Water intoxication in dogs - a personal experience & what to look out for...

Water intoxication in dogs - a personal experience & what to look out for...

With a scorching summer heatwave comes a high level of risk for our furry friends, and many activities that we thought would be safe and even helpful to keep dogs cool can sometimes contain their own risks.

What is canine water intoxication?

Water intoxication is when a dog consumes an excess of water, causing sodium levels to drop outside of the cells (hyponatremia). The body responds to this by filling the cells up with water and vital organs then begin to rapidly swell. Most organs can cope quite well with this, but the brain is encased in bone and therefore cannot. In severe cases this swelling in the brain can cause severe nerve damage and can also be fatal. 

What are the symptoms of water intoxication in dogs?

The symptoms of water intoxication in dogs come on really fast, many owners report that their dog went from normal to incredibly unwell in the space of a few minutes.

Symptoms Include:

  • Glazed eyes, squinting eyes, puffy eyelids, dilated pupils
  • Squealing, whining and neediness
  • Lethargy, sudden loss of energy 
  • Vomiting or urging, licking lips
  • Vomiting large quantities of water
  • Wetting themselves or large volumes of urine more frequently than normal
  • Loss of co-ordination, staggering, inability to stand, sit upright or walk without stumbling
  • Restlessness, looking very uncomfortable and unwell
  • Bloating and extended belly, generally looking or feeling full of fluid
  • Drooling more than usual
  • Pale gums
  • A 'drunk' appearance and behaviour
  • Shaking and tremors in the body and or head 
  • Difficulty breathing, panting excessively

How it occurs

Dogs can get water intoxication from prolonged water play, water sports like dock diving, ball retrieval in water and fixations where they drink water excessively as Yuffie did (see below).

In general, the larger the dog the more water they can safely consume. 

How to avoid it

  • When playing in water encourage your dog to play on land every 10 minutes or so. 
  • Be aware when throwing balls, sticks or toys in water as they can accidentally ingest large quantities of water when retrieving them.
  • Don't leave dogs unattended around paddling pools and watch for any signs that they are drinking the water excessively.
  • Don't encourage your dog to eat kibble from huge bowls of water or sprinkled in a pool as they can easily consume too much water in the process.
  • Don't encourage your dog to play with pressurised water out of a hose pipe or sprinkler, if you do please ensure that you keep sessions to a few minutes maximum. 
  • Spread out water intake evenly throughout the day, if you add water to their food at mealtimes don't over do it. 
  • It is important for dogs to remain hydrated in hot weather but it's very important to monitor their intake as having too much is just as dangerous as too little.
  • Losing consciousness, collapse

How water intoxication is treated

It is much better to prevent water intoxication from occurring than to try and treat it once it's happening. But if your dog does develop water intoxication symptoms it is imperative that you get them to a vet without delay as things can develop scarily fast. 

Whilst waiting for veterinary attention/on the way to the vet, keep your dog cool and calm. They may wet themselves and or vomit so bring towels in the car and don't make a fuss when it happens. Make sure to explain the situation in full to your vet, and mention that you think they have consumed a toxic amount of water. 

Treatment of canine water intoxication tends to include an IV of electrolytes, diuretics and drugs to reduce brain swelling. Prognosis varies but for many dogs it can sadly be too little too late, so time is of the essence here - get to a vet ASAP.

Always listen to your vet's advice as they are trained medical professionals and will know the best course of action.

Our personal experience with water intoxication...

I wanted to share our personal experience with canine water intoxication here because I think it's important to raise awareness about it, especially when it's not an especially well known condition.

It's difficult for me to talk about because it's actually happened to us with our merle border collie Yuffie twice now and its hard to admit that it probably could have been prevented the second time had we been paying more attention. Luckily this time it was not as bad as it was last year because we were able to spot the signs and intervene before it got too dire and I think that is key here. My hope in sharing this is that it may help you to both prevent it happening to your dog or spot it if it does happen so you can act fast and potentially save their life.

 

On a warm-ish day last year we attended a BBQ in Gab's parents garden and Yuffie was playing by herself in an old plastic bath tub, digging in it as she so often did in the river, lake or paddling pool. 

Yuffie is very affectionate and she intermittently ran over to cuddle with the other guests and as it wasn't much welcomed because she was wet we told her to stop digging in the tub. She became frustrated and began to drink the water, we noticed a little bit but didn't think much of it. She kept sipping the water and squealing at it because she wanted to jump in and dig in it and wasn't allowed to. 

