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The Danger of Water Intoxication
Swimming dogs are at risk of ingesting too much water

Last week a friend’s dog had a close call with water intoxication. Her crew was playing in a local river when one of her Border Collies emerged staggering and vomiting liquid.

Symptoms quickly worsened on the way to the vet, but after a few harrowing days, the dog was fortunate to make a full recovery.

Apparently the poor pup ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball. Drinking too much causes electrolyte levels to drop, thinning blood plasma and leading to swelling of the brain and other organs.

Before I learned about water intoxication, I thought that playing in the lake was safe if your dog was a strong swimmer. But now I know to be mindful of how my guys interact with the water and to force them to take ample breaks. Dogs can even drink too much water from playing with a lawn sprinkler.

Unfortunately water intoxication progresses quickly. Now that summer is officially here, it’s important to review the signs so you can get an affected dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Symptoms include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

As the weather gets warmer, stay safe. Water intoxication can affect both people and our pups.     

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by sharper65/flickr.

CommentsPost a Comment
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Submitted by Anonymous | June 6 2012 |

This is good to know as my dog loves to bite the hose and gets lots of water in his mouth. Now I will be more careful.

Submitted by jmakarick | June 8 2012 |

Interesting article, since our labradors are in the water every day playing and doing retriever training. We have never had this problem. I have taken action photos of the dogs as they enter the water, and it is amazing to see how they hold their heads up (mouths closed) as they hit the water. I liked jerseycaptain's response. This is probably a rare occurance. The dogs would be more likely to get ill from bacteria or algae in the water than too much water. We are careful where we train, but certainly will continue to let our labs enjoy the water!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 21 2012 |

There are better articles that explain the science behind water intoxication, part of the problem is that the electrolytes get diluted and cause cells to swell. This can be caused by all water, even bottled.
Please research and do not take this lightly. Water intoxication can also happen in humans and 1-2 athletes die of this yearly.

Submitted by kota | June 13 2013 |

This can also happen in humans! That is why it's not good to just drink water, you need the electrolytes in tea, juice, etc.

Submitted by Suzanne Meadows | June 14 2013 |

Polydipsia is so extrememly rare to happen in humans merely drinking normal amounts of liquids. An inconceivable amount of water has to be imbibed and the body would naturally start by throwing it up. In one documented case report the 37 y.o. male patient had a "...several month history of excess fluid intake, drinking 8–10 litres of diet coke a day, 15–20 cups of coffee and several cups of water every few minutes." So drink the basic 8-10 8oz glasses of water a day doesn't qualify as polydipsia.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 17 2013 |

Polydipsia is excessive thirst. It has nothing to do with water intoxication. Nice "big word" though.

Submitted by James | June 21 2013 |

I personally know someone who had the "too much water, too little electrolyte" problem, whatever it is called. Was very serious, did not take much. Just too much water while she was working out extra hard. It did not take an "inconceivable amount of water."

Submitted by Leo Weisman | February 26 2014 |

Polydipsia, though perhaps rare in the overall population, is much more common in a psychiatric population and some must be put on a protocol and prevention and weights taken to identify the percent change. It is a life threatening disorder. It is all too conceivable.

With this article I'm frustrated that it doesn't identify how much water per animal pound per day for a sedentary dog, our plain house dog, would be too much water to consume.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 12 2013 |

Our Cockapoo does not hold his mouth closed in the water at all. We had him in the pool last summer with a life jacket on. His inclination was to leave his mouth wide open and scoop in water as he swam. Not good! It's important to know your dog, watch him closely and make the best choices you can in the moment. Tanner did not seem to enjoy the water at all, so it could have been a stress response too.

Submitted by Jo | June 24 2013 |

if he didn't enjoy the water why did you keep putting him in it?

Submitted by Terry Dyck | July 29 2013 |

I am not so sure this is all that rare, just undiagnosed. I personally know three people with dogs that have almost died due to water intoxication, and one is fighting for its life at this moment. Please do not take this lightly.

Submitted by Jody Agerton | August 10 2013 |

I agree, I need to either find some cleaner wakling places or move. Cecil County is so nasty, my dog gets skin bumps and they last till the winter… Golden retrioevers gonna have to do something serious every time is booms back worse

Submitted by jmakarick | June 8 2012 |

Interesting article, since our labradors are in the water every day playing and doing retriever training. We have never had this problem. I have taken action photos of the dogs as they enter the water, and it is amazing to see how they hold their heads up (mouths closed) as they hit the water. I liked jerseycaptain's response. This is probably a rare occurance. The dogs would be more likely to get ill from bacteria or algae in the water than too much water. We are careful where we train, but certainly will continue to let our labs enjoy the water!

