How to Get My Dog to Drink Water? 11 Tricks from a Vet

I used to worry about how to get my dog to drink water. We joke that she drinks a tablespoon per day and urinates a teaspoon per day!

I thought she would get dehydrated or that there was a health reason she wasn’t drinking much. She’s now a senior dog and has never had a kidney or bladder problem. After a while, I figured it was just normal for her. 

But I know there are many worried dog owners who want to know how to get their dogs to drink more water.

The safest way to get your dog to take in more water is to feed them wet dog food. A moist diet will keep your dog well-hydrated even if they don’t drink much from a water bowl. Forcing a dog to drink water is not a good idea because it can cause electrolyte imbalances

My Dog Won’t Drink Water But Will Eat

I figured out my dog won’t drink water but will eat because her wet dog food diet has a lot of water in it. Most of her water needs are met by the food she eats at breakfast and dinner. 

Dogs who eat canned or fresh food tend to drink a lot less water than dogs who eat all dry dog food. In practice, I don’t worry about dogs who won’t drink water but will eat. If they seem healthy in every other way, they’re probably getting enough water from somewhere.

I’ve known other dogs who get a lot of their water somewhat covertly from puddles, ponds, lakes or pools. A dog owner sometimes doesn’t consider that when they worry about the dog’s water bowl level not going down. 

how to get my dog to drink water-tan dog drinking from a puddle
Some dogs don’t want to drink water from a bowl.

On the other hand, there are very serious reasons why dogs don’t drink water. Nausea or pain are the top two. 

However, most dogs who are not drinking water because of pain or nausea usually won’t eat food either. You need to watch your dog closely to see if you can recognize any other symptoms and get your vet involved immediately if your dog is neither drinking nor eating. 

Wondering How to Trick Your Dog Into Drinking Water?

Be very careful when trying to manipulate a healthy dog’s water intake. He/she knows when they’re thirsty based on a complex physiological process not fully understood by scientists (1). Trying to override a dog’s natural thirst drive can get him into dangerous territory. 

At least one study found only marginal benefits to trying to “pre-hydrate” with oral electrolyte solutions in dogs exercising vigorously in a very hot environment (3). A dog’s physiological mechanisms that maintain proper water and electrolyte balance are pretty good at keeping things running smoothly. The fact that dogs don’t produce much sweat (like humans) helps keep them from getting dehydrated, too. 

If they’re eating well and not showing symptoms of illness, your dog is probably not getting dehydrated. 

2 black dogs on a hike
My dogs don’t drink much water even though we live in the desert.

Ask your vet to check the dog’s urine specific gravity and do a CBC to check total protein and packed cell volume and a chem panel to check the kidney values called BUN and creatinine. 

These are semi-objective ways to measure hydration and kidney function. Your dog may be perfectly normal and might not need to make your dog drink more water!

In my opinion, eating moist dog food is beneficial to a dog’s health. Wet dog food increases water intake without a dog having to drink a lot of water.  

Exactly How Much Water Should My Dog Drink a Day?

Veterinarians use the values of 60-90 mL/kg/day as an average water requirement for healthy dogs. That translates to about 1-1.5 fluid ounces of water per pound of body weight per day. 

This assumes the dog is getting nearly ZERO water in their food as most kibble-style food only contains around  8-10% water by weight. Canned/wet dog food may contain more than 80% water by weight. An average 12.5 ounce can of dog food contains around 10 ounces of water. 

Many other variables affect the amount of water a dog needs to drink including environmental temperature, activity level, age, dog’s body size, and diseases that cause increased water loss. 

how much water should a dog drink a day?
How much water should a dog drink in 24 hours?

In the table below, I’ve calculated the average number of cups of water a dog might drink per day, depending on his weight and whether he’s eating dry or moist food. 

