JoAnna Lou
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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.     

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

Photo by sharper65/flickr.

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Submitted by Erin | June 8 2013 |

My best friends dog died from this today. I feel horrible for her. Died at the ER.

Submitted by tiffanygrace | September 7 2013 |

Sorry to heard bout the dog's passing.

Submitted by Simon Falla | June 11 2013 |

If this info saves 1 dog...it's been worth it!...shared across facebook...thanks for the headsup

Submitted by C Rickwood | June 11 2013 |

I was a lorry driver during that hot summer of 1976 or 7. I too, drank too much water over a short period of time one day and I was seriously ill. My electrolyte levels were way down and I was vomiting and dizzy yet still wanting to drink more water as the thirst was still there. Not nice at all. Little and often is the answer.

Submitted by Laura | June 11 2013 |

Drinking too much water is more common than drinking too little,in humans, and I imagine the consequences are exactly the same. In very hot weather, carrying an isotonic drink may be a good shout to quench thirst (tho obvs doesnt stop issue described above,ingesting water while swimming-half flat coke mixed with water is pretty close to the electrolyte balance needed . (Not for all the time obviously as we'd be surrounded by even more rotund dogs!) So glad the affected dog was ok in the end.

Submitted by Robyn | June 11 2013 |

This happened to my friend's dog - they had a fun day at the dogpark that had a lake and she didn't notice that every time he went in the lake he was taking some sips of water.....well...she noticed, but didn't think much of it because she, like most people out there, had never even heard of such a thing happening. When she got him home she noticed he wasn't right... He ended up in the ER and almost died - thank goodness she got him there and they were able to help him and he didn't suffer any lasting consequences, but it sure was scary.

Submitted by LANA MARS | June 11 2013 |


Submitted by Teena | June 11 2013 |

My daughters Jack Russel had the same problem when we took her to the beach, she continued to gulp a lot of water while getting the ball so I decided to stop, luckily no problems arose from it but we would never take her to the beach again..

Submitted by spepper | June 12 2013 |

i would like to point out that humans can also do this, drinking large amounts of water has the same effects on humans. sounds strange but true.


Submitted by Cmdrted | June 12 2013 |

Interesting to say the least. Having been involved in Water Resuce training with Newfoundland Dogs. I have never seen a case of a Newfoundland having this. I've seen hundreds of Newfies training in the water and they have never had this problem. Wonder if some dog breeds are less likely to develop this problem due to their make-up?

Submitted by Cuykaylab | June 12 2013 |

I will now be watchful of this, BUT I've trained Labs and other retrievers for 20 years and have never seen any of these symptoms. Perhaps they are more likely to close their mouths when diving in....? They are consistently diving into water for bumpers, ducks and such. So I think it's good to be aware and watchful, but I'm not losing sleep over it. Foxtails on land are a bigger problem. Tlc

Submitted by susan williams | June 12 2013 |

I have to watch my border/jack all the time, after 5 minutes she has to come out and just run around on land because her stomach will start to bloat up if I am not watching. So she gets a couple throws in the water and then some on land and this keeps her fit but also does not let her ingest to much water all at once.

Submitted by Suzie | June 12 2013 |

Was glad to read this article. I have a blue heeler/austrailian shepherd mix that will fetch a ball or frisbee until you make you him stop. He will take breaks and gulps down water when it's hot out. The other day he vomitted all of the water he drank and just lay there. I had no idea what happened to him. He eventually perked back up so I did not have to take him to a vet, but I have since only put a little bit of water down for him at a time so I could monitor that. I figured it was from drinking too fast, but maybe it is also from drinking so much. I didn't know there was a name for this. I will definitely be tweaking out playing and break time habits a bit.

Submitted by S. robin yale | June 12 2013 |

Another excellent info- dialogue from a favorite Vet on line and in practice. Thank you! Dr. Becker!

Submitted by Liss | June 12 2013 |

The author was clear that the dog had it's mouth open as it jumped in after the ball, over and over - thus the risk of water intoxication would be much greater. If your dog jumps in with mouth closed - much less risk. I read this as a general warning of something owners of water-loving dogs need to be aware of, and not as advice to keep your dog out of water. Thank you for this helpful article.

Submitted by Florence Maisch | June 12 2013 |

Thank you very much for this information. It might save my dog someday.