Submitted by Megan Maimer | June 12 2013 |

Your dogs probably are less likely to experience this as well since they are naturally water dogs and instinctually may know how to keep their head and mouth out of water a little better. Just a thought?

Submitted by Anonymous | June 13 2013 |

Yes, I have had 2 Labs and I think they do instinctively keep head and open mouth out of the water. Maybe not so with other breeds.

Submitted by Jeremiah | July 27 2013 |

My lab jumps in and swims with her mouth closed. I think this is instinctual as these dogs were originally bred to retrieve fishing nets. However, she's usually retrieving her tennis ball or a decoy and cannot shut her mouth completely around her toy meaning she swallows a decent amount. I'll definitely be more careful to make her take breaks. Retrieving is work for her and she would literally kill herself in the attempt to please. I won't keep her from swimming though as that is probably a fate worse than death for most water dogs. I'll take ice to the park too to make sure she can cool down with less water consumption.

Submitted by Diane | June 8 2012 |

My dog will drink to much water & cause it self to vomit! I have to keep a close eye on him & only allow him small amounts at a time or he over drinks an vomits every time. He will also over eat his food. I have to feed him small amounts at a time thru out the day.. I do not know what causes this. But his father did the same thing & he died from it B4 I figured out what was going on.. Any one know what causes this? My Pit Bull :0)U

Submitted by Anonymous | June 14 2012 |

could have been Megaesophagus

Submitted by Cat | June 11 2013 |

Could be Cushings syndrome

Diagnosis

Signalment
Canine Cushing's syndrome occurs most commonly in middle-aged to older dogs, though it can occur at any age.

Incidence/prevalence
Cushing's syndrome is one of the most common endocrine (hormonal) disorders of dogs.

Geographic distribution
Canine Cushing's syndrome occurs worldwide.

Clinical signs (primary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Increased thirst (polydipsia), Increased urination (polyuria), Increased appetite (polyphagia), Hair loss (alopecia), Blackheads (comedones), Potbelly (abdominal distension), Panting, Muscle weakness.

Clinical signs (secondary, most to least frequent, scientific term, synonyms)
Decreased libido, Respiratory distress (dyspnea) can occur due to pulmonary thromboembolism (blood clot in the lungs). Neurological signs such as seizures, behavior changes, blindness, circling and disorientation can occur.

Submitted by Tegan | June 15 2013 |

How about you take your dog to a vet. Don't attempt to (very inaccurately) diagnose a condition online.
You can't type random stuff into a search engine, and have it come close to a competent veterinary diagnosis. And your search engine also can not treat the dog and potentially save it's life...just a thought.

Submitted by Theresek | June 12 2013 |

If you feed dry food- it swells when it hits the liquids in the stomach creating too large mass causing the dog to vomit. Soak food first & note how much more there is after. Dogs (& cats) are designed to gorge on food, as hunting is not productive daily. Add competion for resources...

Submitted by synderyella | June 12 2013 |

pica?

Submitted by Elisa Miranda | June 28 2013 |

Just a thought but you might try getting a Kong or similar toy that you fill with food. The dog has to work a bit to get the food out and this slows them down so they cannot gulp the food down too fast. Labs. have a tendency to do this too and it causes "bloat" which can be very dangerous. I have a dog that is a "food guarder" and we have to use the Kong to feed or she won't let the other dog eat. I've tried other things and so far this is the only thing that has worked for her (spoiled brat). For some reason she will allow the other dog to have the Kong but not a food dish to eat from open to other suggestions if anyone has any. But for now this works well. Anyway, I have seen other products that operate on the same principle, slow the dogs ability to get at the food. Good luck and sorry for the loss of your other pet.

Submitted by Humane Society,... | February 12 2014 |

We have a dog right now who drinks too much. We have to limit his intake to 3 liters a day. He is 47 lbs. All his tests have been normal. We now have a vet school looking into his problem. You need
to take your dog to a vet endocrinologist if you can afford it. We're
trying to get an automatic water dispenser made so our dog can be given 2 cups of water every 2.5 hours and then nothing in the night for about
6 hours, making a maximum amount he is given 3 liters per day. Only give dry kibble with water over it.

Submitted by Slim | April 12 2014 |

Hi, did you have any success in finding or making a timed water dispenser? I have a dog with Diabetes Insipidus and we have to give him 12 ounces 3 times a day at specific times. This makes it difficult for us on the days we are not home all day - which will soon be increasing. I don't see any kind of programmable water dispenser like they have for foods. Any suggestions appreciated. slimikin@hotmail.com

Submitted by Chloe | July 7 2014 |

Hey, I know this is a super old post, but I have an American Bulldog that does exactly the same thing. I've found that one of the eat slow bowls (I got mine on Amazon) really is amazing for slowing them down. My favorite is a teal one that is formed of concentric circles...it makes a HUGE difference. Slowed her down from about 15 seconds to finish to more like 90 seconds. Hope you and your dogs are doing well! Blessings!

