With the unusually long spell of fabulous summer weather we’ve been having, you may have noticed articles and posts on social media about the occurrence of water intoxication in our canine friends. But what is this potentially fatal condition?
WATER INTOXICATION occurs when more water enters the body than it can process. The presence of excessive water dilutes body fluids creating a potentially dangerous shift in electrolyte balance and depletion of sodium levels (HYPONATRAEMIA). Sodium is an important electrolyte, or salt, which plays a role in maintaining blood pressure and nerve and muscle function.
When the sodium concentration in extracellular fluid drops, the cells start filling with water as the body attempts to balance the sodium levels inside the cells with falling levels outside the cells (a process called osmosis). This inflow of water causes the cells – including those in the brain – to swell. The central nervous system can also be affected.
Thankfully, water intoxication is a relatively rare condition in dogs. At highest risk are dogs that enjoy playing in the water for long stretches, but believe it or not, even a lawn sprinkler or hose can pose a hazard for pets that love to snap at or “catch” spraying water. And with the unusually long spell of hot weather we’ve been experiencing, reports of this life-threatening condition have been popping up on the internet and social media.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF WATER INTOXICATION?
LOSS OF COORDINATION
If left untreated, severe cases may lead to BREATHING DIFFICULTIES, COLLAPSE, LOSS OF CONSCIOUSNESS, SEIZURES, COMA and DEATH.
WHICH DOGS ARE MOST AT RISK?
Any dog can develop hyponatraemia, however, the condition is most commonly seen in dogs who will stay in the lake, pond or pool all day if you let them; pets that lap or bite at the water continuously while playing in it; and dogs that swallow water unintentionally as they dive for a ball or other toy. The condition has also been reported in dogs that over-hydrate during or after exercise, as well as those that enjoy playing with water from a garden hose or sprinklers.
Water intoxication can affect any size or breed of dog, but smaller dogs probably show symptoms more quickly because it takes less time for an excessive amount of water to build up in their bodies.
Water intoxication progresses quickly and can be life threatening, so if your pet has been playing in water and begins to exhibit any of the symptoms listed above, it’s crucial that you seek immediate veterinary care to save your dog’s life. Treatment of hyponatraemia in dogs typically includes delivery of electrolytes via an intravenous drip, diuretics, and drugs to reduce brain swelling. With aggressive veterinary care, some dogs are able to recover from water intoxication, but sadly, many are not.
PREVENTION OF WATER INTOXICATION
If your dog loves the water, make sure you supervise their activity. If your pet is repetitively retrieving a ball or other toy from the water, insist on frequent rest breaks, and be especially vigilant on days when the water is rough. Observe how your dog interacts with the water. If their mouth is open a lot – even if just holding a ball or stick in it – understand that they are likely to be ingesting a fair amount of water. The same can be true of dogs that dive to the bottom of a pool to retrieve items.
Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of water intoxication and monitor your dog’s appearance and behaviour when they’re playing in water.
After a period of hard play or exercise, use caution when your dog rehydrates. If he immediately laps up the contents of his water bowl, rest him for a bit before you refill his bowl. If your dog is very active, it’s a good idea to have water with you when he exercises so that you can give frequent short water breaks to keep him hydrated.
If your dog enjoys interacting with water from the hose or sprinkler, you should monitor that activity as well. Water from a hose or sprinkler is under pressure, and you’d be surprised how much a dog can ingest in a short amount of time.
SALT WATER TOXICITY
Many dogs enjoy a trip to the beach, especially for a cooling dip over the warm summer period. Dogs that enjoy swimming in the sea or playing “fetch” may be inclined to drink the sea water or accidentally ingest it during play.
Excessive intake of salt water can result in HYPERNATRAEMIA, or salt poisoning, which is the opposite of hyponatremia. Initial signs of hypernatremia include VOMITING and DIARRHOEA, but the condition can quickly progress to NEUROLOGICAL SYMPTOMS such as LOSS OF COORDINATION, SEIZURES, PROGRESSIVE DEPRESSION, and SEVERE BRAIN SWELLING. Hypernatraemia, like hyponatraemia, is potentially life threatening, and immediate veterinary care is needed.
If you take your dogs to the beach, bring along fresh drinking water and offer it to them at frequent intervals so they won’t be tempted to drink sea water.