Submitted by Jill | June 12 2013 |

Our Golden Retriever loves to fetch a ball from the lake; however, he has joint problems and is therefore overweight and has difficulty keeping his head above the water when returning with the ball in his open mouth. He often staggers out of the water wretching and vomits a bit of water or whatever might have been in his stomach to that point of the day. Is this something I need to be concerned about? He is going for an ACL repair/replacement and I plan to purchase a canine life jacket with a flap that prevents his mouth being below the water so hopefully we can alleviate this altogether. I have always been mildly concerned about it, but after reading this article I am very concerned. Please respond.

Submitted by Jan | June 12 2013 |

But...what do you do 'till you get to the vet? What does the vet have to do? Inquiring minds want to know.

Submitted by synderyella | June 12 2013 |

It is the electrolytes that get diluted by the water. You need to replace them...gatorade for people...if you have a water dog (labrador, newfoundland, etc) who is going to be in the water a lot...you give them treats during their break ...I use electrobytes a dog treat made by Volhard nutrtion http://www.volharddognutrition.com/ It is especially important for potassium as it is crucial to the heart and brain and muscles. K+ has a small window of normal range...too much is filtered by kidneys but too little (diluted by water) can lead to permant injury and/or death. Watch your dogs retrieving in water....especially those who retrieve submerged objects. They need to take breaks with rest and food to replace the electrolytes and regulate their body metabolism/temperature. Vets can infuse potassium and electrolytes intravenously but they have to go in slowly and the dog can suffer permant damage to cells waiting for the electrolytes to stablilize. By the time you notice symptoms it could be too late. I highly recommend buying electrobyte treats or some other treat to help keep your dog healthy. Kidneys can filter off waste to keep levels in the normal range if they are high but too low you have to replace!

Submitted by RAE | June 12 2013 |

I had a friend that ended up in the psych ward because he tried to kill himself by drinking toooooo much water. Almost got the job done.

Submitted by dawn casey | June 12 2013 |

After taking my dog to the beach she got salt water poisoning from me throwing the ball in the sea and her gulping water with the ball. She got really sick and ended up in the vet all night on a drip. Not good beware :(

Submitted by Michelle | June 12 2013 |

Good to know...My 2 year old cocker drinks water out of the bathtub faucet, he has since he was tall enough to reach it. I try to control his water intake since he has vomited from too much at one time as a pup. Now I know to really watch how much he ingests.

Submitted by Bonnie | June 12 2013 |

This is just horrible....alot of people play with their dogs that way too.....this needs to be circulated

Submitted by paulvruggeri | June 12 2013 |

Always a good idea to make sure your pets are *properly* hydrated. As with so many things, they simply cannot tell us "I need more water" and are simply incapable of understanding that there is any possible risk from drinking too much.

However, something is missing from this story. From what I understand, it takes a lot to bring on water intoxication, and somehow the dog just trolling for the ball in the water with it's mouth open just doesn't jibe: "Apparently the poor pup ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball." This seems like typical dog behavior, no?

It seems like some of the risk factors that can hasten it were simply left out: Did the dog have any condition that might pre-dispose to the risk factors? Low body mass, other dietary deficiencies, was it very hot that day with the owner playing ball w the dog for an excessive amount of time, over exerting the dog? If any of these were the case, it would have been helpful to mention them. The article seems to oversimplify the issue and, not detailing further what happened could lead people to the wrong course of action as well. Just wanted to note that.

Of course, keep in mind that I am not an expert on dogs by any means...


Submitted by mary e. adams | June 12 2013 |

Very interesting. Over the years have had dogs that love the water and retrieving in the water. Didn't know it could be harmful to them. Thank You for the info.

Submitted by susan haugh | June 12 2013 |

another thing to think about for dogs that drink water from the garden hose is that it is not safe for a dog or a human to drink hose water. it has some chemicals in the water from the fixtures and the hose itself. so if you or your dogs drink from the hose, it's a good idea to get a hose that is for potable (safe drinking ) water. they are available at places like walmart or home depot. better safe than sorry. although i wonder how my family survived all these years drinking from a hose.