Submitted by Karen Monroe | June 13 2013 |

My gsd does the same thing. He goes crazy!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 7 2012 |

In my case, one of my two Australian Shepherd dogs does enjoy going into lakes, creeks and even into the waves on the beach to play. And he will occasionally take a few laps of water. However, he has never shown any ill effects other than a little loose stool from drinking salt water. (The case of those two Border Collies could also just as easily have been them tossing up water from gulping it too fast. That is not an indication of poisoning...it's just the body ejecting a mass of rapidly ingested water...especially if it enters the windpipe...that's something humans and other animals experience too...and it is not, in of itself, an indication of overt danger).

Now, anyone worth their salt (if you'll forgive the pun, lol) knows that imbibing excessive amounts of salt water can cause brain damage and a dangerous physical condition. Fortunately, I keep a close eye on him, and he has never done more than take a few laps. My other Aussie never approaches ocean water, and only rarely goes near fresh water. But neither have ever shown any ill effects, fortunately...other than what I mentioned above.

I think the case mentioned has more to do with an owner not keeping watch on their dogs, and allowing them to drink large quantities of it. Or else from actively tossing a ball or toy into the water, and the dogs taking in large gulps while grabbing the toys from the water. That's on the owner for not being more careful.

I think the smart thing to always do is to be proactive and mindful, not worrisome. If we all go around expecting something like this is always going to happen, we're going to keep our dogs from having fun and we are going to make ourselves unduly stressed. I'd also point out that you just never know whether or not the particular body of water mentioned in this story was tainted in some way. Personally I am not going to go forward at this point keeping my dogs clear of any body of water out of fear that every droplet might be poisonous or otherwise tainted. I will just continue to be mindful, proactive and involved with my dogs in their fun. THAT'S the smart thing to do.

Submitted by Anonymous | July 3 2012 |

I think it's pretty easy to start finger-pointing and accusing the owner of being negligent, when I doubt she was. I doubt that she was even aware that something like this can happen - I don't think most people are. The full intent of the article was to make dog owners aware of what the possible repercussions of consuming large quantities of water over a short period of time could be. Thank goodness people like this are willing to share their experiences so other dogs can be spared having to suffer the same fate.

Submitted by Anonymous | February 10 2013 |

Gosh, if we all start finger pointing then how are we to learn and share our experiences with others. I for one think bringing up this subject is very valuable as not many people would be aware of the dangers that dogs can suffer from consuming to much water. Thank you for bring this subject up.

Submitted by diane cullimore | June 14 2013 |

Agree with you there.I think far too many people think they know everything there is to know.I have had 6 dogs now and am still learning new things.I did know that drinking seawater can kill a dog very quickly but i hadn't heard of this so thank you.Lyme disease is also something dogs and humans can pick up in inland water and it can be fatal.

Submitted by Ashley | July 18 2013 |

Lyme disease is spread by ticks, not picked up by "inland water."

Lepto is what dogs can get from stagnant water.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 13 2013 |

Thank you, exactly what you said, my 11 year old blk.lab acting funny after a swim at the lake, I neve heard of this, and he's always been just fine, called vet and going to take him in, also the info on Cushings Syndrome, very scary but real...life is about learning, sharing what we learn is good thanks so much..to everybody...please say a prayer for my Shadow-boy

Submitted by khillls | June 13 2013 |

Agree with this post. I never heard of this before, but I have heard that blue-green algae is toxic and can be in the water without any visible sign. We have decided to let our Goldens enjoy the lake in our yard that they live for. More frightening than this is the water moccasins in our lake.

Submitted by jerseycaptain | June 7 2012 |

In my case, one of my two Australian Shepherd dogs does enjoy going into lakes, creeks and even into the waves on the beach to play. And he will occasionally take a few laps of water. However, he has never shown any ill effects other than a little loose stool from drinking salt water. (The case of those two Border Collies could also just as easily have been them tossing up water from gulping it too fast. That is not an indication of poisoning...it's just the body ejecting a mass of rapidly ingested water...especially if it enters the windpipe...that's something humans and other animals experience too...and it is not, in of itself, an indication of overt danger).

Now, anyone worth their salt (if you'll forgive the pun, lol) knows that imbibing excessive amounts of salt water can cause brain damage and a dangerous physical condition. Fortunately, I keep a close eye on him, and he has never done more than take a few laps. My other Aussie never approaches ocean water, and only rarely goes near fresh water. But neither have ever shown any ill effects, fortunately...other than what I mentioned above.

