Ask a Vet: Pet Hydration 101!

This is a guest blog by Kristin Budinich, VMD, of the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

July is Pet Hydration Month, and with summer in full swing, keeping your pet hydrated in the heat and humidity is essential for keeping them healthy and preventing illness.

Just like people, your pet’s body is made up of mostly water—about 80 percent. Water is essential for every important bodily function, and without it, they wouldn’t survive. In addition to helping with food digestion and nutrient absorption, water helps our pets regulate their body temperature (which is especially important in the summer because dogs don’t sweat) and flush toxins out of the body.  

While we may scrutinize the ingredient list on a bag of food to select a high quality diet for our pet, most of us don’t give nearly enough attention to the other important part of overall nutrition: water! Our pets require adequate amounts of water each day so that their bodies can stay healthy.

How much water does your pet actually need?

As a general rule, dogs should drink approximately one ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. Activity levels and environmental factors will obviously play a role; dogs that are more active require more water, while sedentary pets in cooler environments may require less. Dogs regulate their body temperature mainly by panting, so these water losses will need to be replaced on those hot summer days.

Since most of us are in the habit of just filling the water bowl and plopping it on the ground until it’s empty and we fill it again, how can you be sure that your pet is getting enough water?

  • Measure the amount of water that you pour into your pet’s bowl. This is easy enough, and can help you monitor intake. Remember that canned food is about 70 to 80 percent water, so pets that eat canned food may drink less than those on a dry diet.
  • Ensure that fresh water is available at all times, and that the water bowl is large enough, not tippable and cleaned regularly.
  • Cats may prefer a water fountain of continuously circulating water if they tend to enjoy drinking from the sink.
  • If your pet frequently moves throughout the house, place water sources on each floor of the home where they most often spend their time.
  • A portable water bowl should be taken on walks, or brought outside during longer play periods.
  • Ice cubes can be added to the dog’s water bowl or given as a treat. Oral electrolyte solutions or broths are available for finicky drinkers, and edible liquids can also be frozen into Kong toys for added fun and a yummy treat!

Remember that pets with illnesses such as diabetes or kidney diseases may have increased thirst compared to their healthy counterparts, but if your pet hasn’t been diagnosed with one of these things and they are constantly at the water bowl, a visit to the veterinarian is in order.

How do you know if your pet is dehydrated?

Telltale signs of dehydration include sticky gums, sunken eyes or decreased activity. Check your pet’s “skin tent” for a quick assessment of hydration by gently lifting up on the skin between your animal’s shoulder blades, then watching how quickly it falls back into place. Normally, the skin should fall right back into place, but in a dehydrated animal, there is a delay because the skin is less elastic. Pets who are chronically dehydrated may have a dry, flaky hair coat that lacks luster.

Ensuring that pets are well-hydrated is important not just during Pet Hydration month, but throughout their entire lives!

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Dr. Budinich is a veterinarian at PAWS, which offers low-cost spay/neuter and basic veterinary care to pet owners and rescue organizations that cannot otherwise access or afford care. PAWS’ clinics enable struggling pet owners to keep their pets as part of their families, rather than surrendering them to shelters. Reducing the number of animals that face homelessness is part of PAWS’ overall mission to make Philadelphia a no-kill city where every healthy and treatable pet is guaranteed a home. For more information or to adopt, foster, donate, or volunteer, please visit www.phillypaws.org.

 

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