Why preventing dehydration can add precious years to your dog’s life
Over the years, I’ve learned the most effective ways to maintain and improve your dog’s health are simple, such as maintaining optimal hydration, which should be common sense.
But then I got an email from my long-time client and friend Theo. She said she still sees thirsty dogs without water in backyards and in front of stores or restaurants and in vehicles with windows just cracked open. She asked me to caution people about hot weather dehydration and to remind them to make sure their dogs get enough water in the summer months.
So today, I decided to write about water, dogs, hydration and dehydration.
Some organisms can live without oxygen, thrive in deep oceans in complete darkness or in the scorching heat of thermal vents, but no life form can survive in the permanent absence of water.
This simple compound of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom is the most important condition of life and health. Adequate hydration is essential to the proper function of every cell in your dog’s body.
Thirty-seven trillion chemical reactions take place in the body every second and without sufficient water, these reactions come to a standstill.
Similar to other processes in nature, water is also a major component of cleansing and regeneration. Without water, the body can’t rid itself of toxins and minerals because they can't be distributed efficiently in and out of cells.
Dehydration stresses your dog’s kidneys
The kidneys can be seen as the body's water guardian. If your dog does not get enough water, it can severely affect their function and health. The outside portion of the kidneys, the cortex, is rich in kidney glomeruli, which are small blood filtration units. Each unit can be compared to a ‘yarn of blood vessels’ inside a funnel that collects so-called ‘primary urine,’ which is the product of the first step of filtration.
The second step of urine production happens in the center of the kidneys, called medulla, where a system of super fine tubes called tubule regulates elimination and recycling of electrolytes and water.
When your dog is dehydrated, the renal tubules have to work extra hard to recycle water and prevent further dehydration. Logically, the harder the kidneys have to work, the more prone they are to failing, similar to a water pump or air filtration system in your home that works overtime.
That’s why it’s very important to offer your dog plenty of clean, fresh and filtered water to maintain metabolic function and protect the kidneys.
The distilled water myth
Some people mistakenly believe distilled water is the ultimate pure water. It’s produced by boiling and evaporation, which makes it free of some, but not all, toxins. However, distilled water is void of natural minerals and drinking distilled water results in the body losing cellular minerals and reduces the electrolyte balance. This loss of electrolytes can become a serious problem. According to a World Health Organization report, demineralized water needs to be fortified with minerals to avoid serious health concerns.
On the other hand, filtered water is a healthy option in today’s polluted world. Filters get rid of toxins and chlorine, while mostly preserving the minerals.
Alkalized water - is it good for dogs?
The common understanding of human nutrition is we should aim for a neutral or slightly alkaline pH in our blood and saliva. Some practitioners have suggested alkalizing the body by drinking alkaline water. The market has been flooded with water filters and devices that make water more alkaline. I’ve tried alkaline water but never felt as well as when I drink good fresh water. My experience is alkaline water causes increased urine production, which may be a sign kidney stress.
Also, dogs optimum pH is slightly acidic. Their optimal urine pH is around six to six and a half, which is the main reason why I don’t recommend alkaline water for dogs.
Good mineral balance leads to better hydration
One of the key ways to create a healthy and long life for your dog is to provide essential nutrients in the most natural form. Minerals are the hardest to source nutrient group and the body cannot produce them on its own. Intensive agriculture has caused food to be permanently depleted of minerals.
That is one of the reasons why so many dog lovers have consistently seen positive changes after they start their dogs on GreenMin.
While providing plant-based minerals can have a very positive effect on your dog’s health, there is another equally important function of minerals and that is maintaining optimal hydration.
Think about a salt shaker. If you leave it in a humid environment, the salt will absorb water. In other words, the body needs a sufficient supply of minerals to maintain proper hydration. Without minerals present, the kidneys are forced to let water go. Why? Because it is more important to maintain the proper ratio of minerals and water, or osmotic balance. If the osmotic balance is disturbed with a low mineral to water ratio, cells will swell and eventually die off. When you add a broad-spectrum, plant-based minerals in food, the body is able to retain more water and optimal hydration.
