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What does it mean when a dog drinks a lot of water?

Beagle drinking water advice
© Pixabay

The natural reaction of a dog to the feeling of thirst is to drink. When the body gets low on water the brain signals the need to drink, which we know as being 'thirst'. There are lots of reasons why a dog gets thirsty and not all of them are simply due to her having a good run around.

By Nick Whittle

Certain diseases and conditions (often accompanied by excess urination) can cause a dog to become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to all sorts of complications and eventually cause organ failure and death. If your dog is drinking water to excess, then she may be compensating for something that is causing her to become dehydrated. So it is important you stay vigilant of your dog’s drinking habits and heed the signs of something more than a touch of thirst.

How much water intake is normal for a healthy dog?

The amounts of water a dog needs to drink each day varies with her diet, size, breed and exercise routine. If a dog is fed wet food she will not need to drink as much water as she would if she ate dry food. Similarly, she won't need as much water in the winter than she does in the summer. Generally speaking, a dog should drink 60mls of water per Kg of body weight per day.

If she is drinking a lot less she will become dehydrated (there are various tests you can do yourself to see whether or not your dog is dehydrated - see below). If she is drinking a lot more she may have some underlying condition that is making her thirstier than normal.

Be aware that puppies and older dogs get sick much more quickly than adult dogs when they are dehydrated.

To test for dehydration in dogs follow the next series of steps:

  1. Gently pinch some skin on her back between your thumb and forefinger (do so gently); if your dog is dehydrated her skin will take a while to return to its normal state.
  2. Check her gums by lifting up her top or bottom lip. Run your finger along the gum ridge. If it feels tacky and seems sunken she may be dehydrated.

Reasons your dog is drinking lots

If your dog is drinking a lot of water, she might be losing too much water due either to increased urination or diarrhoea. Alternatively, she may not be able to keep down water because she is vomiting. These symptoms point to potential conditions. Our first list highlights diseases that directly cause dehydration by their effect on the dog's body:

Our second list highlights diseases and conditions, which causes your dog to be sick. Having diarrhoea will bring on dehydration and therefore stem an undue thirst:

  • Gastric inflammation
  • Gastric torsion
  • Blockage of the intestine
  • Parasitic infection of the gut
  • Benign and malignant tumours (of any part of the body)
  • Trauma

If your dog is drinking a lot, having diarrhoea, or is vomiting, you should immediately take her to the vet for consultation. 

There is some evidence to suggest a link between an abnormal thirst and canine boredom, lack of attention or love of water. An animal behaviour therapist is best poised to work towards the remedy of this problem.

What not to do!

Do not ignore a dog that is drinking a lot of water and urinating more than usual. There is obviously something at play and even if it is as innocuous as overheating you should be prepared to take action if the problem does not sort itself out within a few hours. You should never, under any circumstances, restrict your dog’s access to water either. Her water bowl should always be full of fresh water. Stopping her from taking on fluids could prove a fatal error.

Treatments for a dog's excessive drinking

A dog’s excessive thirst cannot be treated, but the underlying cause could be. In order to treat this cause the vet must first run a series of tests (which may include blood samples, urine analysis and biopsies) to determine the underlying problem. They may decide that your dog has nothing more than a spot of heatstroke but they may also diagnose an illness.

If an illness is diagnosed, the vet will begin a treatment of the illness by various means. If the illness is debilitating or life threatening, your dog’s recovery time may be prolonged. In the meantime, your dog's excessive thirst may start to lessen.

If the vet decides that a certain disease or condition is causing your dog to have diarrhoea and vomiting, they will still treat the underlying cause but may also prescribe a medicine to slow the motion of the dog’s bowel or an anti-emetic to prevent her from any further bouts of vomiting. It is important to never administer medications for human use without consulting your vet about it first.

Treating the symptoms of an ailment first will cause your dog to stop drinking to excess.

Learn how to spot a problem when your dog drinks lots.
Owner vigilance is one of the ways you can tell if your dog is sick or just thirsty©Pixabay

Most of the diseases that are directly linked to excessive thirst (e.g. diseases of the liver and kidneys, Cushing’s Disease) are easily treated or at least manageable. Once she is receiving an appropriate treatment, the canine patient’s thirst will return to normal quite quickly.

Conditions that give rise to vomiting and diarrhoea are often more serious and require swift medical intervention. Owner vigilance is one of the ways you can tell if your dog is sick or just thirsty. By knowing how much your dog normally drinks, this will give you a good idea of what is considered excessive thirst, and odd behavioural traits. This will help give you clues as to her overall health.

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