Water intoxication in dogs is what happens when a canine consumes excess water; this can be from playing in the pool or biting at the garden hose. The result of excess water? A depletion of the sodium, and chloride levels required for the body to function.
Typically pet owners worry that their beloved animal companions won't get enough water. Have you ever stopped to consider that your pooch may be getting too much? This is really only something to worry about if your pup likes to play in water or spends a lot of time swimming, but it could happen to any dog.
The symptoms of water intoxication in dogs vary based on the amount of water consumed, the size and health condition of the dog and the time since drinking. Some of the signs to look for include:
- wobbliness when walking
Symptoms do vary, and if you’re worried that your dog may have water intoxication, and isn’t acting quite right – trust your instinct. Let me explain more about this condition and what you should do if you suspect your pet has ingested too much water.
Water Intoxication In Dogs
How to avoid it, or deal with it
If you think that your dog may be suffering from water intoxication, phone your veterinarian immediately. Water intoxication in dogs is life-threatening and can cause your pet’s brain to swell. A serious case could lead to his nervous system shutting down within hours.
With immediate treatment, the prognosis is far more promising.
Every responsible dog owner should know what to look for when suspected water intoxication has occurred, how to deal with it, and what to do before emergency help can be located. Educate yourself on water toxicity, and perhaps one day you’ll save the life of your loyal best friend.
What is Water Intoxication in Dogs?
Water intoxication or excessive water consumption in canines can put your four-legged friend in serious, and even life-threatening, danger.
When your dog ingests too much water, it causes a dangerously low sodium level – or to use the technical term, hyponatremia. Certainly not something to be sniffed at, consuming too much water can be just as dangerous as too little.
Dehydration is a far more prevalent ailment in canines. Sadly, many dog owners just aren’t aware of the dangers that could face their pet if the opposite problem were to occur.
Sodium and chloride are essential to keep the body functioning normally, and when these levels deplete due to water intoxication, swelling will occur.
Remember, swelling doesn’t just mean a big paw or swollen face, it can also mean swelling in the brain and other vital organs.
As much as our pooches love to play, splash and swim in the wet stuff, it’s critical for any responsible owner to at least be aware of the potential for water intoxication in dogs. It's also important that you understand the preventative measures and treatment.
Who Can Suffer From Water Intoxication?
Having said that, there are some factors which will make some more susceptible than others.
Water intoxication in dogs is a form of poisoning. Just as children are far more likely to have extreme reactions than adults, the same goes young and small canines. The reason is, of course, the smaller the dog, the lower the capacity for water.
Dogs that love to play with water
Most dogs love playing in the water. While it’s a joy to watch them having such a great time swimming in the lake or biting at the stream of water from the hose pipe, you’ve got to be wary of accidental poisoning.
Perhaps a surprising one here, the leaner the dog, the lower their resilience for water intoxication. Experts have noted that this is due to a faster metabolism, resulting in the excess water absorbing into the body even more quickly.
Common Symptoms of Water Intoxication in Dogs
Some of the first symptoms to occur are:
- excessive drooling
- wobbliness when moving
- muscle twitches
As the hyponatremia progresses, the symptoms become much more severe. If you see any of these symptoms occur, consult your veterinarian immediately:
- mouth hanging open
- staggering when trying to walk
- inability to control bladder
- severe muscle spasms
- fits and convulsions
- falling in and out of consciousness
The Difference Between Fresh and Salt Water Intoxication
Another danger for dogs that spend time enjoying the wonders of the sea is salt poisoning, also known as hyPERnatremia. While similar in name to hyPOnatremia (water intoxication), the symptoms can be different.
When your dog has salt poisoning he may develop the following symptoms:
- uncontrolled bowel movements
- fits and convulsions
If you worry that your dog may be suffering from hypernatremia, consult your veterinarian immediately. Salt poisoning can detrimentally affect neurological function, and even cause death.
A problem with water intoxication in dogs is that there is a lack of research on the ailment in dogs. Granted it’s not incredibly common, but when an owner has the nightmare of having a dog suffer from it, there’s no comfort in that fact.
We have all the respect in the world for veterinarians. They undergo years of training, but due to the lack of industry-wide knowledge and training on water intoxication in dogs, misdiagnosis is sadly a common occurrence.
Be wary of diagnosis by your vet of the following, as they are very similar to those of water intoxication:
- head trauma
- salt poisoning
As the owner, it’s up to you to give your veterinarian the full picture. Some owners worry that their vet will feel as though you’re intruding on their role. Definitely not! Their only concern is making sure that your pet gets healthy again.
Who Else is Susceptible?
This medical issue is reasonably well known. After all, we’ve all heard of water poisoning in humans. As infrequent as it may be, there have even been deaths reported from the subsequent swelling to the brain.
But, did you know that this is also an issue that cattle farmers have to contend with?
In renowned farming areas such as Texas and Australia, the hot climate can cause grazing cattle to become dehydrated before they can reach a watering hole. Cows have been known to overdo it once they reach water. They consume far larger quantities than their bodies can handle.
Cases of Water Intoxication in Dogs
There have been some tragic tales of owners losing beloved pets due to water intoxication. One such story we saw on iheartdogs.com was the tale of Kinetic, a three and a half-year-old Papillon owned by a lady named Susan.
