Things to Know About Dogs and Water Intoxication

Do you have a dog who loves to swim, retrieve in the water, chase waves, chomp at white caps, run in river streams, play in the sprinklers or catch water from the hose in your backyard?  If so, you should be aware of water intoxication.  Although rare, water intoxication is a life-threatening condition and knowing the risks and how to avoid it, could save your dog’s life.

Water intoxication occurs when more water has been consumed than the body can process.  The increase in water causes an extreme drop in sodium, changing the balance of electrolytes needed for nerve and muscle function.  Low sodium in the blood is referred to as hyponatremia.  The excess water and severe drop in sodium causes cells in the body and brain to swell.  If medical attention isn’t received, the result can be permanent brain damage or loss of life.

Some Signs of Water Intoxication Include

  • Loss of coordination
  • Staggering or “drunk walking”
  • Excessive drooling
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Dilated pupils or glazed eyes
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Coma

What to Do if Your Dog is Showing Signs of Water Intoxication

  • Act fast! Call your veterinarian and immediately head to an emergency center with your dog.
  • When arriving at the emergency center, explain that your dog may have water intoxication—the condition may be misdiagnosed if the veterinarian isn’t aware that your dog may have recently ingested excessive amounts of water.

How to Avoid Water Intoxication

To avoid water intoxication, monitor your dog closely during water activities, or while participating in water sports, and ensure that they rest regularly.  Frequent breaks from swimming or playing in the water will allow your dog’s body to recover and decrease the risk of water intoxication.

Dogs at a higher risk include small dogs, whose bodies can reach max capacity more quickly than larger dogs, and physically fit dogs, whose bodies have less fat tissue to absorb the excess fluids.  Also keep a close eye on young or high-energy dogs who are not quite able to self-regulate their play or swim time.  Some dogs will even become obsessive and will continue to swim or play until their access to the pool, river, lake, hose, etc. is interrupted or discontinued.

Does this mean your dog shouldn’t go swimming or play with water?  Of course not!  Your dog should be allowed to do what they love!  However, play and exercise that involves water simply requires additional supervision and care to help keep your dog safe.  All good things in moderation!


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