A photo of a gray French Bulldog who is opening their mouth to drink from a hose

Health & Wellness

Everything you need to know about dog thirst

It’s normal for your dog to get thirsty, but drinking too much water can signal health problems.

Of course, it’s important to provide your dog with enough clean water to keep them hydrated. But, if your dog is draining their water bowl before heading to the bathroom to take a few more gulps out of the toilet, you may wonder if your dog is drinking too much — especially if he throws up afterward or urinates in the house.

Generally speaking, if your dog is drinking water excessively, it’s probably not that big of a deal — it’s likely your dog is simply hot, tired or thirsty. But there are instances where it may be a sign of other issues. 

How much water should a dog drink

“The rule of thumb is your dog should drink about 1 ounce of water for every pound they weigh. For example, if your dog weighs about 30 pounds, they should be drinking about 30 ounces of fresh water per day,” Lorraine Rhoads, an Dogtopia environmental biologist that focuses on dog health and safety, says.

That’s a pretty easy benchmark to calculate and monitor, but Rhoads also quickly acknowledges that not all dogs are the same, so some might naturally drink a little more or a little less than the “rule of thumb.”

“The important thing is to know how much is ‘normal’ for your dog, as each dog is different,” she says. This basically means you need to pay attention. If you typically fill up your dog’s bowl two or three times a day, and suddenly you notice that the bowl is consistently empty and you’re filling it much more often, it’s likely time to take a closer look at why your dog’s thirst has increased.

Excessive thirst in dogs

Of course, even if you notice an uptick in your dog’s thirst, that doesn’t necessarily mean something is wrong. You need to be paying attention to why your dog’s thirst might increase. For instance, have you been going on more walks lately? Has your pup been spending more time outside in the sun? Have you been doing more “doggy dates” at the dog park where they get to play with furry friends? Changes in activity and environment could be why their thirst has increased.

Also, there are other completely normal, health-and life-stage reasons that could make a dog thirstier. “Female dogs who are lactating or young puppies will need more access to fresh water,” Rhoads explains.

That said, sometimes your dog is sending signals (including excessive thirst) that something, in fact, is wrong.

“Your dog tells you something is wrong with subtle signs, and it’s your job to notice!” Rhoads says. “It could be a reaction to a new medication, which needs careful monitoring with your veterinarian. Many different health conditions can cause excessive thirst that can be serious and need to be ruled out with testing. Your vet will probably check for hormonal diseases like Cushing’s disease or diabetes, infections that cause fever or dehydration, kidney or liver disease and cancer.”

The important thing is to pay attention to the habits and lifestyle changes your dog is experiencing, and if something seems “off,” go ahead and schedule an appointment with your vet.

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Thirst, or playtime?

It’s also important to pay attention to whether your dog is drinking excessively or simply dumping out the contents of their bowl. If your water bowl is kept outside, or if you spend long hours outside the house, you may not know if your dog is drinking more, or is simply playing with their water when you’re out of sight.

“Playing in water is all fun and games for some dogs!” Rhoads says. Of course, this can make it harder to identify how much water intake is “normal” for your dog. “If your dog sees the water bowl as the most exciting toy, loves to ‘finger paint’ with the water or often tips the bowl over and walks around the living room with it, you may need to put in place a behavior modification plan. There are many clever water bowls that make water play and bowl-tipping more difficult.”

By preventing or reducing this playtime (or identifying that playing is why the water bowl is always dry), you can get a better sense of how much water your pup is actually drinking. Then, you can know if your dog suddenly seems to develop an excessive thirst.

Monitoring for dehydration and other changes

A dog with excessive thirst may be dehydrated due to an infection, illness or even medication. It’s important to look for other signs and symptoms that your dog may be experiencing an underlying condition leading to excessive thirst or dehydration. “If you’re concerned, make an appointment right away with your veterinarian,” Rhoads says. “A dehydrated dog is often lethargic, may have dry or tacky-feeling gums and loses skin elasticity. A pet parent can test skin elasticity by pulling up on the loose skin at the base of the neck and watching to see how quickly the skin returns to normal. A dehydrated dog’s skin will stay “tented” longer before returning to a normal position.

If excessive drinking is accompanied by new or concerning behaviors for your pet — like urinating inside the house or vomiting after drinking — it’s worth a call to the vet to rule out other conditions.

Water intoxication in dogs

“Water intoxication” is a scary condition where a dog consumes too much water in a short period, leading to an imbalance in electrolytes that can, in extreme cases, lead to death. But here’s the thing — in the rare instances this happens (and it is rare), it’s typically not due to excessive dog thirst. Rather, it takes place when a dog is playing in a lake, river or ocean and accidentally drinks too much water while playing. (If you’ve ever seen a dog “bob” for a ball or retrieve a stick repeatedly, you may understand that they’re often drinking a little water each time they put their head in.)

Water intoxication is certainly a condition to be aware of, especially if you take your dog to play in the water regularly, but it’s not generally going to be linked to intentional water intake as a byproduct of thirst. That said, if your dog has been playing in the water and suddenly seems woozy, disoriented, uncoordinated, lethargic or is bloated or starts vomiting, get it to the vet right away.

Photo by Cristina Glebova on Unsplash

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