We all acknowledge the importance of water, as it affects all facets of life. Without it, there would be no vegetation, no oxygen, and it wouldn’t be possible for us to survive. But how much of this valued and precious resource should our pets drink and what are the signs of dehydration? In this week’s blog, we provide some advice to help dog and cats owners get the balance right for their pets.


Why is water important?

Water is an important part of your pet’s daily dietary requirements and overall nutrition, and a particular balance is required in order to keep your pet healthy. Water is the primary component of the body’s healthy living cells and without it, neither we nor ours pets, would be able to function properly. One of the reasons a balanced diet is important to hydration is that is food also provides some moisture.


Water’s role is to carry and transport important nutrients into and out of the body’s cells. Water helps digestion and assists the body to absorb nutrients, and is also important in maintaining normal body temperature as it helps to cool the body. Water aids movement by lubricating and cushioning joints, and internal tissues and the spinal cord are also cushioned by moisture. The removal of waste from the body through urination and bowel movements, is also dependant on water.


What are the risks of dehydration?

Without adequate water your pet can become dehydrated and ill, because water is required for every important body function. A sustained deficiency of water will lead to organ damage, and eventually organs such as kidneys and liver will start to shut down, ultimately resulting in death.  


The right amount of water for dogs

The generally accepted guide for people is that we should consume about two litres of water a day, but how about dogs? As a rule of thumb, dogs should consume 60 ml of water for every kilo of their bodyweight, therefore a 10kg dog needs to drink 600 ml of water a day. It’s important to remember that this is only a guideline, and physical activity and climate are also relevant due to water being lost via excessive panting and salivation. If your dog undertakes vigorous exercise it will require more water, just as we would if we were exercising.


There are a number of factors that will influence how much your dog will drink, and usually a healthy dog will drink enough water daily to stay well hydrated. Make sure that your dog always has access to enough water and that it is fresh, clean, and clear. It should be not too cold or warm in order to help the dog maintain a suitable body temperature. The best approach is to keep your dog’s bowl filled at all times.


Your dog’s food will also contain moisture, and canned food can contain as much as 70-80%. Dogs who eat canned food may therefore drink less than dogs that eat dry food only. Dry food is sometimes preferred because wet dog food generally contains a much higher fat content, so it’s important to be aware of this when monitoring your dog’s intake.


The right amount of water for cats

Cats should drink 60ml of water per kilogram of weight. In other words, a 4kg cat should consume approximately 240ml a day (the equivalent of approximately one cup), in order to be adequately hydrated.


Some cats have a preference for drinking moving water, therefore a water fountain designed for cats may address the issue of reluctance to drink still water from a bowl. Also, as cats have sensitive whiskers, some may prefer to drink from a wide, relatively shallow bowl that doesn’t rub against whiskers.


Causes of dehydration

Dehydration is caused by inadequate water intake, and/or excessive loss of fluid from the body. Not only water is lost, but also electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, and chloride, all of which are important for normal body function.


Vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, trauma, and heatstroke, can all lead to dehydration. Dehydration can also be a symptom of disease, and the dehydration can make the disease itself much worse. Rehydration - replacing water and electrolytes - is therefore an important element of many treatment plans.


Some animals are at a higher risk of becoming dehydrated, such as those suffering from illnesses such as kidney disease, cancer, and metabolic disorders, for example diabetes. Pregnant and nursing animals are also at risk of becoming dehydrated more easily. Accidental confinement in a place with no access to water is a risk factor as it can also eventually result in dehydration.


Signs of dehydration

To check for dehydration, gently pull up a fold of loose skin over the top of your dog or cat’s shoulder blades, and release it, and watch for the way the skin falls back into place. The skin should quickly spring back, however if your pet is dehydrated the skin will return slowly or remain raised for a time before falling back into place. “Tenting” is a classic sign of dehydration and if the pinch of skin stays up, it is a sign of severe dehydration requiring immediate veterinary attention.


Mouths are a place where dehydration may be observed, and it is indicated by gums appearing sticky, dry or pale. Dry noses and sunken eyes can be other signs. Others include listlessness, refusal to eat, and the symptoms related to underlying health problems.


First aid for dehydration

Since dehydration can often result due to another problem, that issue should be attended to first. If the animal is able to drink, provide them with cool, fresh water in a quiet place. Cats may be encouraged to drink by using a water fountain. Adding some juices from canned salmon or tuna to the water might also encourage cats to drink.


Veterinary care

In addition to the skin pinch test and other observations, your vet may conduct blood tests to confirm dehydration as well as other tests to determine whether a medical problem led to the dehydration.


Depending on the cause and severity, your vet may give fluids subcutaneously (under the skin), which takes only a few minutes, or they may alternatively hospitalise your pet and administer fluids intravenously for one to two days. Treatment for the underlying problem that caused the dehydration would also be treated.


If you are concerned that your dog or cat is not getting enough water to maintain their health, then talk to your vet for advice. Maintaining proper hydration is an important aspect of your pet’s health care, and as dehydration can lead to serious health issues it requires immediate attention. If your pet is seriously dehydrated they will require urgent veterinary care.