Lap It Up

By Chandra Orr

January 16, 2009 5 min read


Hydration is important to keep your pet healthy and happy

Chandra Orr

Creators News Service

You may have seen the new premium pet drinks popping up in pet stores boasting everything from vitamin- and electrolyte-enhancement to portability and palatability, but nothing beats a good, old-fashioned bowl of clean, fresh water -- and in the summer months, nothing is more essential to your pet's health.

Between the warm temperatures, the long walks and all that exercise, proper pet hydration is as important as the food you feed your four-legged friend.

"Both dogs and cats have fur jackets on in all weather, and they primarily cool themselves down through panting, with very little cooling being achieved through the paw pads," explained animal behaviorist Larry Lachman, author of "Dogs on the Couch: Behavior Therapy for Training and Caring for Your Dog" ($18, Overlook).

"Prior to any sustained play, exercise or hot-day walks, it is recommended that your pet drink ample water, with frequent water breaks as needed," Lachman said. "The longer that tongue sticks out and the more it changes shade, and the less dripping, the more water is needed."

Even mild dehydration can cause circulation problems, threaten kidneys, increase the risk of heat stroke and cause your pet to feel lazy and lethargic -- and when your pet is dehydrated they may be even more reluctant to drink, so prevention is crucial.

"Water is a critically important nutrient for pets. Just like people, pets need water to keep their body's organs, tissues and systems functioning," said veterinarian Kimberly Anne May, spokesperson for the American Veterinary Medical Association.

"For very active animals, such as active working dogs, athletic dogs, and dogs taken on hikes by their owners in warm weather, premium pet drinks offer a portable source of water and help replenish electrolytes lost during heavy exercise," May said. "But for the average pet receiving a balanced diet, these products are probably not necessary, because the pet's food and regular water will contain the nutrients the pet needs."

On average, dogs and cats need about 100 milliliters of water per kilogram per day, according to veterinarian Kristen L. Nelson of Veterinary Creative in Scottsdale, Ariz., though an animal's exact needs will vary based on their activity level, diet and environment.

Warmer weather, increased exercise and certain health problems may lead your pet to the water bowl more often, and pets on certain medications -- namely those metabolized through the kidneys -- and those that are nursing need even more to drink.

As a general rule of thumb, a 50-pound dog will drink a little more than half a gallon of water per day, while a typical 10-pound cat should lap up about 2 cups of water per day.

"Unfortunately, many cats drink less than that," Nelson said.

While most dogs readily drink from even the most questionable water sources -- rain puddles, the garden hose or the toilet -- cats can be quite particular, and manufacturers have gone to great lengths to entice the most discriminating feline. From mechanized drinking fountains to bubbling water bowls, there are plenty of ways to tempt your cat, but sometimes the solution is much simpler.

"Some owners have been able to increase their cat's water consumption by letting them drink from a dripping faucet or a table fountain with running water," Nelson said.

When all else fails, switch things up.

"Some pets prefer one type of bowl over another. For example, some prefer to drink water from a metal bowl, while others prefer different types," May said. "You should also considering changing the water bowl's location. Maybe there is something near the bowl that discourages your pet from drinking the water."

Pale gums, a dry nose, decreased salivation, trouble urinating, sunken eyes, an increased heart rate, a high temperature and lethargy are all signs of dehydration and should be taken seriously. Proper water intake is especially important for dogs and cats with constipation, diabetes, kidney disease, tendencies toward crystal formations in the bladder and urinary tract infections.

Excessive water consumption and increased thirst should also throw up a red flag. It may mean you need to keep a closer eye on the water bowl -- or it may be a sign of a serious health problem.

"Any animals with increased thirst should be evaluated by a veterinarian," Nelson said. "Kidney disease and diabetes are the most common causes of increased thirst in cats. In dogs, diabetes, kidney disease and Cushing's disease are most likely."

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