The Importance of Keeping Your Pet Hydrated
Q: Why is it important to keep our pets hydrated, especially in the summer months?
A: Water is essential for the health and proper function of every single cell in our pets’ bodies. Dehydration is a term used to describe the water imbalance that occurs when the body loses more water than it takes in. Therefore, dehydration can occur with either excessive fluid loss or inadequate water consumption. In the summer, both of these situations occur frequently. In addition to dehydration, the summer also predisposes pets to overheating that can damage their organs. Overheating is also referred to as heat stroke, heat stress, and heat related illness.
Q: How much water makes up our pets’ bodies? How does this compare to the average human?
A: The water content of the average pet is approximately 60-80% of their total body weight, which is very similar to humans. That means that a 10-pound dog or cat is composed of 6-8 pounds of water! The exact percentage of water weight varies based on age and body composition. For example, puppies and kittens contain a higher percentage of water than adults. Most of the water in their body is contained within cells. The remainder is found within the space between cells and inside of vessels as blood.
Q: How much water do our dogs and cats need each day?
A: On average, dogs and cats require 1-2 ounces of water per pound of body weight. The exact amount varies with body weight, food consumption, and activity level. Fortunately, animals are great at drinking the amount of water they need. For that reason, it is best to keep fresh water available at all times rather than trying to measure exact quantities.
Q: What are the signs of dehydration?
A: Unfortunately, animals must lose 5% of their body weight in water before dehydration is easily detected. As a result, it is far better to prevent dehydration. That being said, signs of dehydration include tacky gums, a loss of skin elasticity (causing the skin to tent when pinched), and sunken in eyes. As discussed earlier, overheating can accompany dehydration. Signs of overheating include lethargy, weakness, collapse, dark red gums, excessive panting, trouble breathing, vomiting, diarrhea, staggering, and even loss of consciousness or seizures.
Q: What can a pet owner do if they believe that their pet is dehydrated?
A: Immediately move the pet indoors. If that is not possible, then move them to an area with plenty of shade. Fresh, clean water should be offered. If an animal does not initially drink, do not force them to do so. Forcing water when an animal doesn’t want to drink can cause problems such as choking or pneumonia. If they do not drink water or return to normal soon, seek veterinary care immediately. Dehydration can be very harmful if left untreated. Veterinary care should also be sought if any signs of overheating are seen.
Q: Why is it essential to provide our pets with fresh water a few times daily?
A: There are two main reasons. First, most pets prefer the taste of fresh water, so it encourages them to drink and maintain hydration. Second, dirty water can spread diseases. Bacteria and mold grow in dirty water bowls, even those kept indoors. Outdoor water bowls can become contaminated by parasites and other diseases spread by wildlife. Water should be changed at least 2-3 times per day, or more as necessary.
Q: Other than providing our pets with water, what other ways can we get them to stay hydrated?
A: Prevention is key. If a pet is kept outside, make certain they have constant access to shade and water. For indoor pets, avoid prolonged activity during the hottest part of the day. Morning and evening are ideal times for outdoor activity during the summer. When pets are outside, provide plenty of breaks for them to drink water. When pet owners are on the go, plan ahead so that water is available. For example, take an extra bottle of water and a bowl.
Around the house, other strategies can encourage water consumption. For example, some pets enjoy drinking from running water in the form of a fountain. Canned food promotes more water consumption. However, never give a pet a new food without first talking with your veterinarian. For example, a sudden change in diet can cause stomach upset or diarrhea. Also, dry food is better for the prevention of dental disease. Finally, pet friendly frozen treats are tasty and provide a little bit of extra hydration.
Q: Should pet owners invest in bottled or filtered water for their pets?
A: In most instances, no. Bottled and filtered water doesn’t provide a health benefit to most pets. If a pet owner trusts their tap water for human consumption, then it is safe for a pet. Some pets do prefer the taste of bottled or filtered water so they might promote water consumption. However, bottled and filtered water adds cost to routine animal care. Always make certain a pet is up to date on routine preventative care such as vaccines, heartworm prevention, and dental care before pursuing items with cumulative costs such as bottled water.
Marc Seitz, DVM, DABVP
Assistant Clinical Professor College of Veterinary Medicine Mississippi State University