The calculations are based on a healthy adult dog living in normal indoor temperatures, needing 1 fluid ounce of water/lb./day, eating Science Diet dry food (up to 10% moisture) or Science Diet canned food US/Canada or UK (up to 86% moisture). 

Please note these are rough estimates to make a point, not a precise recommendation for water intake.

Body Weight in PoundsWater Cups/Day Eating DRY FOODWater Cups/Day Eating WET FOOD
101.0-1.60?-0.1
202.1-3.20?-0.3
303.2-4.90?-0.9
404.3-6.50?-1.6
505.4-8.20?-2.3
606.5-9.90?-3.2
707.5-11.50?-4.0
808.6-13.20.3-4.9
909.7-14.80.6-5.8
10010.8-16.51.0-6.7
Daily Water Intake Ranges for Dogs Eating Dry and Moist Food

You can see that a dog eating 100% wet food may actually be able to get enough water from the food that they don’t need to drink much water from a bowl at all. 

You should still provide plenty of fresh, clean water, just in case they do get thirsty. Just don’t be shocked if your dog doesn’t drink much water when he’s eating all canned food!

How Long Can a Dog Go Without Water?

Answering how long can a dog go without water is very difficult without knowing all the circumstances. I’ve seen many articles on the internet that all say dogs can go 2 to 3 days without water but I strongly disagree and caution you not to follow that advice. Sure, a pet might not die in 48 hours without water, but they could become extremely ill depending on the details of the situation.

In general, healthy, resting dogs in temperate climates can go for up to 24 hours without becoming sick from dehydration. If temperatures are high, the dog has inadequate shelter or is suffering from disease they could become dehydrated much sooner.  

Consider a case in which a Pit Bull who lives in Arizona in July starts having diarrhea after running in the park all afternoon? Those conditions will cause increased water loss and increased water intake requirements. 

how long can a dog go without water? white dog running in the desert
This hot dog needs to drink more water!

On the other hand, a healthy indoor Poodle in wintertime Indiana, eating a moist diet probably won’t drink much water at all. 

Disease processes that cause increased water loss like kidney disease, diabetes, vomiting and diarrhea will shorten the amount of time a dog can go without water. 

I’ve definitely seen dogs who became severely dehydrated in a matter of 24-36 hours due to lack of water intake, vomiting and diarrhea. They’re losing a ton of water and not taking any in.

There are a lot of variables that determine how long a dog can go without water. These include environmental temperatures, acclimation to temperature, age, body size, water loss due to disease, exercise, water consumption in the previous day, and moisture content of the dog’s food. 

What Can I Give My Dog to Drink Besides Water?

Some dogs will drink more liquids if they’re flavored but be careful what you offer them! Read the ingredients list of any commercial product you offer your pup and make sure there is no xylitol (sweetener) or grape juice in it.

Broths with onion or garlic are unlikely to cause problems for dogs unless the dog is very small and they drink quite a lot of the broth. If you want to be extra cautious, make your own beef or chicken broth by simmering bones in water with a little salt and vinegar for a few hours (leave out the onion and garlic).

Some dogs love drinking “hot dog soup” which will be more flavorful than water and contains a bit of salt and fat. You can make this strange beverage by slicing half a hot dog and simmering it in a cup of water for 5-10 minutes. Pour the liquid (plus or minus the hot dog slices) over your dog’s dry kibble. You can also give the hot dog soup as a treat between meals.

Pedialyte or Gatorade are generally not toxic to dogs, but those wouldn’t be my first choice to get a dog to drink more water. Human hydration drinks almost always contain corn syrup, sugar, artificial coloring and sweeteners that a dog doesn’t need. Stick with plain water, broth or hot dog soup.

What Are Signs of Dehydration in Dogs?

Otherwise healthy dogs rarely get sick from voluntarily not drinking enough water. But I’ve seen it happen to dogs who exercised vigorously in a hot outdoor environment without having access to water. 