Without an abundance of minerals, the body is incapable of maintaining proper hydration, the primary conditions of good health and longevity.
What is the optimal water intake for your dog?
An average dog should consume approximately 1/2 to 1 oz of water per lb (30-60 ml/kg) per day. However, don’t take this number as an absolute because many conditions can dramatically increase your dog’s water requirement, such as hot weather or vigorous exercise that leads to water loss due to panting.
Dogs don’t have sweat glands and regulate their body temperature through panting. The higher the external temperature or the more intense your dog’s activity is, the higher the water loss is due to panting.
On the other hand, excessive drinking may be a sign of a medical problem such as diabetes, kidney disease or adrenal gland disease, to name a few.
Biking and running with dogs
These activities deserve special attention when it comes to hydration and water. Many people enjoy taking their dogs for a bike ride, however, if you put yourself in the place of your dog by running after your biking friends, you’ll learn it’s very easy to underestimate the degree of effort your dog needs to keep up.
In fact, biking with dogs is one of the most common causes of stubborn, hard to treat urinary incontinence in dogs.
Jogging with dogs, on the other hand, is usually fine, unless you are a long distance marathon runner or your dog is still growing, which means that his growth plates are still vulnerable to separating (fracturing) off the bone.
Kibble is a major cause of dehydration
A significant cause of dehydration is kibble and other dehydrated foods. Dogs have evolved eating predominantly fresh and well-hydrated food, which is also a source of hydration. As soon as a dog eats dehydrated and processed food, it sucks up liquids from the stomach and intestines, which naturally leads to a state of dehydration. That’s one reason dogs on kibble drink so much and why kibble puts an unbearable amount of stress on kidneys. Dehydrated food loses about 75 percent of its volume and most of the loss is water.
Considering good hydration is the key to good health and longevity, this is one of the main reasons to keep your dog away from kibble.
Dehydrated raw food that is rehydrated before feeding may be the one exception, however, it is still nutritionally less valuable than raw food.
Carry an insulated water bottle for you and your dog
Over the years, I’ve come across many water bottles for people and dogs but many are not great at keeping water cool. My favorite is Hydroflask because it comes in a variety of sizes and colors and their bottles keep water cool the whole day, which is especially important on hot summer days when water has two functions for your dog - cooling and hydration.
Should dogs be reminded to drink?
Personally, I feel encouraging your dog to drink is a good idea. Similar to us, dogs sometimes get busy and forget they should drink until they are very thirsty. When you see your dog drinking, you can start using a cue to train your dog to drink on command.
The timing of the cue is important. As soon as you see your dog drinking, say something like “have some water” or “water.” If you repeat this exercise a few times, you will be able to use this cue to prompt your dog to drink.
One last very important message
Our society still has a lot to catch up on when it comes to accepting dogs in public spaces, stores and restaurants. Dogs love to come along with us for our errands but because of unreasonable laws and regulations, people leave their dogs behind at home, alone and bored or they leave them in cars or tied up in front of stores, which puts them at risk of being stolen, overheating and dehydration.
Winter, early spring and late fall may be fine in many temperate climates, however the video posted below was created by one of my caring colleagues and clearly shows that leaving a dog in the car with the windows cracked open is unsafe and can be life threatening. We must not be fooled by outside temperatures because a car can turn into a deadly oven, even when the outside temperature does not seem too bad.
This article may leave you surprised at how deeply your dog’s hydration connects with his or her health and longevity.
Just remember that carrying a bottle of fresh, cool water, feeding fresh food instead of kibble and ensuring that your dog’s diet includes full-spectrum minerals can make a great difference in your dog’s health and longevity.
PS: One more thing! Make sure you clean your dog’s water bowl daily and wash it in a dishwasher regularly to prevent bacterial growth and contamination.
© Dr. Peter Dobias, DVM