I think the case mentioned has more to do with an owner not keeping watch on their dogs, and allowing them to drink large quantities of it. Or else from actively tossing a ball or toy into the water, and the dogs taking in large gulps while grabbing the toys from the water. That's on the owner for not being more careful.

I think the smart thing to always do is to be proactive and mindful, not worrisome. If we all go around expecting something like this is always going to happen, we're going to keep our dogs from having fun and we are going to make ourselves unduly stressed. I'd also point out that you just never know whether or not the particular body of water mentioned in this story was tainted in some way. Personally I am not going to go forward at this point keeping my dogs clear of any body of water out of fear that every droplet might be poisonous or otherwise tainted. I will just continue to be mindful, proactive and involved with my dogs in their fun. THAT'S the smart thing to do.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 7 2012 |

Having been hospitalized for this myself, it's serious business. Thanks for posting. My dog never met a puddle she didn't love, so this is a good heads up!

Submitted by Margarat | June 7 2012 |

That's why I use a Water Loopie Sport toy for my dog. She can grab it above the water line, minimizing water intake (especially important in the ocean!).
http://www.loopiestoys.com/products/water-loopies/

Submitted by Kristi | June 7 2012 |

This article should include more info including details on how to avoid the condition....

Submitted by Jenn | June 12 2013 |

"But now I know to be mindful of how my guys interact with the water and to force them to take ample breaks."

Submitted by Linda Henning | June 7 2012 |

Just because our dogs will do something over and over for an extended time does not mean they should. Retrieving in water should be fun and varied with retrieving on land to dry off or warm up. Ten minutes or until the dog is breathing heavily, which ever comes FIRST is plenty. Then you can do it again after a rest session. Dogs CAN get heat exhaustion even in the water and never put a hot, wet dog in a closed environment like a kennel or car. They can suffocate.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 8 2012 |

Thanks for taking the time to post this warning. I have a foster dog that loves to drink from the sprinkler. He's my 1st experience of this kind so now I know to restrict his sprinkler water consumption.

Submitted by karen | June 9 2012 |

i have a question ~ does this also constitute dogs that get wobbly in the bath like they are "drunk" or falling asleep? not drinking water but just so relaxed. i find it happens in red dogs and blonde dogs. i kninda give them loving pats "wake up" to bring them back. can someone elaborate?
thanks

Submitted by aussiemom | June 10 2012 |

question about this...does this also apply to dogs that are being bathed and become wobbly, unstable, drunk-like? almost like they are falling asleep while bathed? i see this alot in the red dogs and blonde dogs. not drinking water just so relaxed they stagger and fall if you dont catch them? please someone elaborate on this that knows what exactly causes this.
thanks

Submitted by Stacey | July 10 2012 |

No, what you describe is not water intoxication. It is most likely due to the bath water being too warm.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 18 2012 |

Can happen to people too...with the same symptoms

Submitted by michaelbrandon | June 18 2012 |

Very interesting, thanks for sharing. However, does this still apply to water fowl retrieving breeds? Where they're built for this sole function?

Submitted by Anonymous | July 22 2012 |

YES this applies to any and ALL breeds!!!

Submitted by Mary Ann | June 23 2012 |

Thank you for sharing this....one of my dog loves attacking the water spraying out of the hose....I had to put hose away last week before completing my watering, because she was starting to choke and would not stop regardless....like children you have to set limits for some pets as well....she was gung-ho!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Submitted by Anonymous | July 5 2012 |

My 8 month puppy is staying overnight at the vets tonight because he injested too much lake water. He just absolutely LOVES the water! I thought I was doing him a favor by letting him swim his little puppy heart out! He looked like he wanted to swallow the entire lake! It was funny! However, when I brought him home after our swim, he went from puppy mode to almost a death look in his eyes. I think we saved him by bringing him right away to the hospital. His symptoms were as mentioned avove in this article: lethargy, nausea, vomiting foam, dilated pupils, glazed eyes. The Vet told us that his potasium levels were 3.0 and was supposed to be between 3.5-5.0. So nonetheless, my puppy Jagger is staying overnight at the clinic with them monitoring his potasium levels all night... I never thought that too much water could cause this! Be very careful pet owners and cautious when it comes to letting your dog swim! It could turn out to be life threatening! The good thing is that my puppy is now in good hands, THANK GOD!

Submitted by Diane | October 29 2013 |

I am so thankful your puppy survived. Also, I am glad you posted this to reconfirm that this happens. I know because I lost my pet to this horrifying situation.

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