An excellent example of what an owner should be, the story runs through Susan's standard routine of limiting the time that Kinetic was allowed play in the pool to ensure that she didn’t overexert herself. One hot day, only thirty minutes after giving Kinetic a scheduled rest break from pool play, Susan found her beloved pooch unresponsive on the couch. Rushing her to the vet for immediate help, unfortunately, wasn’t enough to save Kinetic.
There are other stories to read out there as well. Most end with dog owners recognizing the symptoms and having excellent veterinary care. It results in saving the dog’s life, and no long term effects!
We hope that through articles like this and owners like Susan sharing their stories, we can increase the awareness of hypernatremia. It's our responsibility to share knowledge about how to recognize the symptoms and provide treatment.
We hope that all responsible dog owners will read, and share these top tips for preventing water intoxication in dogs:
1. Limit play time in the water, especially if you’re playing fetch. If you usually throw a ball for your dog to retrieve from the water, consider replacing this with a flat toy. This will decrease the chance of him accidentally swallowing water while grabbing the ball.
2. Always supervise your dog when he's playing with water. Some dogs that bite at the stream from sprinklers just don’t know when to stop.
3. If your dog is prone to over drinking, it’s advisable not to leave him with access to unlimited amounts of water during the day. A bucket of water isn’t necessary. A bowl will do just fine.
4. Keep on top of your dog's health with regular checkups at the vet. Some kidney issues can affect the body’s ability to eliminate fluids.
5. Always have water available. This may be counter-intuitive, but the time that your dog is most likely to over-consume water is when he’s incredibly thirsty. By having a small bowl of water available at all times, you reduce this risk.
Home Treatment for Water Intoxication
If you ever notice that your dog is suffering from any of the symptoms that we mentioned, restrict access to any additional water and consult your veterinarian immediately.
Water intoxication in dogs can turn nasty quickly, with a dog going from a big bundle of energy to unresponsive within an hour or two.
Remember that speed is everything. While your dog may no longer be drinking water, his body will still be absorbing water that he has already ingested.
Dogs can suffer from brain damage disturbingly quickly. While treatments can reverse the effects of water intoxication reasonably quickly, the damage that remains is harder to overcome.
If you have to bring your pet to a veterinarian's office for water intoxication, you can expect one or a mixture of the following three treatments:
- Administering an IV to replenish electrolytes
- Diuretics to encourage urination
- Mannitol is sometimes given to decrease cranial pressure
While dogs may recover on their own from minor water intoxication, the risk of death from this ailment makes it unwise to wait it out at home.
4 Other Water Related Dangers for Dogs
Excessive water consumption and salt poisoning aren’t the only hazards that your dog could face around the water this summer.
Keep your eyes peeled for the following dangers:
1. Algae poisoning
We’ve all seen ponds covered in stinky green and blue algae. While it’s an obvious, immediate turn-off for humans who were considering going in for a dip, our joy filled dogs are less likely to be perturbed.
We all know that algae looks gross, but do you know the hidden dangers? For dogs and humans alike, getting algae on the skin can cause a pretty nasty rash and should be thoroughly washed off as soon as you’re out of the water.
An additional danger for dogs is when they drink the algae-infested water. More than just giving them an upset stomach, it can detrimentally affect their liver, intestines, kidneys, and central nervous system. If your dog begins to exhibit symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea and difficulty walking, consult your veterinarian immediately.
In any stagnant water, it’s highly likely for there to be a bacteria build up. In most dogs with a healthy immune system, they will be able to shake off an infection or parasite infestation with some rest and over-the-counter treatments.
Older dogs, dogs with a history of medical issues and puppies, however, are more likely to have a more severe reaction and require veterinary attention.
Nobody wants to go through the pain of being stung by a jellyfish. It hurts! But in dogs, it’s more than just painful and can even be deadly.
As a human walking through the water or along the beach, the chances are that if you’re stung it will be on your foot or lower leg. As dogs explore the world with their mouths and noses, it’s highly likely that they will be stung on their nose, face or tongue. In any one of these areas, it will result in swelling and difficulty in breathing.
The first plan of action if your dog is stung by a jellyfish needs to be to go to the veterinarian immediately. Not a cheap affliction, you could be looking at costs anywhere from $800-$3000 dollars in vet bills.
They have to quickly remove any stingers that are still attached. Interestingly, the stingers on a jellyfish can continue to react for several weeks.
But, all too often the risk of drowning is discounted. After all, dogs are such great swimmers that we have a stroke named after them – the doggy paddle.
Beware the danger of an exhausted dog, and a steep incline. No matter if your pup is in a swimming pool or an open body of water, an exhausted dog can struggle to get out of the water without a little help. For that reason, I’d always recommend a doggy life vest.
Water intoxication, while uncommon, is an incredibly dangerous condition. As a responsible dog owner, it’s up to you to be aware of these potential hidden dangers lurking in plain sight.
Do your dog a favor and pay attention to his behavior. By knowing how he acts when at his healthiest, you’ll be able to spot any medical problems much faster. Therefore, you'll be able to treat and overcome potentially devastating medical issues if they arise.
There are ways to avoid water-related dangers. From throwing flat toys into the water rather than round ones to outfitting your dog with his very own life jacket, it's your responsibility to keep your Fido safe when he's near the water.