Doctor, Please Tell Me How to Get My Dog to Drink Water!

One of my dogs is a bit famous in our house for hardly drinking any water. It has been said that she drinks a tablespoon per day and urinates a teaspoon per day. 

I used to worry about how to get my dog to drink water. I thought she would get dehydrated or that there was a health reason she wasn’t drinking much. 

She’s now 13.5 years old and she’s never had a kidney or bladder problem. Her blood and urine tests have always been normal (except for hypothyroidism which is not caused by low water intake). 

After a while, I figured it was just normal for her. 

But if you’re concerned, the easiest way to get your dog to take in more water is by incorporating more moisture into their food. A moist diet will keep your dog well-hydrated even if he doesn’t lap from a water bowl. This also avoids forcing a dog to drink so much it causes electrolyte imbalances

Why Won’t My Dog Drink Water?

I eventually figured out my dog didn’t drink water regularly because she has always eaten a diet with high water content. Most of her water needs were met simply by eating breakfast and dinner. 

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 from a dish!

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

The thing is, 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. 

Should You Even Worry About Your Dog’s Water Intake?

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. 

For most dogs, as long as they’re eating OK, you probably don’t need to worry about how much they’re drinking. 

2 black dogs on a hike
My non-drinking dog on a hike.

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!

My personal opinion is that dogs do better in the long run eating a moist diet which will increase water intake without them drinking water in larger quantities.  

Exactly How Much Water Should a 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?

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). [Affiliate links open in a new tab on Amazon.com]

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
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?

This question is like asking “How long will it take to get to Poughkeepsie?” It depends, right? Where are you starting from, what means of transportation are you using and whether will you be stopping for the night. The answer could be 10 minutes or 10 days. 

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 are expected to lose no more than 3% of their body weight in 24 hours of water deprivation. 3% dehydration usually won’t cause noticeable symptoms. Clinical signs of dehydration become more noticeable once a dog has lost 5% or more of their body weight.  

But what if that pet is a Pit Bull who lives in Arizona in July, the outdoor humidity is 10%, the temperature is 110 F and the dog starts having diarrhea after running in the park all afternoon? Those conditions will cause increased water loss and increased water requirement. 

how long can a dog go without water? white dog running in the desert
This dog already looks pretty thirsty!

On the other hand, a healthy indoor Poodle in wintertime Indiana, eating a moist diet will drink hardly any water, comparatively. 

See? It depends. The Pittie might only be able to go for an hour or two without water before you have a sick dog. The Poodle could probably go for days without drinking a sip and remain perfectly healthy. 

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. If they’re lucky they’re not also in a hot environment!

The bottom line is that 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 Will Happen If a Dog Doesn’t Drink Enough Water?

Vets occasionally see dogs who get sick from not drinking enough water. I’ve seen it happen to dogs who exercised vigorously in a hot outdoor environment without good access to water. 

The clinical signs of dehydration 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
Seriously dehydrated sick dogs might need IV fluids.

In some cases of dehydration, the dog’s gums will be sticky or pale or they will have doughy skin but these are not very sensitive signs of dehydration. A dog has to be pretty far gone before you can appreciate 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

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

Is Your Dog Not Drinking Water After Surgery a Concern?

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 to help maintain homeostasis. 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.

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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