Suddenly Yuffie came running over to us and was more clingy than usual, she looked normal at this point but in the next five minutes she deteriorated rapidly... She began wee-ing large quantities of water and urging, she then began to be physically sick and it was all water and bile in large quantities, her face began to puff up and her eyes were glazed and squinty, she began to whine and squeal as though she was in great distress (that sound haunts me), her stomach was distended, her face looked full of water and she was shaking as though she was freezing cold. She could no longer walk and was swaying from side to side as she was sitting upright. Her head was twitching and she was in and out of consciousness, this was possibly seizure activity due to the brain swelling.

*Disclaimer* We are not vets and our advice cannot be used as a substitute for a trained professional. If in doubt, ALWAYS contact your veterinary practice.

We immediately rang the emergency vet and the vet on call was a little confused when I explained that she had drunk too much water, she seemed to think that Yuffie was overheated and hypothermic. She said to bring her to the surgery so she could examine her and so we carried her to the car and drove straight up there. By the time we arrived at the vet Yuffie had actually improved somewhat and was responding to words that get her attention 'chicken', 'walkies', 'cuddles' etc, so we felt somewhat relieved. The particular vet that we had on that day was not familiar with water intoxication and made us feel like we were paranoid to be honest, looking back I am quite irritated by it. We wanted her to take a sample of Yuffie's blood to check the sodium level but she didn't want to take that route so we just left with an anti sickness jab and a hefty £300 bill for out of hours. 

That evening Yuffie's condition improved slowly over time, Gabs stayed on the sofa overnight and Yuffie slept next to her on a cooling mat on the floor. She drooled all night excessively and was lethargic and whiny. Over the next few days she gradually went back to normal, which we now know is incredibly lucky. 

When we went back to the vets on the Monday for a check up we saw a different and more experienced vet, who took Yuffie's bloods to make sure that her sodium level had returned to normal and to check her kidney and liver function. She confirmed that it was likely to have been water intoxication. Luckily there was no long term damage, I know that lots of dogs have not been so lucky.

Water intoxication, we now know, is not widely covered in veterinary textbooks so if you do suspect that your dog has water intoxication it is definitely worth suggesting that to your vet, especially if you have seen your dog ingesting water. 

The second time

The second time this happened to Yuffie was just this past weekend. We take our dogs for walks next to the river frequently and they play and swim and Yuffie digs the shallow water so we are used to our dogs' tolerance with water. We concluded that last year's intoxication event was a one-off and had happened because Yuffie was frustrated when she was asked not to dig and play in the water.

However, a whole year later, this past weekend, we dropped the dogs off at a friends house whilst we popped to visit my grandma for a cuppa. Our friend had filled up a pool for the dogs and as we left they were all going in and out of it a little but not hugely interested, so we thought nothing of it. 

However, when we returned Yuffie was trying to dig in the pool and as it had a soft plastic bottom our friend was asking her not to do it. She barked at the pool and whined in frustration quite a lot but mostly lay at Gabs feet or played tug with the other dogs. It was only as we were enjoying a meal al fresco that we noticed Yuffie drinking from the pool and not stopping. Gabs pulled her away and asked her to lie down. A little while later when everyone was engrossed in conversation we again noticed that Yuffie had gotten up and was at the pool's edge drinking the water and squealing at it because she wanted to get in and dig and play. Noticing this obsessive behaviour we asked her to lie down with us and Gabs put her on the lead to prevent any further drinking whilst we were socialising.

Unfortunately Yuffie had obviously already drunk much more than we had realised as she began to shake and whine and her eyes glazed over. Again it happened within minutes and she was otherwise completely normal until she suddenly wasn't. We encouraged her to be sick as she was urging and she was violently sick with lots of water coming out. She then wet herself and the amount of water that came out was very alarming.

Luckily this time Yuffie recovered much quicker and did not require any veterinary attention, we were in contact with another friend who is a qualified vet who told us to monitor her through the night and bring her in immediately if she declined again but thankfully that didn't happen. 

These terrifying events have made us aware that this could happen again if we don't monitor her with water much more stringently in the future. We were very lucky that Yuffie didn't have any lasting damage to her brain or central nervous system, many dogs have sadly not been as lucky, and we will not take that for granted again.

Yuffie was 6 years old the first time this happened so I'd urge you to be aware of water intoxication as it could happen to any dog, of any age, at any time. 

Familiarise yourself...

Familiarise yourself with the symptoms listed at the beginning of this page to keep your furry friend safe and contact a vet if you are at all concerned,

 

If you liked this article please let us know so that I can continue to provide content that you find useful :)

 

Thank you for reading,

 

Hatti x

 

*Disclaimer* We are not vets and our advice cannot be used as a substitute for a trained professional. If in doubt, ALWAYS contact your veterinary practice.

 

 

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