The clinical signs of dehydration in dogs are lethargy, weakness, rapid heartbeat and poor appetite. Some animals may have a voracious thirst but others may feel too sick to drink despite a real need for water.

black and white dog in a hospital cage
Dehydrated sick dogs who won’t drink water might need IV fluids.

A dehydrated dog’s gums are often sticky or pale. They may also have doughy skin but these changes are not very sensitive signs of dehydration. A dog has to be pretty dehydrated before you see changes in the gums or skin.(2) If your dog is showing any of the symptoms of dehydration I mentioned above, it’s time to see the vet. 

Your vet can tell a lot about your dog’s hydration from a few simple lab tests. We look for increased kidney values (BUN and Creatinine), increased hematocrit, increased protein levels and increased sodium levels. 

Another critical test is a urinalysis with a specific gravity measurement (which tells how watery the urine is). A dehydrated dog with healthy kidneys will have a high specific gravity. If the dog has signs of dehydration with a low urine specific gravity, your vet will want to assess his kidneys, liver and endocrine system for disease.

Which Dogs Might Benefit from Drinking More Water?

Dogs with a History of Calcium Oxalate Urinary Stones

Most veterinarians recommend that dogs who form kidney and bladder stones keep their urine on the dilute (watery) side. Dilute urine might help to keep urinary stones from forming.

It’s not completely clear that increased water intake will prevent the formation of kidney and bladder stones in dogs. We believe multiple factors influence the formation of calcium oxalate stones in dogs. Low water intake has been reported as one of these factors in studies on the topic. 

One study found that Miniature Schnauzers, a breed prone to bladder stones, had more dilute urine with a lower solute level when their diet contained increased water. But the urine of the Labrador Retrievers, a breed less prone to bladder stones, in the same study was not significantly changed by increased moisture intake (4). 

radiograph of a dog's bladder with stones
A dog with a history of bladder stones like this should drink more water.

Dogs with Kidney Insufficiency

A healthy dog’s kidneys are able to sense how much water the body has in it and keep enough in to prevent dehydration. A diseased kidney allows too much water to escape from the body in the form of urine. 

That’s why dogs with kidney disease drink a lot and pee a lot. Their body is dehydrated but their kidneys are erroneously letting precious water slip away in the urine. 

Kidney disease also leads to a build-up of metabolic waste due to decreased filtration function. High BUN and creatinine on blood tests are evidence of poor kidney filtration. 

By drinking more water, more of the metabolic waste products are flushed out in urine, along with the extra water. Increased water intake also helps them stay better hydrated.

Renal disease can make dogs drink massive quantities of water and urinate in massive quantities. But for them, this is compensation necessary to maintaining life. 

Never restrict water from a dog with kidney insufficiency! 

brown and white sad dog not drinking water after surgery
Dogs with kidney disease need to drink more water.

How to Get Your Dog to Drink Water After Surgery

It’s not that unusual for a dog to drink less after a surgical or anesthetic procedure. There are several reasons for this.

Anesthetized dogs often receive IV fluids during the procedure. These fluids may be enough to meet their hydration requirements for 12 to 24 hours. 

Ask your vet if your dog got IV fluids during their procedure so you’ll know what to expect later in terms of drinking. Also, don’t be surprised if your dog urinates a larger volume for 12-24 hours after receiving IV fluids. 

Pain and nausea are two side effects of surgery and anesthesia and both can cause a dog to eat and drink less than normal. If your dog is neither eating nor drinking 24 hours after surgery, it’s critical for you to contact your vet right away. 

Finally, anesthesia can make a dog feel strange for 12-24 hours after surgery. Disorientation and sleepiness can cause a decrease in food and water intake. 

All of these things must be discussed with your veterinarian who will have an idea of whether or not your dog not drinking after surgery is a major concern. 

How to Tell if Your Dog is Drinking Enough Water

It’s hard to tell for sure if your dog is drinking enough water without running lab tests. If your dog is eating, urinating, defecating and acting normal it’s unlikely that they’re clinically dehydrated. 

