Most dog owners are more concerned about a dehydrated pet than one that is hyper-hydrated. But the fact is some dogs can ingest dangerous amounts of water in a short period of time.
Water intoxication, resulting in hyponatremia, is a relatively rare but potentially fatal condition that is most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in the water. Retrieving items thrown into the water and competing with other retrieving dogs is one way a pet can ingest a large quantity of water very quickly. Another way is “catching” pressurized water from a garden hose or sprinkler.
Symptoms of water intoxication include loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, seizures, and coma.
It’s important to monitor dogs that are very active in the water, and insist on regular rest breaks. Also take care not to allow your dog to ingest an excessive amount of water from a hose or sprinkler. Dogs that empty their water bowl after hard play or exercise should be rested for a bit before refilling the bowl.
Hyponatremia is a potentially fatal condition, so if your dog has played in water and shows any symptoms of water intoxication, get him to your vet or an emergency animal hospital immediately.
Dogs Most at Risk for Water Intoxication
Any dog can develop hyponatremia, however, the condition is most commonly seen in dogs who will stay in the lake, pond or pool all day if you let them; pets that lap or bite at the water continuously while playing in it; and dogs that swallow water unintentionally as they dive for a ball or other toy.
The condition has also been reported in dogs that over-hydrate during or after exercise, as well as those that enjoy playing with water from a garden hose or sprinklers.
Water intoxication can affect any size or breed of dog, but smaller dogs probably show symptoms more quickly because it takes less time for an excessive amount of water to build up in their bodies.
Water intoxication progresses quickly and can be life threatening, so if your pet has been playing in water and begins to exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, it’s crucial that you seek immediate veterinary care to save your dog’s life.
Treatment of hyponatremia in dogs typically includes IV delivery of electrolytes, diuretics, and drugs to reduce brain swelling. With aggressive veterinary care, some dogs are able to recover from water intoxication, but sadly, many are not.
Preventing Water Intoxication in Your Dog
If your dog loves the water, make sure you’re there to supervise his activity. If your pet is repetitively retrieving a ball or other toy from the water, insist on frequent rest breaks. Be especially vigilant on days when the water is rough.
Observe how your dog interacts with the water. If her mouth is open a lot – even if she’s holding a ball or stick in it -- understand that she’s likely ingesting a fair amount of water. The same can be true of dogs that dive to the bottom of a pool to retrieve items.
Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of water intoxication and monitor your dog’s appearance and behavior when she’s playing in water.
After a period of hard play or exercise, use caution when your dog rehydrates. If he immediately laps up the contents of his water bowl, rest him for a bit before you refill his bowl. If your dog is very active, it’s a good idea to have water with you when he exercises so that you can give him frequent short water breaks to keep him hydrated.
If your dog enjoys interacting with water from the hose or sprinkler, you should monitor that activity as well. Water from a hose or sprinkler is under pressure, and you’d be surprised how much a dog can ingest in a short amount of time.