Submitted by Aloha Dave | June 12 2013 |

I don't think Jerseycaptian understands the article. Our dog had those symptoms a week ago. She is a year old mix that loves swimming in the pool and retrieving a ball. She swallowed to much water during all "the fun" and became lethargic and had continuous drooling. We were not at fault for not watching the dog. We were playing with her the whole time and she was having a blast. We did not realize how much water she was swallowing during the playing. This could happen to anyone whose dogs are in the water a lot. She is fine but the scare was enough to make us realize that you need to schedule breaks during these kinds of activities.

Submitted by Nina Click | June 12 2013 |

Thanks for letting us know this. My dogs love to play with balls in the pool. After reading this there will be no more balls in the pool for them.

Submitted by Beth Leucht | June 12 2013 |

Thanks for the information!

Submitted by Kim Christensen | June 13 2013 |

Last year my baby Shmoo drank too much water, and started acting strangely (he also had limber tail from swimming too much at the beginning of the season). After his 20 minute session in the pool, his hypoanatremia manifested itself as inability to get comfortable once back inside the house, and confused, strange behavior, like walking aimlessly and circling himself (both behaviors he NEVER exhibits). He did not vomit, but was breathing heavy. Reading that his sodium balance was probably off, we gave him slices of salami. Within minutes he calmed down and his pupils were back to normal. Luckily Shmoo's symptoms were not that advanced so the salty meat helped immediately. Not saying that everyone can save their dog this way, but if you catch the behaviors immediately, you can perform preventative measures on the way to the vet that will save you a heartbreaking ride to the vet.

Submitted by Amee Estill | June 13 2013 |

OMG!!This is exactly what happened to my dog a few years back! We were in San Antonio for Memorial Day and went north to a state park. Beautiful river and I have a Min Schnauzer that loves the water. It was very hot so I let her swim to her hearts content. She had her mouth open drinking the whole time. I figured she might throw up the excess water but never dreamed she would get so ill. I put her in the kennel (shady spot of course!) to rest while we ate our lunch. About 1/2 hour later I took her out for a walk. She didn't walk very far and just collapsed. She wasn't breathing right and she had frothiness around her mouth. I finally scooped her up and found a ranger. They helped me locate the closest open vet (Memorial DAy--ugh!)and my mom drove like gangbusters (45 min) to get us there. We thought she was suffering from possible heat exhaustion but that couldn't be the entire answer because she had been swimming in the cool water so much. Once at the vet, they told me her electrolytes were low, her body temp was 5 degrees lower than normal and that she seemed to be suffering from some type of poison. They kept her for 5 hours and she seemed to bounce back after her electrolytes bounced back and she warmed up. We kept her on some medicine (don't remember) for several days. But we never knew exactly what caused her to go into crisis that day. NOW I know!! Not sure why a vet wouldn't think of water intoxication? I did tell them she had been swimming all morning! I'm sharing this article with my friends and will research to learn more. I don't ever want to go through that with my dog again.

Submitted by Ellen | June 13 2013 |

My German Shepherd loves to play in her baby pool and with the hose/ sprinkler. She drinks a lot of the pool water (which is just hose water) and loves to try to bite the hose water as it sprays out, causing her to ingest quite a bit. She became tired and vomited the other day after playing with the hose. We werent exactly sure what caused the incident. Thank you for this article, we will definitely cut down her play time with the water.

Submitted by Abby Zauss | June 13 2013 |

I lost my favorite dog to this 6 years ago. He was a bearded collie and would run around our pool barking at the kids and they would splash water at him to make him stop barking. He ingested too much water one day and by the next afternoon we had to put him to sleep to end his suffering. Worst thing I have ever been through, I'll never be completely over it.

Submitted by Joan | June 13 2013 |

Water caused a different problem for my Jack Russell terrier which was still very serious. While at the beach he ran at the water barking at the waves the whole time we were there. (it wasn't for very long and we weren't negligent - I had no idea this could be a problem). He took in so much water, air and sand that he bloated. We were able to get him to an emergency vet who put a tube in to release the air after which he felt much better. There are dangers associated with water as well as many things in our daily lives. We just have to be observant and know our animals.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 13 2013 |

thanks so much for posting. I'm going to post it at our dog parks where there are streams, balls and lots of playing in the water. Spread the word

Submitted by Brandi Bryant | June 14 2013 |

Great article. It's unfortunate how often i hear it happening these days.