Still, you can monitor how often your pup urinates, how much urine is produced each time and the color of the urine. Dark yellow/gold usually indicates the urine is more concentrated. That’s a good sign that the kidneys are working well, but it also happens when a dog isn’t getting enough water. 

If you really want to know how concentrated an animal’s urine is, you can put a drop of it on a refractometer. This can be helpful to monitor dogs with a history of urinary stones. 

Since every situation is different, I won’t go in to how to do this. Ask your veterinarian for help getting and using a refractometer to help your dog maintain dilute urine. 

black and white dog drinking water from garden hose
Some dogs love drinking from a garden hose.

Can You Syringe Water to a Dog if They are Not Drinking & Lethargic?

If your dog is not drinking water and is lethargic, your first priority is to get help from a veterinarian. These symptoms are not normal and could signal a serious health problem.

If you have a delay before you can get your pup to the vet, you can try syringing water to your dog if they are completely conscious. You must be VERY careful not to make them aspirate the water into their lungs! Don’t force them to take water from a syringe if they are resistant. Your vet can administer IV fluids if they deem it necessary.

If your dog fights you, it’s better to wait until you get to the clinic than to cause aspiration pneumonia.

How to Get My Dog to Drink Water? 11 Tricks to Try

Hopefully, it’s clear that your dog may not need to drink more water. I’ll still go over some tips to encourage water drinking, just don’t go overboard with these unless instructed by your veterinarian. Too much water is just as dangerous as not enough!

  1. The NUMBER 1 TRICK to get your dog to “drink” more water: Feed high-moisture content food. Fresh or canned is best but you can also add water to kibble.
  2. Wash bowls daily with hot water and soap.
  3. Try using filtered or bottled water in place of tap water.
  4. Increase the number of water bowls. Put one water dish upstairs, one downstairs, one outside and one near the sleeping area.
  5. Try a continuously flowing pet water fountain for your dog’s water (but keep it clean!)
  6. Provide TWO water bowls. Add a little low sodium chicken broth (regular sodium is OK too) to ONE water bowl and leave the other bowl as plain water just in case the dog doesn’t like the bone broth water. 
  7. Flavor soup–add a couple of tablespoons of flavorful salty meat like rotisserie chicken or hotdogs to a cup of water and heat gently to make a broth. 
  8. Offer liquid-based treats-chicken/beef bone broth popsicles, Pedialyte® popsicles, liver shake (a small amount of cooked liver blenderized with water, fresh or frozen), watermelon or cantaloupe, high-water-content veggies like romaine or iceberg lettuce. Go sparingly with these as they could cause stomach upset in unaccustomed dogs.
  9. Try playing with water–some dogs like to drink from a hose or sprinkler.
  10. Add a little salt to the food *Could be dangerous. Only dog this under veterinary supervision.
  11. Clicker train your dog to drink on command. *Could be dangerous. Only do this under veterinary supervision. 

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References

  1. Epstein, A. N. (1982). The physiology of thirst. In The physiological mechanisms of motivation (pp. 165-214). Springer, New York, NY.
  2. Hardy, R. M., & Osborne, C. A. (1979). Water deprivation test in the dog: maximal normal values. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 174(5), 479-483.
  3. Niedermeyer, G. M., Hare, E., Brunker, L. K., Berk, R. A., Kelsey, K. M., Darling, T. A., … & Otto, C. M. (2020). A randomized cross-over field study of pre-hydration strategies in dogs tracking in hot environments. Frontiers in Veterinary Science, 7, 292.
  4. Stevenson, A. E., Hynds, W. K., & Markwell, P. J. (2003). Effect of dietary moisture and sodium content on urine composition and calcium oxalate relative supersaturation in healthy miniature schnauzers and labrador retrievers. Research in veterinary science, 74(2), 145-151.

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