Water – an essential nutrient

Do you know how much your pet should be drinking? Water is essential for life, and is considered a nutrient and functions as a key nutritional factor in many disease states. Coming into summer, pet parents are more conscious than ever of their pets drinking habits and making sure they stay well hydrated is at the top of their priorities.

But how much is truly enough?

For pets eating a mostly or entirely dry diet, they will require up to 75% more water than pets who eat wet or moist diets due to the water content of the food. Pets are designed to fulfil their water requirements from what they eat, rather than drinking water, so don’t be alarmed if your cat or dog doesn’t really drink, but eats alot of wet food. Particularly with cats, they will self regulate their water intake against the moisture of their food.

On average, a dog will need to drink about 30 to 50mL per kg of body weight every day. Based on that ratio, a 10kg dog will drink about 300 to 500mL per day. Dogs are less affected by the type of diet they eat, than cats are; cats will typically need to drink 60ml per kg bodyweight but this varies quite a lot depending on the type of diet they are on.

Another way of estimating how much water your pet needs, is calculating their Daily Energy Requirement; typically pets will drink the same amount (ml) of water as calories (kcal) they consume in a day.

When to worry:

If your pet is drinking excessively, wants to sit at the bowl all day, or is constantly on the hunt for water (and it’s not a hot day) it might be a good idea to get them checked out by a vet; these symptoms can hint at kidney disease, diabetes or Cushing’s disease just to name a few. Conversely, if they are not interested in drinking at all (particularly dogs) this is another cause for concern which should be addressed by a veterinary professional. If you suspect your pet is drinking alot more (or less) than usual, monitor their intake over a few days by measuring out how much water you set out in their bowl and how often you need to refill it, and measure the water left at the end of the day. Never restrict water intake in pets with excessive drinking (polydipsia) as this can have severe consequences for their health.

So how do I know if my pet is dehydrated?

  • skin tenting (decreased elasticity)
  • sunken eyes/face (severe)
  • dry skin/dandruff
  • tacky gums
  • lethargy
  • recent episode of prolonged vomiting or diarrhea
  • panting
  • increased heart rate
  • loss of appetite

Should I supplement my pet’s water intake?

New products that are promoted as “boosting hydration” or marketed towards owners of pets who may benefit from an increase in water intake, (such as cats with chronic kidney disease or feline lower urinary tract disorders) are usually unnecessary, and probably not effective. As long as water is always available and your pet is actively drinking, these products likely aren’t going to be very helpful, particularly when cats will self regulate their intake. If you suspect your pet is dehydrated, please get them to a vet to get them checked out and have them placed on intravenous fluids (if needed) as this is the most effective and safest method to increase a patient’s hydration.

In some cases, increasing a patient’s water intake at home can be beneficial:

  • some cats prone to urinary crystals may benefit from increased urine output particularly if they will not eat wet food (however if feeding a urinary diet, this is not necessary)
  • cats with chronic kidney disease who do not want to drink water, don’t eat wet foods and are otherwise stable under the care of their vet
  • a recent, uncomplicated episode of vomiting or diarrhea
  • during a period of very hot weather

Ways to increase water intake:

  • Using oral rehydration solutions (available from your vet) such as Lectade or Oralade
  • Using supplements designed to add hydration to diets such as Purina HydraCare (probiotic)
  • Using prescription diets designed to encourage water intake by increased sodium, or moist diets, for certain disease states (Chronic Kidney Disease, FLUTD, diabetes etc)
  • Incorporate some form of moist food in the pet’s diet
  • Soak your pet’s dry food in water
  • Provide water fountains instead of bowls for pets that prefer to drink from taps or running water
  • Use ceramic bowls if placing them outside as this keeps the water cooler than metal bowls
  • Clean water bowls between refills to prevent bacteria accumulating and provide a fresh bowl every day
  • Freeze wet food or soaked kibble into puzzle feeders or enrichment toys for summer
  • Feed fresh fruit or vegetables that are safe for pets and rich in water, such as melons!

How do you encourage your pet’s to drink? Do you feed an all dry diet, or an all wet diet? Let me know your top tips in the comment section below!

If you found this post helpful, why not buy me a coffee to help support my work? Your small donation goes back into supporting my studies in animal nutrition and teaching more veterinary professionals about nutrition!

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