Updated 01 August 2013

Water: your dog's life line

Besides oxygen, your dog's next most important requirement to stay alive is water. Clean, fresh, plentiful water is a vital element of your dog's diet.


Facts about dogs and water
  • Newborn and young puppies are comprised of 75% - 80% water.
  • Adult and senior dogs are comprised of 50% - 60% water due to a natural increase in body fat.
  • A dog may lose almost all its fat and half of its protein and still be able to survive for a length of time provided he has water. However, a loss of 10% water will cause serious illness and a 15% loss will lead to death if not quickly replaced.
  • Your dog loses water daily: via urination, evaporation from the lungs and the digestive tract (a small amount is lost in the faeces). These losses are easily replenished provided your dog has unlimited access to water on a daily basis.
  • Your dog gets water from the water he drinks and in the food he eats. Water is produced in the body by oxidation of protein, fat and carbohydrates from food - this normally supplies about 10% of the daily water requirement.

The function of water

Water is involved in almost all the bodily processes that take place in your dog:

  • Carries nutrients throughout the body.
  • Lubricates body tissues.
  • Combines new cell materials.
  • Detoxifies and flushes out waste.
  • Regulates body temperature. When a dog pants it causes evaporation of water from his tongue, thereby cooling the body. This the most important way by which a dog cools itself.

How much water should your dog drink?

  • How much water a dog needs varies from dog to dog – weight, age and level of activity play an important role. Young dogs require more water than adult dogs. Active dogs and those with dense coats bred for cooler climates need to drink more too.
  • Certain illnesses such as diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipitus, Cushings Disease and kidney disease/failure, will significantly increase your dog’s natural water requirement.
  • The type of food your dog eats (wet/dry) will also influence the amount of water he needs to drink. Tinned or wet food can contain up to 85% water. Pelleted foods contain only 10% water and require the dog to drink the remainder of its water requirements. Dried treats like rawhide bones also increase your dogs water intake.
  • It's best to make sure that there is always a big bowl of fresh water placed in a shaded spot available for your dog. Water should never be taken away. If you can, rinse out and refill your dog's water bowl in the middle of the day, especially in warm weather.

Water safety tips

  • Your dog should not drink a lot from the swimming pool. The water may not be clean and the chemicals could be harmful. Help to prevent this by always providing cool, clean water in a bowl in the garden. It's a good idea to fence swimming pools to exclude the risk they pose small children – this has the added function of keeping pets out of the pool area.
  • Wash water bowls daily – as you would your own drinking utensils. Only rinsing the bowl is not good enough – a dirty bowl can harbour all sorts of bad organisms. Stainless steel bowls are easier to keep clean. Plastic bowls can scratch and harbour bacteria and certain kinds of plastic can trap detergents due to their porous nature, leaching them back into the drinking water.
  • Follow one rule to keep your dog's drinking water safe. Ask yourself: "Would I drink this water?"

Signs and causes of dehydration

Dehydration is a very serious medical condition and severe cases can be fatal. If you suspect that your dog is dehydrated you should take him to the vet immediately.

Some signs of dehydration to be aware of are:

  • Dryness of the mouth. His gums should be moist. If they are tacky or dry, your dog is dehydrated.
  • Loss of skin elasticity. Test this by picking up your dog's skin along her back. Let it go. It should spring right back into place. If not, it could be a sign of illness and/or dehydration.
  • General fatigue or weakness.
  • Sunken eyes – compare the appearance of your dog's eyes to how they usually are.

Causes of dehydration:

  • Diarrhoea and vomiting. This counteracts your dog's efforts to replenish his fluid losses through drinking and is especially dangerous for young dogs.
  • Illnesses that cause greater losses of water than the dog can correct through drinking (e.g. kidney failure), or that cause him to feel too ill to want to drink (e.g. liver disease, some cancers).
  • A hot environment without adequate water made available.

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