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The Hows and Whys of Dog Hydration — How much should a dog drink

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Hydration is a major health hallmark for dogs of all ages and sizes.

“Dogs need water to live, just as humans do,” says Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, owner of Kingsgate Animal Hospital in Lubbock, Texas, and a veterinary expert for SeniorTailWaggers.com. “Without water, the body cannot function.”

The cells in your dog’s body need adequate amounts of water and essential electrolytes (headlined by chloride, sodium and potassium) to keep all key functions in the body working properly and efficiently. “Adequate hydration is essential to the vascular circulation of blood,” Dr. Whittenburg says. “Blood circulation enables for the transport of important substances, oxygen and carbon dioxide through the body.”

Water also plays a key role in ushering out body waste, in regulating body temperature and to act as both a shock absorber and lubricant for the joints.

Gulp? Sip? Or, sniff and walk away? Which of these drinking habits best describes your dog? In my household, Kona, my medium-sized terrier mix, never turns down the chance to lap up lots of water from the bowl after a long walk. However, Emma, my pint-sized Poodle-Chihuahua mix, rarely dashes over to the water bowl. She does take in a few licks after my coaxing but prefers to wait at the refrigerator for me to dole out small pieces of chilled, seedless watermelon to her.

How much water is enough?

But the challenge comes in ensuring that your dog drinks adequate amounts of water each day. Here are three quick ways to tell if your dog is properly hydrated:

  1. Do the skin tent test. Gently pinch as much skin as you can on the back of your dog’s neck and then release it. If the skin springs back down quickly, then your dog is hydrated.

“But if the skin stays ‘tented’ or takes a little while to flatten back down, then your dog is dehydrated to some degree,” says Dr. Alex Crow, a veterinary surgeon at Buttercross Veterinary Centre in Nottinghamshire, England and a veterinary expert at SeniorTailWaggers.com.

  1. Lift the lip. Raise your dog’s upper lip and gently touch the gums with your thumb or index finger. Dogs dealing with dehydration issues will have dry and sticky gums.
  2. Check the urine. Light-colored urine usually suggests that your dog is sufficiently hydrated. However, urine that is dark in color or smells foul may indicate dehydration or a health issue with your dog’s kidneys. Don’t delay — book an appointment with your veterinarian promptly, says Dr. Lowell Ackerman, from Westborough, Massachusetts, who is a board-certified veterinary dermatologist, global veterinary consultant and author of several veterinary textbooks.

“Urine that is too concentrated means that the body is not adequately hydrated and kidney function could be impacted,” says Dr. Ackerman. “A urinalysis indicates the ratio of BUN (blood urea nitrogen) and serum creatinine to see if the kidneys are functioning properly.”

©schankz | Getty Images

Dehydration dangers

Unfortunately, the dangers of dehydration are many. And, smaller dogs may become dehydrated more quickly than larger ones.

Beyond damaging kidneys, dehydration can trigger:

Vomiting and seizures. The lack of adequate hydration disrupts the balance of electrolytes in a dog’s body. “When a dog’s electrolytes are not properly balanced, the dog may vomit uncontrollably, have a dull mentation and have seizures,” Dr. Whittenburg warns. “Severe electrolyte disturbances that affect the heart can be fatal.”

Heatstroke. Dogs lack skin pores like we have and must rely on panting to dissipate excessive heat in their bodies. “Dogs must be kept cool and hydrated because heatstroke can quickly become a life-threatening situation,” Dr. Whittenburg says.

Shock. When a dog is severely dehydrated, his blood volume can plummet. The resulting low blood pressure and low oxygen levels can cause a life-threatening condition known as hypovolemic shock.

Drink up!

Prevent these issues by being proactive. Help your dog dodge the dangers of dehydration and its associated health issues. For starters, place two or three water bowls in different rooms. Clean the bowls and replenish with fresh water daily.

Offer your dog some flavored liquids that may contain electrolytes, or do what I do with Emma and offer small pieces of watermelon. Some dogs like to lick ice cubes.

After a vigorous game of fetch, a long walk or run, aim to rehydrate your dog slowly and steadily. Do not let him gulp huge amounts of water quickly.

Finally, feed your dog more wet food than dry food. Consult your veterinarian about selecting food that meets your canine pal’s age, health condition and activity level.

Parting message: If a dog doesn’t drink a lot of water, it does not necessarily mean that he is dehydrated, Dr. Ackerman says. “Moist dog foods contain about 75%  water. It only becomes an issue when dogs show signs of clinical dehydration.”

How much water does your dog need to drink each day to stay hydrated?

“The general rule is that a dog needs about 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight,” says Dr. Alex Crow, veterinary surgeon at Buttercross Veterinary Centre in Nottinghamshire, England. “However, there are some other factors that may mean your dog needs more or less than these amounts, such as if the dog is on a wet or dry food diet, how warm the weather is and how active the dog is.”

In general, here is the daily water chart recommended by veterinarians:

10-pound dog: 10 ounces of water/fluid daily

20-pound dog: 20 ounces of water/fluid daily

50-pound dog: 50 ounces of water/fluid daily

90-pound dog: 90 ounces of water/fluid daily

Help your dog get the water he needs with these yummy products

Nulo Hydrate; 11.96/4 pack. nulo.com

Wolf Spring; $19.99/6 pack. wolfspring.dog

DoggyRade; $17.95/3 pack. us.doggyrade.com

Doggie Water; $19.49/4 pack. mydoggiewater.com

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