Water intoxication and your dog

Dogs drinking too much water too quickly can be deadly.

While on one of my researching missions last fall, I stumbled across a blog post from 2013 that someone had written about water playtime being deadly for dogs.  The author used words I’d never seen or heard of before, ‘water toxicity’ and ‘Hyponatremia’.  After I read the post and the sad comments that had been left by owners who had tragically lost dogs to Hyponatremia, I knew this was a topic I had to write about to warn other dog owners.

Dogs drinking too much water can be lethal?

Most of us think it’s funny or cute the way our dogs love to chase/eat the water out of a fountain, the garden hose or sprinkler, or repeatedly fetch an item from a body of water.  Most of the time it is, as I’ve witnessed with Ruby and the garden hose and Abby in the pond.  Luckily, I’ve always gotten tired long before them and never had any bad experiences.  Knowing now that something as seemingly innocent as drinking too much water while playing could kill them, prompted this post.

If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard that people can drink too much water too quickly, causing health issues.  I guess I never stopped to think that that could also happen to our dogs.  Or maybe I just thought a dog would be smart enough to know when it had had enough and stop opening its mouth/drinking.

As it warms up everywhere and people and pets are taking trips to the pool, the beach, the lake, or encountering other sources of water, I wanted to make sure I got this warning out.  This is a serious health condition and unfortunately, usually one that when you hear about it, it is oftentimes only after someone has had a tragic experience, like I had with my dog Sadie, and Previcox.

What is water intoxication and Hyponatremia?

According to Dr. Becker, who also wrote about the subject herself in 2013, water intoxication, that results in Hyponatremia, is when a large quantity of water is ingested too quickly, causing extremely low sodium levels.  Simply put, the body cannot process the amount of water being ingested fast enough.  The imbalance of electrolytes from the excess water wreaks havoc on the cells, causing a number of issues, including swelling of the brain.

Here are the symptoms of Hyponatremia:

  • Lethargy
  • Excessive salivation
  • Loss of coordination/staggering
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Bloating
  • Dilated pupils
  • Glazed eyes
  • Pale gums

In severe cases, these symptoms can also include:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Collapse
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Death

Obviously, with those symptoms, Hyponatremia isn’t something to be messed with.  If your dog is demonstrating any of these symptoms after being around water, it’s better to err on the side of caution and seek emergency treatment immediately.  Hyponatremia can be deadly quickly.  When I say quickly, I mean that I read more than a couple cases where the dog either died or lost consciousness (and later died) in less than an hour of the start of symptoms.

Prevention and treatment of Hyponatremia

So what are your options if you are spending a day around water to prevent Hyponatremia?  Dr. Becker recommends supervising your pet closely and taking plenty of breaks.  If you are out hiking or doing other activities that make your dog thirsty, just remember to give them plenty of water, but not all at once.  Dr. Becker also noted that smaller dogs tend to show signs of Hyponatremia faster due to their small size.  Of all the tragedies I read from owners, most were smaller dogs, but it can happen to any size dog.

Be especially watchful if you have a dog that likes to bite at the water or swim with their mouth open, as they are taking in a lot of water quickly by doing those things.  Consider getting them a toy that they can close their mouth around like this one, https://amzn.to/2Lht2ax that one reviewer liked, specifically mentioning using it to avoid water intoxication.

While Dr. Becker only encouraged owners to get their dog showing symptoms to the vet immediately, I know in my case, I’d want to know what emergency actions I could take if I found myself more than a few minutes from a vet clinic.  From everything I read, death is not uncommon at all from this condition, so having an emergency plan seems appropriate.

Now, just to reiterate for the sake of being completely honest, I have NO EXPERIENCE at all with any of this and could find no other information to support it working or being an effective treatment, but someone who commented on two different articles, including Dr. Becker’s about Hyponatremia, said that they went through this with their dog.  They claimed they were able to bring their 15 lb. dog back from the brink of disaster by giving him four capfuls of Powerade and then about 20 minutes later, three capfuls of Pedialyte.  The owner started this regimen when they noticed their dog showing symptoms after playing in the pool.

The comment was made in 2016 and it seems ingredients in foods are always changing without notice, but in an emergency situation, as long as they didn’t contain Xylitol, which is toxic to both cats and dogs, or any other dangerous ingredients, using one of those options may be the difference between life and death in a dog suffering from Hyponatremia until you can get to the vet.  It may not be a bad idea to have a bottle on hand if you have a dog that really loves the water and/or you are a good distance from the nearest vet’s office, just in case.

Salt poisoning and Hypernatremia

Hypernatremia is the opposite of Hyponatremia and results from the intake of too much salt water, or salt poisoning.  For those that take their dogs to the beach, this condition is also potentially life-threatening.  According to Dr. Becker, the symptoms of Hypernatremia include vomiting and diarrhea, but the condition can quickly progress to neurologic symptoms like loss of coordination, seizures, progressive depression, and severe brain swelling.  This condition can be avoided by bringing fresh water for your dog to drink at frequent intervals instead of ocean water.

Final thoughts

With most things, prevention is the best policy, but hopefully, now that you know what water intoxication, Hyponatremia, and Hypernatremia are, you can be aware of the possibility.  Following these tips for avoidance and knowing what to do if you encounter a dog exhibiting any of the symptoms, are just more things you have in your internal dog knowledge database, which is my goal with this site.

Please also do a favor to those dog owners that have pools or spend a lot of time in or around water with their dogs, and let them know about these potentially deadly conditions also.


Sources and References:




During my countless hours of random research over the years, I’ve stumbled across and purchased some products that I use, love, and highly recommend.  If you happen to need a good tv antenna to cut cable, safe water bottles, or the cat scratcher that helps me keep my sanity while living with six cats, you can see all of my recommendations here, https://www.amazon.com/shop/savingscatsanddogswhilesavingcash.

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