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Dogs and Drinking Water, Part 1

When we first brought our rescue home, he would not drink water. I was so worried about him. We would…

Is your dog refusing to drink water?

When we first brought our rescue home, he would not drink water. I was so worried about him. We would offer him water and he would turn his head. He was afraid of even approaching the water bowl. We changed bowls several times – different sizes and different materials, like stainless, ceramic, glass… he acted like he was terrified. Our first thought was that someone had teased or hurt him with a bowl. It saddened us to think that he was so traumatized over something so necessary to his health. Once Rex learned that I was someone he could trust, I could pour water in my hands and he would drink from my hands. Of course, I couldn’t hold a lot of water in my hands and he really wasn’t getting enough. He actually got to the point where his eyes looked sunken in his head. He was becoming dehydrated.

Just before we decided to take him to the vet for IV fluids, he somehow – probably out of desperation – got up the nerve to drink from a bowl. His back legs shook nervously as he drank, but he did it. We made over him like he had accomplished something amazing. Fortunately, he has continued to drink from the bowl, although he is still afraid of it and sort-of “sneaks up on it” like it will attack him if it sees him coming. If we change the bowl or offer him water from a cup or other container when traveling, he will not drink. It has to be his yellow, ceramic bowl or nothing at all. Isn’t that strange?

There are many reasons a dog will not drink water. Illness, injury, or even preference may play a part in your dog’s reluctance to drink water. Many times, there is a psychological component to the dog’s behavior, such as fear or a past negative experience. Regardless, water is a key element for your dog’s good health and vitality. It is important for nearly all body processes… digestion, blood circulation, elimination. Simply put, if a dog refuses to drink water, they will not live.

Similar to a dog’s refusal to drink water, it is not all that uncommon to have just the opposite problem – that being an obsession or over-consumption of water. We have seen both in our guests here at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. Today we are going to explore the physiological and psychological reasons a dog will not drink. In next week’s blog, Part Two of “Dogs and Drinking Water”, we will examine why a dog may drink too much water.

Before we go any further, we want to remind everyone that we are not animal behaviorists nor medical professionals at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts. We are simply sharing what we have learned from our experience of working with pets, in hopes that it will help some of you with problems that you may be having with your own pets.

Medical Reasons Your Dog May Not Drink Water

• Kidney disease – A dog may refuse to drink water in the later stages of kidney disease. Ironically, during the early stages of kidney disease, a dog will drink more water than usual. Then as the enzyme levels increase as the disease progresses, the dog may drink less or refuse to drink at all.
• Urinary Tract or bladder Infection – Does a dog really understand that drinking water causes them to urinate? Some believe they do. They believe that dogs with urinary tract infections will avoid drinking because it hurts to urinate. Perhaps it is simply the sickness from the infection itself that causes them to quit drinking.
• Rabies – There are several phases a dog goes through when they suffer from rabies. One of these phases is the paralytic phase. Because of jaw and throat paralysis, the dog will be unable to eat or drink.
• Pancreatitis – A dog sometimes exhibits little interest or no interest in drinking water when they have pancreatitis. Sometimes they are too nauseated to drink.
• Brain disorder – The part of the brained called the hypothalamus regulates appetite, sleep, temperature, and thirst. A disorder of the hypothalamus may cause a decreased interest in drinking water.  Adipsia is a rare disease characterized by the absence of thirst and is usually caused by a lesion on the hypothalamus.
• Parvovirus – If a dog is sick with parvo, they will likely refuse any food or drink.

