Recognizing and Preventing Water Intoxication in Dogs

A dog drinking water.

Summer is almost here, and your dog is probably just as eager as you are to get back to Mother Nature, especially if he’s a water-loving dog who enjoys weekend getaways at one of Michigan’s beautiful lakes! Playing in the water is certainly fun and a great form of exercise for your faithful companion, but there is one rare (and often fatal) phenomenon that our caring team at Beverly Hills Veterinary Associates wants all pet parents to be aware of: water intoxication.

Can a Dog Drink Too Much Water? 

It’s unusual, but the answer is yes. Also known as hyponatremia, water intoxication in dogs occurs when the animal ingests a lot of water in a short period of time, often while playing catch in water or swimming. This can dilute important electrolytes in the bloodstream, particularly sodium, which regulates the amount of water in and around the body’s cells. When sodium is in short supply, the cells will swell. This swelling can lead to brain damage, heart failure, and sadly, death.

Risk Factors

Some dogs do tend to be at a greater risk of water intoxication, including smaller dogs who naturally have a reduced capacity for water, dogs with very little body fat, and high-energy breeds who can play for long periods of time.  

Symptoms of Water Intoxication in Dogs

Water intoxication is considered a veterinary emergency. Please contact us immediately (or go to the nearest emergency clinic) if you spot any of these symptoms after your dog has been in the water:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Staggering or loss of coordination
  • Lethargy 
  • Excessive drooling
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Pale gums
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Glazed eyes or dilated pupils
  • Weakness
  • Seizures

How to Treat Water Intoxication

Water intoxication in dogs requires aggressive treatment with an IV delivery of electrolytes, drugs to reduce brain swelling, and diuretics to aid in the elimination of fluids.

Preventing Water Intoxication in Dogs

First, don’t cancel that weekend trip to the lake that you’ve been looking forward to. Dogs can safely enjoy the water with careful observation and some preventive measures:

  • Always supervise your dog when he’s playing in the water.
  • Limit your dog’s time in the water by taking a break every 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Encourage frequent potty breaks.
  • Don’t use diving toys that sink.
  • Instead of round objects like tennis balls, play fetch with a flatter toy that allows his mouth to close more tightly around it.
  • Don’t let your dog drink from a high-pressure hose.
  • Don’t skip wellness visits. Healthy kidneys help your dog’s body process fluids more efficiently, and your pet’s annual blood work will alert us to any kidney deficiencies.

We want you and your pets to fully enjoy the warmer months. Please contact us if you have any questions about water intoxication or other summer pet safety concerns.