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How a Dog Can Get Water Poisoning and What You Can Do to Stop It

07.10.2022 - Reading time: 4 minutes

Hund trinkt aus Schüssel

Dogs need to drink a lot in the height of summer in order to reduce their excessive body heat. However, an excessive intake of water can also be harmful and lead to so-called water poisoning. This article will tell you how a dog can get water poisoning and what you can do to stop it.


What is water poisoning in dogs?

If a dog drinks too much water or if they take a lot in when playing without noticing, the balanced electrolyte content in the dog’s somatic cells will be thrown off kilter. The vital electrolytes include minerals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium. The sodium content in the cells sinks and water is stored. This causes the cells to swell and expand.

This leads to water deposits in important organs such as the brain, lungs and/or the liver. These oedemas in the brain often lead to neurological disorders. The lungs are also quickly affected as the air sacs fill with water. This means that the body is no longer able to excrete electrolytes, the kidneys also stop their urine production, the dog is no longer able to get rid of the excessive water through urination. When talking about water poisoning in dogs, specialists also talk about hypotonic hyperhydration.

What causes water poisoning in dogs?

Water poisoning is not caused by dirty or poisoned water, it is simply caused by drinking too much water. This syndrome appears mostly in the summer months when dogs swim or play in or with water. Extended swimming and playing in the lakes or sea is a blessing for dogs on hot days but you should ensure that your dog is not taking in too much water when doing so. The danger also lies with retrieving: the dog snaps in the water again and again after a stick or water toy, and each time they swallow some water. Therefore you should not let them play in the water for too long. The same applies to dog pools and lawn sprinklers.

Is salt water dangerous for dogs?

What happens when a dog drinks too much salt water? This is a question that many holiday makers at the sea have. Too much salt water can also cause water poisoning just like too much fresh water. Even small amounts can often cause vomiting and diarrhoea in dogs.

How much should a dog drink?

Dogs should drink about 100 millilitres of water per kilogramme bodyweight every day: one Yorkshire Terrier who weighs three kilograms should therefore only drink 300 millilitres of water; a Labrador weighing 30 kilograms on the other hand should drink three litres. Normally, a dog will not drink any more than they need. When playing and running around, however, they drink water automatically without noticing.

How do you recognise water poisoning?

Watch your dog closely after playing at or in water. Symptoms of water poisoning in dogs include

  • vomiting,
  • bloated stomach,
  • restlessness,
  • severely dilated pupils,
  • fatigue,
  • excessive salivation,
  • problems with coordination,
  • muscle twitching,
  • cramps,
  • inability to urinate leading up to
  • loss of consciousness.

Not all symptoms necessarily occur at the same time: if your pet is only showing some of the symptoms and is feeling unwell you should act quickly and immediately talk to a vet, as water poisoning can lead to the death of an animal within a few hours.

Water poisoning in dogs – first aid steps

What should you do if a dog has water poisoning? If you think that your dog has drunk too much water, take the water away or remove them from the water. Watch to see whether they urinate. If they are showing symptoms, you should go to the vet immediately. In the meantime you can give them savoury snacks such as saltsticks to eat in order to give them electrolytes. The vet will carry out blood tests and start the dog on a treatment with medication for water reduction and administer minerals as treatment for the water poisoning.

The best way to protect your dog from water poisoning is to keep an eye on him and not too let him play in the water for more than 20 minutes.


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