Submitted by GSP Momma | June 15 2013 |

I have often wondered if dogs get water intoxication, same as people. The most common scenario in people occurs when a person gets super dehydrated (such as during a long run) and then chugs a whole bunch of pure water. It is definitely life threatening. I worry about my GSP, who runs with me while I ride a bike. He comes home and chugs water. After reading this, I will be much more mindful of the rate at which he drinks. And I will also share this with my friends who have dogs that are major swimmers. Thank you!

Submitted by AP dog | June 15 2013 |

My pit bull likes to bite water from a hose, but really loves to jump into fountains and bite the water as he splashes around. When we go to one of those fountains in the sidewalks with 50 jets, he goes nuts and drinks a lot more water than you'd think. Fortunately as we walk back to the car, he opens his mouth and he vomits most of it out, like someone opened a fire hydrant. But now I know this can do real harm so I'll keep a closer eye on him, thanks.

Submitted by Erin | June 15 2013 |

I had a Rat Terrier that LOVED water. He would immediately jump into the lake and swim under water! Our problem with him was that we could not have him around when we were fishing as he would wait until we had a fish on the line and then dive into the water and catch the fish as we were reeling it in! The first time it happened when I had carefully and painstakingly revived a fish to release back into the water. The fish came to and swam downward and my danged dog jumped into the water and swam under water for a very long time until he came back up with the fish in his mouth! I'll never forget that little dog lol.

Submitted by Sara | June 16 2013 |

My yorkie got this from biting the hose water on a very hot day. We went to the ER Vet who was busy with a dog who died from heat stroke. My little guy seemed lethargic and his eyes were glassy. By the time the vet saw us, he was coming around. No one ever mentioned water intoxication, but they were quick to mention the $200 bill. My dogs are priceless though.

Submitted by gordon | June 16 2013 |

overworking your dog causes water intoxication. you need to rest and so does your dog!

Submitted by RubyB | June 16 2013 |

My 17 year old dog had the same sort of thing when I switched him to raw food. His sodium level dropped because there was so much less salt. It's one thing I'll check in the future before I switch foods--how much sodium does each have.

Submitted by Margaret Bradburne | June 17 2013 |

Oh my God,, so glad to know, my dog loves the hosepipe too, I shall be very careful now.

Submitted by Mary Lou | June 17 2013 |

People can become water intoxicated too. There is a limit to how much water any one should ingest in a day.

Submitted by g wendell | June 17 2013 |

Anyone know if this applys to cats as well. My cat recently had a kidney infection and I had to give him a fluid IV twice a day. He's better now but the vet also told me to make sure he always gets plenty of water. As cats are curious, I plant little bowls of water here, there and everywhere. He loves it, but I hope I'm not over watering him.

Submitted by KayRay Sutton | June 18 2013 |

Good to know!

Submitted by Anonymous | June 18 2013 |

Our golden retriever is in and out of the water at our camp all day long. She dives under the water and blows air out of her nose when she does so!

Submitted by Lindette | June 28 2013 |

How much is too much? Are we talking like a day of playing & noticing a lot of water being swallowed?

Submitted by echowarrior | July 8 2013 |

water intoxification just means ingesting too much water - there are several
causes for this. If taken suddenly the body will generally compensate by vomiting. The water has to be digested/absorbed into the body for it to affect the body's electrolyte balance. If in any doubt contact your own vet who knows your dog. Equally check with them as to the amount of water your size and breed of dog needs.
In hot weather all animals drink more to replenish the fluids lost through increased sweat (the body sweats to keep the body cool).
A few tips: keep to the shade in the peak times (as a rule of thumb if you find the surface too hot to walk on in bare feet don't expect your dog to), put ice-cubes in their drinking bowls, or refrigerate before putting it out, keep well groomed to take out the winter undercoat, or have their coat cut short, try soaking a towel in cold water and letting them lay on it, and keep them out of cars, etc.

Submitted by Christine - Gat... | July 17 2013 |

Wow ! After having Labradors most of my life and presently owning three that LOVE water, I had never heard about this problem before. That is, until a colleague had this very problem with his Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever during last weekend. Something to be mindful of, for sure ! Yikes ! Like hotspots weren't enough...


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