Water Intoxication - Risks, Symptoms & Treatment

Water intoxication is excessive water intake by the dog; while playing in the water for example. Water intoxication is a condition that can cause serious brain damage and even death in extreme cases.

We all know that dehydration can be fatal to our dogs, but did you know that too much water intake is equally dangerous?

During summertime, we love to see our dogs frolic in the water. It's so much fun watching them play in paddling pools, run around the water sprinkler, or jump into a lake or river to retrieve a ball or stick...

But these activities all have one potential danger - our dogs may ingest a large volume of water. When there is too much water in the body fluids, sodium levels outside the body cells become significantly depleted (a condition known as "hyponatremia").

In order to rebalance itself, the body increases fluid intake inside the cells. As a result, the cells are "swollen" with fluid, making them bigger in size.

The brain is encased inside the hard skull, if the brain cells are swollen with fluid, there is no room for the brain to expand, this causes an increase in pressure and a lot of damage to the brain.

So does that mean we shouldn't allow our dogs to play in the water? Of course not!

This condition does not happen as frequently as dehydration (but it doesn't mean it won't happen!) As responsible dog parents, we should be aware of the potential danger and know the symptoms.

Symptoms of Water Intoxication in Dogs

If your dog has been diving, retrieving, and playing in the water for a while (around 20-30 minutes), he may have ingested too much water.

Watch out for these signs and symptoms:

  • Lethargy

  • Vomiting

  • Bloating

  • Loss of coordination (your dog may stagger, stumble, or fall down)

  • Restlessness

  • Pale gums

  • Drooling excessively

  • Dilated pupils

In more serious cases, the dog may have problem breathing, develop seizures, and lose consciousness.

Risk Factors

All dogs may be affected by water intoxication; some dogs are more prone to this problem. They include:

  • Small dogs: Because of their smaller bodies, it takes shorter time for water to build up in their bodies. Therefore, they tend to show symptoms quicker than larger dogs.

  • Dogs with little body fat: Dogs who are fit (e.g. agility dogs) and have little body fat are more prone to this condition since there is not much extra fat tissue to absorb the extra fluid in the body.

  • Dogs with high energy: Dogs who are highly focused and have a lot of energy tend to be more persistent in their activities. Therefore, they will jump and dive to retrieve that ball or stick as long as their dog parents allow them to do so. This greatly increases the risk of excessive water intake.

  • Dogs with obsessive-compulsive behaviour: Some dogs are obsessed with water hoses or sprinklers - they can spend minutes, even hours, biting at the jets of water coming out from a hose or sprinkler, and by doing so, they ingest excessive amounts of water.

Treatment of Water Intoxication in Dogs

Dogs with mild cases of water intoxication may stagger a bit when coming out of the water, and they can usually get over the problem by urinating.

However, dogs showing more symptoms should be taken to the vet immediately since brain damage can occur very fast.

Treatment includes careful and gradual administration of electrolytes intravenously, using diuretics to help get rid of the excessive water in the dog, and using drugs (such as Mannitol) to reduce intracranial pressure due to brain swelling.

Prevention of Water Intoxication in Dogs

  • Limit Play Time: Limit your dog's play time in the water. Take frequent breaks to allow your dog to pee in order to get rid of the extra water in the body.

  • Monitor Your Dog: If your dog likes to bite water from a hose or sprinkler, or if your dog tends to lap up a lot of water in his kiddie pool, make sure that he is removed from the water source after a short while. Better yet, train your dog to play in the water without biting or ingesting the water!

  • Use a Flat Object: If your dog loves to retrieve toys from water, use a flat type of toy or stick instead of a round toy like a ball, as the dog has to open his mouth wider to hold on to a round object than a flat one. Also, avoid having your dog dive under water to retrieve the toy.

How About Salt Water?

If you take your dog to the sea, it is of course equally important to prevent your dog from ingesting the sea water.

Drinking too much salt water will result in a condition known as "hypernatremia" (salt poisoning).

The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, which can then gradually progress into neurological symptoms (e.g. poor coordination, seizures).

As always, if your dog is playing in the sea, monitor your dog closely. Take frequent breaks. Also be sure to offer fresh drinking water to your dog.

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