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Hydration 101

Drinking water is good for your body. We all know that. But did you know that water is considered the most important nutrient for your dog’s body? Even more critical to survival than food, water is essential for almost all of the chemical reactions and metabolic processes in the body, including temperature regulation, digestion and waste elimination.

H20 so important

Water makes up about 60-70% of a healthy adult dog’s body weight. Dogs experience daily water loss through normal body processes, like urinating and panting. To make up for this loss, they need to consume water by drinking it, and can also get some water by eating food that contains moisture. If anything increases a dog’s fluid loss, such as vomiting or diarrhea, or prevents a dog from recouping the daily fluid loss, such as limited access to water, then the dog may show signs of dehydration.

Signs of dehydration include:

  • Dry mouth, sticky gums and tongue, and stringy saliva.
  • Lethargy.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Loss of skin elasticity. Gently grab the skin between your dog’s neck and shoulders. When you release, the skin should retract right away. If it retracts slowly, he may be dehydrated.
  • Slow capillary refill time. Lift your dog’s lip and gently press on his gums with your finger. The white spot where you applied pressure should turn back to its normal color within about 1-2 seconds if he’s well hydrated.
  • Sunken eyeballs, muscle twitches and cold paw pads in severe cases.

If your dog experiences any signs of dehydration or a lack of interest in drinking water, contact your veterinarian right away. Also see your veterinarian if you notice your dog drinking water excessively, which could be a sign of a kidney problem or diabetes.

Lap it up!

Your dog should always have access to fresh, clean water. Here are some tips to keep your dog hydrated and happy:

  • Keep a large bowl for water near his food bowl.
  • Every time you feed your dog, replace his water so it’s fresh and clean.
  • Check his water throughout the day to ensure it stays clean and full.
  • Wash his water and food bowls every day.
  • The only acceptable times to carefully limit your dog’s water intake is right before he’s put into his crate and while he’s in his crate. This is to prevent him from having potty accidents while there, but keep in mind, it’s best to limit how long your dog is crated (see our article on crate training for details).
  • If you and your dog head outdoors for long periods of time, be sure to have a large bowl of cool water in a shady spot.
  • When you leave home with your dog, bring a bottle of water and a bowl for him.
  • Always offer him plenty of water before, during and after exercise.

The amount of drinking water your dog needs depends on many factors, including his size, calorie intake, level of exercise, environmental temperature and how much moisture is in his food. Fortunately, dogs naturally increase or decrease their water intake to balance these factors as they change. So the best way to make sure your dog gets the water he needs is to always make it available.

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