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.

CommentsPost a Comment
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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...

Submitted by w t kimberly | July 23 2013 |

I had a lab, he was very gung-ho, and none too bright, but he LOVED the water. I have had to burp him by doing heimlich maneuver or his stomache would swell with all of the water

Submitted by mary ann | August 10 2013 |

I have heard of this happening to dogs. It can also happen to humans. I had it happen to me many years ago when told to drink a certain amount of water to takea sonogram. By the time I arrived at the testing site I had thrown up most of it. Took the test anyway at my insistance and still had enough in me to take the test.

Submitted by brandi | September 29 2013 |

Unfortunately I have seen this happen my pitt bull roxy was only 3 years old when she passed from water intoxication. We could not keep her out of the water she loved it so much and we lost her because of it. She acted like a drunk person and passed away as soon as we got her home...she was my best friend and it was hard burrying her so saying it rarely happens is hard to say because I personally have had it happen to my pet and wish I would have known before hand because I could have saved her with the pedialyte I had in my bag.

Submitted by Diane | October 29 2013 |

YOUR DOG COULD DIE FROM THIS! I know because my Cavalier King Charles Spaniel did. She loved playing with the hose when I would wash my car and would throw the hose in the air in order to catch the sparkling water as it fell. You wouldn't think she could ingest too much water but she did. We both thought this looked like a fun game until she drank so much that within an hour following our play, she literally fell over and went into shock. After five hours of desperate care by my vet and his staff, she finally passed but it was the most horrific death to a loving pet I had experienced in my 62 years of having furry family members. Don't take this lightly! Pets can die from over ingesting water.

Submitted by Kevin Mahoney | June 1 2014 |

I lost my Jack Russel to this last week! So sad but I truly believe he died doing what he loved!

Submitted by mike | July 3 2014 |

We have a year old lab/pit mix. She just started to swim recently and now cannot get enough. When she swims however, she intermittently dog paddles on purpose to splash the water and drink it as it falls. She obviously urinates much more often and heavy after swimming. She does not show any signs noted in this thread. Were there signs that your dog displayed prior?

Submitted by Mandolina | June 18 2014 |

My father-in-law had a working farm border collie that he gave to a friend, when he moved to an urban location. A few months later he found out that Laddie had died after drinking too much water after several hours of working the cows.

Submitted by Shawn | June 22 2014 |

Our family lost our very precious puppy Tucker at 1 1/2 years young to water intoxication. He had not been near water. He was lost on a hot day for several hours. We found him a bit dehydrated. He drank too much too fast when I got him to water. Within an hour I was rushing him to the vet where he had seizures as we arrived. Half hour later he stopped breathing on his own.


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