Just like it is for humans, hydration is important to the health of companion animals. Water carries necessary nutrients throughout the body, aids digestion, helps joints work properly, improves cognition and basically supports every biological function. Pet Age recently spoke with Alex Osborne, co-founder of Petralyte, to learn how the topic of pet hydration is not as simple as one might think.
What are some symptoms of dehydration in dogs and cats?
Although dogs are also warm-blooded mammals who capitalize on evaporative cooling to thermoregulate on a hot day, they do not have the same physiology as humans. Humans lose a lot of water and sodium when we sweat, but dogs — when panting to cool off — only lose water.
For dogs, a loss of appetite, panting and loss of moisture in his or her gums are signs of dehydration. A dry nose is another sign. For cats, it’s similar in terms of loss of appetite, as well as lethargy and dry mucous membranes.
Changes in hydration status after a 15-minute exercise period are clinically detectable by assessing skin turgor. Mild dehydration may also be characterized by dry mucous membranes. Moderate dehydration increases heart rate. Severe dehydration will impact pulse quality and capillary refill time.
What is the general rule of thumb regarding how much water a dog/cat should drink on a daily basis?
A cat should generally drink about four ounces of water per five pounds of its body weight. A dog needs slightly more, and it is recommended one ounce of water per each pound of body weight.
A healthy dog at maintenance (no excessive physiological demands, no illness and/or no environmental/exercise-induced heat stress) loses water in its urine and feces, and to a much lesser extent, via evaporation from the respiratory tract and footpads. Water loss via the respiratory tract will increase when there is a demand for a dog’s body to dissipate heat — this is recognizable to dog owners as panting.
What’s a common misconception regarding pet hydration?
A common misconception we see is that it’s not “hot” out, pets cannot become dehydrated. Winter often brings about dryer weather than the summer – don’t let the temperature fool you – which causes pets to lose a lot of body moisture through their breath. And this is exasperated by panting. It’s very important to be weary at all times of the year.
You might think your dog does not need to drink as much water when it’s cold out, but nothing could be further from the truth. Proper hydration is important all year round, including in the winter.
If you’re like a lot of people, you may not get as thirsty in the winter as you do in the summer. But the fact is, hydration is just as crucial during the winter as it is during the summer – and that goes for our dogs as well. Depending on where you live, in fact, your dog may become even more dehydrated in the winter, so it’s vital to ensure she’s drinking enough water and getting the electrolytes she needs to stay healthy.
During the winter, indoor air humidity drops significantly when the heat is switched on. If you live in a northerly climate, the humidity in your house can drop to 30 percent to 40 percent (which is regarded as a good baseline for winter humidity levels in the home). During cold snaps, when the heat is on a lot, household humidity can fall even lower. A drop in humidity will always increase the risk of a dog becoming dehydrated, and dehydration always results in a loss of electrolytes. Warning signs include panting, dry nose, loss of appetite, reduced energy levels, lethargy and thick saliva. Winter dehydration can be more of an issue for our dogs than for humans, because they tend to spend more time at home than we do.
Why should hydration be important to pet parents all year long?
The health and physiology of every living creature on earth depends on molecular processes uniquely enabled by water. There is a mechanism in the body that facilitates the absorption of water when given with electrolytes or sugars. This can address a physiological need produced by the water loss of exercise-related heat dissipation or diseases that cause water and electrolyte loss. Not only that, but oral electrolyte solutions can make water taste better, so that you and your dog drink more of it. Water is a building material, solvent for metabolism, a carrier of nutrients and waste, an essential component of thermoregulation in multiple species and a lubricant for joints and general shock absorber for the mechanical forces experienced by bodies in motion. Better hydration means better health.
Recent studies show that oral electrolyte solutions increase water intake and promote recovery in dogs. You have your favorite electrolyte drink for rehydrating, but it was not made for dogs and is too high in sodium for their canine needs.
Dogs were more likely to increase fluid consumption and hydration when provided with a flavored oral electrolyte solution (Otto et al., 2017).
Dogs increase water intake when offered nutrient-enriched water (Zanghi and Gardner, 2018).
Oral pre-exercise hydration strategies for dogs in hot environments (water, chicken-flavored water and chicken-flavored electrolyte solution) suggested that electrolyte enrichment may reduce muscle injury and help dogs maintain lower peak temperatures (Niedermeyer et al., 2020).
Access to nutrient-enriched water reduced exercise-induced hyperthermia and improved pulse rate recovery in a population of dogs (Zanghi et al., 2018).
There is evidence that oral electrolyte rehydration improve dehydration associated with hemorrhagic diarrhea in dogs, with the added benefit of reducing owner-related veterinary costs and decreasing staff time associated with treatment (Reineke et al., 2013).