symptoms. “Any time you have a dog that’s dehydrated, you have to figure out why,” she advises. “If you went out for a walk and his gums started to get a little dry, you can address that. But if the dog is getting dehydrated because he’s vomiting or has diarrhea, he needs prompt attention.”
As the summer’s dog days turn up the heat, ensure your best friend stays happy, healthy and hydrated by boning up on your knowledge of why water is so important.
1. Water helps dogs function
Water facilitates every metabolic process that occurs in a dog’s body, Otto says. The wet stuff helps your pet digest food, think through an agility course, breathe in fresh oxygen, and pulse blood through his veins.
“Blood is mostly water,” she says. “Getting nutrients to the body requires water. Your brain and muscles need water to work well. Water is the heart of everything.”
2. Water flushes toxins
As water flows though your dog’s body, it transports beneficial oxygen to thirsty cells while clearing harmful toxins from her system, Otto says. Without water, the exchange doesn’t occur, and those toxins could build and do damage to vital organs, including the dog’s heart and kidneys.
“Water keeps the toxins cleared from a dog’s system,” she says. “If he did not have water circulating through, carrying the toxins and eliminating them in his kidneys, the dog would absorb them.”
3. Water regulates body temperature
Dogs use water to keep cool in more ways than one. Besides drinking it from their bowl or diving into a kiddy pool, dogs keep themselves comfortable by panting — which means they’re exhaling and releasing water through respiration, Otto says.
“That’s important to remember for active dogs, and when the weather is hot,” she says. “When dogs pant, they cool themselves, but they’re doing that by losing water through their tongue.”
4. Water helps dogs' sniffing power
Water also keeps a dog’s nose moist and able to pick up the scantest scent, Otto says, as well as perform any working or sporting duties on the day’s agenda.
“A search-and-rescue dog that isn’t hydrated and isn’t 100 percent might get injured or not work as well,” she says. “His nose needs to be hydrated for him to smell, for instance, so he might not be able to do his job. Or if we’re talking about an agility dog, he wouldn’t have the speed to compete.”
To ensure your active dog drinks enough water, Otto encourages pet parents to provide a constant supply of fresh water, whether at home, on the trail or in the field. For those with finicky drinkers, she suggests adding a commercial flavor or broth to the water to make it more appealing.
They may also try to make drinking fun for their pets. “Some dogs really like to drink out of water bottles,” she advises. “And some like ice cubes when it’s really hot out. Just make it fun sometimes.”
This summer, keep your canine companion hydrated. His health and happiness depends on it.