There's a lot of focus on what to feed a dog, but little thought about the water they drink. Water is every bit as important as the food your dog eats, as it carries important nutrients to the cells throughout his body. Every one of your dog's functions relies on water, and if he doesn't have enough, he can quickly become dehydrated. Fortunately, most dogs know exactly what they need to drink.
Ten for Ten
As a general rule, a healthy dog who is moderately active should drink between 10 ounces of water per 10 pounds over the course of a day. So if your dog's a smaller fellow of around 25 pounds, that's about 25 ounces a day; a large dog of about 70 pounds should be drinking approximately 70 ounces a day. If your dog eats canned food, he may not need quite as much because canned food is comprised of approximately 70 to 80 percent water, compared to the 5 to 10 percent water content of kibble.
Factors Affecting Water Intake
Occasionally an illness such as diabetes, liver or kidney disease, or medication will cause a dog to drink more or less water than he normally would. A pregnant or lactating dog will need more water than normal because of the increased demands on her body. Anti-inflammatories, seizure medications and drugs to treat heart failure may cause a dog to urinate and drink more. When the temperature rises, it's normal -- and healthy -- for a dog to seek out water to help him cool off. And if he's particularly active he'll also likely ask for more water. When a dog pants and salivates a lot, he'll try to make up the difference by drinking more water.
If your dog is coping with a condition that makes him prone to dehydration, you should understand how to check his hydration level. A skin check is the simplest way to gauge hydration; gently pick up a fold of loose skin on top of his shoulder blades and release it. If he's properly hydrated, his skin should be pliable and quickly snap back into place. If he's dehydrated, it will be slower to return, or "tent," staying up a bit before falling back into place. Other signs of dehydration include a dry mouth and nose, dry, sunken eyes and sticky, pale gums.
Dehydration can be serious business, and depending on the circumstances, it requires veterinary attention. If your dog's a bit dehydrated because he just had a bout of vigorous exercise, rehydrating with a bowl of water likely will do the trick, though he shouldn't drink too much too quickly or he may get sick. If he's mildly dehydrated -- a bit lethargic or showing ropy saliva -- take time to rehydrate him. Give him small amounts of water every 10 minutes for several hours; a small dog should have a teaspoon every 10 minutes, compared to a tablespoon or two for a large dog. Too much water too fast can cause a dog to vomit, further complicating his situation. If his skin is tenting, he's vomiting or has diarrhea, he needs to see the vet because it doesn't take long for organ damage to occur from dehydration.
Too Much of a Good Thing
There is too much of a good thing, including water. Some dogs drink too much and suffer from overhydration. Signs of water intoxication include bloating, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, loss of coordination, excessive salivation, glazed eyes and pale gums. This is a serious condition, potentially leading to collapse, seizures and even death.
Generally, a dog knows exactly how much he needs to drink, however, if you pay attention, you'll know he's on the right track. Refill his bowl to the same level at about the same time of day every day and keep an eye on the level to see how much he's drinking through the day. Provide a steady supply of fresh water available to him wherever he is, whether at home or on the road. If it's hot out, he may appreciate an ice cube in his water for extra refreshment. If he's reticent to drink water, try adding a little salt-free chicken broth to increase his interest.