Psychological Reasons Your Dog May Not Drink Water

Dogs often learn by association. It’s called classical conditioning. It’s when you place a mental connection to something that was not previously associated. Here is an example: When I begin chopping fruits or vegetables in the kitchen, Rex starts circling as he associates the sound of chopping with receiving a carrot or an apple slice. In the beginning, Rex simply ignored me when I was chopping in the kitchen. Chopping had no meaning to him. But since I have started giving him some of what I chop, in his mind, chopping is linked with getting a treat. But chopping and treats are not really related in any way… He has made that association. Did that make sense? Let me try again… This is a more common association. When I get out a suitcase, Rex – like many dogs – gets anxious because he knows what that means. Whereas before he really took no notice of a suitcase. By association, Rex now knows that a suitcase means that someone is going somewhere, and he hates it when one of us leaves. One more: We keep Rex’s leash in a cabinet near the door. The cabinet door has a slight squeak every time we open it. When Rex hears that squeak, he thinks he is going for a walk, even if we opened it for some other reason. He has associated that sound with a fun walk! He gets excited.

This kind of “associative memory” happens all the time with dogs. I spoke with Holiday Barn Pet ResortsProfessional Dog Trainers, Melaina Russell and Dickie Martinson about my experience with Rex and water. Melaina’s explanation is a great description of associative memory. She said, “Rex probably had some negative experience with a water bowl at some point in his life. Dogs can experience single learning events where strong associations are formed after only being exposed once. Maybe his metal dog tags hit a stainless-steel bowl and the noise frightened him. Maybe he accidentally stepped in the bowl and knocked it over getting him wet AND the noise scared him. Maybe someone dropped something just as he took a sip of water from a bowl. Maybe another dog corrected him while drinking or another dog guarded water bowls in his previous home.”

Dickie agrees with Melaina and adds that the problem can become even more complex. “Sometimes the dog picks up on how worried and stressed the owner is when he’s not drinking, so he starts to wonder why his pack leader stressed over this bowl and it makes the situation even worse.” I can totally see that happening in Rex’s case. Nervous or anxious owners can bring negative anxiety into an existing issue that serves to only intensify it. And our amazing pups will pick right up on it!

Visual disorientation

It has been suggested that a dog may be afraid of water for a couple of rather odd visual challenges. It could be that when the dog puts its face over the water, there is another dog looking back at him – his own reflection! But he doesn’t recognize himself… he only sees that a dog gets in his face when he drinks water. Crazy? I don’t think so! Or perhaps the dog is frightened at the depth of the water. He can’t tell how deep it is. Is that so unbelievable? Melaina says, “Realistically, it’s a stretch, unless the dog has some sort of vision impairment.” Visual impairments, such as cataracts, could also cause a dog to feel threatened by the depth of the bowl.

Other Factors that Cause your Dog not to Drink Water

• Injury to mouth or teeth. It may be too painful for your dog to eat or drink if they have a broken tooth, a mouth sore, or dislocated jaw and various other oral issues.
• Age – Just like people, older dogs just don’t feel thirsty as often.
• Lack of exercise – Maybe? If your dog isn’t hot and tired, he/she may not have the desire to drink.
• Dirty water bowl – Yep, your finicky little friend may have better hygiene habits than you think.
• Change of water – The water has to “smell” right, as smell is how our dogs judge their world. If you go on vacation or somehow change your water at home and your dog suddenly refuses to drink it, then it may not smell the same.
• Nervousness – If there are a lot of changes going on in your home, your dog may be too anxious to drink. This will pass when the household returns to normal.

In Conclusion

Bottom line: If your dog will not drink water, then you need to call your vet right away. Dehydration in a dog can take place within a 24-hour period and can be fatal. Other symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea will shorten that time period even more. A dog that loses just 10 – 15% of the water in their body can get very sick and even die. Prolonged dehydration can lead to various organ failure, including the heart.

Just as dangerous as it is for a dog drinking too little water, too much water can be equally as deadly. NEXT WEEK, in Part 2 of “Dogs and Drinking Water”, we will delve into the reasons your dog may drink too much water.

In Part 3 of “Dogs and Drinking Water”, we will give you pointers on how to make sure your dog has adequate hydration.

And, as always, if you have any questions that we can help with, feel free to give us a call at Holiday Barn Pet Resorts Glen Allen or Midlothian.

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