Keeping Your Pets Hydrated During Extreme Heat
We have officially survived the hottest July on record! Between long stretches of triple-digit temperatures, dry weather, and wildfires everywhere, we have all talked a lot about water this summer: drought, dry lawns, struggling plants, irrigation being shut off early, conserving water, drinking enough water, “Water, Water, Everywhere!”
One topic that never comes up is proper hydration for our pets. Sure, we keep a bowl full of water next to the dog or cat food and fill it whenever it’s empty or replace it when the water ends up with that oily film from the proximity of the kibble; but is that good enough?
Hydration From Food
Humans receive 20-25% of their hydration from the food we eat. It’s called intracellular moisture. Every salad, juicy steak, fruit, or vegetable is not only nutritious but also hydrating. Dogs and cats in the wild tend to eat as much or more moisture as they drink as their wild food (prey) contains at least 70% water. Our pets often don’t have that same luxury as any kibble contains 5-10% moisture due to the way their food is cooked. That’s not to say that high-quality kibble is unhealthy as they are usually high in meat protein, healthy grains, fruits and vegetables, and full of vitamins and minerals but moisture is a huge missing piece of the health puzzle.
Not only is proper hydration important for all-around health, but it’s also extremely important for digestion. When moisture is not provided for our pets, the organ systems are limited in their ability to carry out their role in digestion, immunity, and all other bodily functions. A dog eating 4 cups of kibble per day would need to consume at least a gallon of water to digest that food. For cats, they would need to drink over one cup for every 10 pounds of body weight to adequately digest a dry food diet.
An easy solution that your pet will love is amending their kibble diets with food higher in moisture.
- Canned food is a great choice as the moisture content of most cans is about 70%. My favorite can is our Grandma Z’s Simply line as you are just adding meat and water to their diet.
- Raw Food is another great option. Raw diets are also very beneficial as they add digestive enzymes to help your pet get even more out of their meals either wet or dry.
- Bone Broths are great to either add to dry kibble or feed separately to encourage your pet to consume more liquid.
- Raw Goat’s Milk is an all-species supplement that provides moisture as well as pre and probiotics to your pet’s digestive system.
- Raw fruits and vegetables are a good snack option for dogs. My dog loves apple slices, green beans, and baby carrots. They can be fed as a snack or even put inside a Kong for some added mental stimulation.
Symptoms of Dehydration
You and I can recognize our own dehydration as a dry mouth, water craving, headaches, and irritability. And, by the time we recognize these signs we are already 2-3 percent dehydrated. Since our pets do not talk to us, we must be very vigilant for the following signs of dehydration.
- Loss of appetite
- Dry mouth (xerostomia) – The gums do not feel moist to the touch but are dry and sticky
- Increased heart rate
- Weak pulses
- Heavy, dry panting
- Dry, red eyes
- Decreased capillary refill time – Put pressure on the gums with your finger, when they blanche white, remove your finger. The color should return within 1 second. With dehydration, this will be prolonged.
- Loss of skin elasticity (tenting) – With your thumb and forefinger, lift the skin over the shoulders and let go. In a hydrated pet, the skin will drop down quickly, in a dehydrated pet it will drop slowly or remain “tented”.
- Sunken eyes (severe dehydration)
- Shock (severe dehydration)
- Collapse (severe dehydration)
The earliest symptoms will not occur until your pet is at least 5 percent dehydrated. Life-threatening dehydration occurs at 10-12 percent, so it is important to look for and recognize these signs early. If you are concerned that your pet is dehydrated, contact your veterinarian or emergency clinic for help. Moderate to severe dehydration requires prompt medical care.
Ways to Prevent Dehydration
As with any illness, prevention is always best. Here are some suggestions to help prevent summer dehydration.
- Always provide plenty of clean water. Change it frequently to ensure freshness. Wash your pet’s water bowl every day to prevent bacterial growth.
- Use a water bowl with a wide or weighted bottom to prevent your pet from knocking it over.
- Monitor your dog’s water intake. Generally, the minimum maintenance requirement for dogs is at least one ounce of water for each pound of body weight per day. Cats, because of their evolutionary desert heritage require less, usually 5-6 ounces per day. This requirement will double or triple with heat and exercise.
- Exercise your dog early in the morning or evening hours to avoid the most intense heat of the day.
- Be sure to take along water and a water bowl wherever you go. Do not rely on natural water sources being available. Plan on their water requirement being double or triple their maintenance requirement. A collapsible canvass bowl works well and is convenient to pack and carry.
- Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the ball or frisbee long after it is time to slow down and rest or take a drink. If your dog is preoccupied with something else (other dogs, a tennis ball, etc.) or too excited to drink, cut your outing short for the sake of preventing dehydration.
- Provide water access frequently. When out in the heat, be sure to provide a water stop, for you and your dog, at least once every 15 to 20 minutes.
- Steer pets away from drinking in ponds, pools, or out of the toilet, as these can be a source of bacteria and chemicals.
As much as we love to bring our pets, especially dogs, everywhere with us, remember when temperatures are soaring, your pet’s well-being may be best served by being left at home. Being a good pet owner is not about spending every minute with your pet, but about making appropriate choices to keep them healthy and safe.