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Water Intoxication in Dogs (Hyponatremia) – Definition, Causes, Symptoms, Treatments & FAQ

Written by Jay
BsC (Hons) Animal Behaviour & Welfare graduate with a passion for advocating for misunderstood animals.
Published on
Monday 22 February 2021
Last updated on
Tuesday 9 May 2023
water intoxication in dogs
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Water intoxication in dogs is an uncommon but dangerous reality for water-loving pups. Through play, diving, and fetching toys in the water, dogs may swallow more water than their bodies can handle. This leads to a devastating condition known as hyponatremia, which can only be treated by a qualified vet.

Hyponatremia in dogs occurs when the sodium in their blood becomes abnormally low. If untreated, hyponatremia causes a dog’s brain to swell. This can cause brain damage. For these reasons, you must take your pooch to the vet as soon as possible if they show signs of water intoxication!

How do Dogs Get Intoxicated by Water?

While water is necessary for all life, too much water can actually be extremely dangerous. Taking in too much water without a way to quickly remove it causes water levels in the body to build up. This dilutes important electrolytes found in the blood. More specifically, over-hydration dilutes serum sodium. This extreme lack of sodium is known as hyponatremia. Your dog needs sodium in their bloodstream to control the amount of water that is in and around the cells in their body.

When hyponatremia occurs, sodium in your dog’s blood cannot manage the high levels of water in the body. As a result, the body’s cells swell to abnormal sizes. This leads to disturbances in brain function, as even the brain cells swell with hyponatremia. Because of these physiological changes, water intoxication can go on to cause brain damage, heart failure, and death. Luckily, if water intoxication is caught quickly, it can be corrected before brain injury occurs.

What Causes Water Intoxication in Dogs?

Luckily for your pooch, water intoxication is uncommon. Dogs are most at risk of water intoxication when playing in the water, where they may swallow large amounts. Many owners who have witnessed this devastating condition find that it occurs after their dog has played fetch in the water. This is because the dog must open their mouth to retrieve the toy, allowing large amounts of water into the body. Dogs may also experience water intoxication when diving, swimming, or drinking from a pool.

The water intoxication risk increases for certain dogs. For example, small dogs who need less water than large dogs are more likely to encounter water intoxication. This is because their bodies have less capacity to rid themselves of the excess water. It also means that smaller dogs develop signs more quickly, and thus deteriorate quicker than large dogs. Similarly, dogs who spend a lot of time in the water are at a higher risk of water intoxication. This is because dogs who swim, dive, or fetch toys in the water may swallow large amounts of water during exercise. Finally, dogs with little fat in their bodies are also at a greater risk. With little fat in their bodies, dogs are less able to absorb the excess fluid.

What are the Signs of Water Intoxication in Dogs?

The signs and symptoms of water intoxication include:

  • A loss of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Excessive salivation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting large amounts of water
  • Bloating
  • Glazed eyes

Your dog may also have dilated pupils and pale gums as a result of water intoxication. Also, dogs may experience muscle cramps, weakness, and twitching after taking in too much water. In extreme cases, your pet may experience seizures or coma. This is because water intoxication can cause the brain to swell.

The onset of water intoxication is often rapid (<30 minutes) but may take several hours to become obvious. Once signs show they progress very quickly, so if your pet shows any of these signs, make sure to seek out veterinary help immediately. Without treatment, death can occur within 24 to 72 hours but may occur sooner in extreme cases. With treatment, your dog can expect to recover from mild water intoxication in 3 to 4 hours. More severe cases may persist for 2 to 5 days.

dog water intoxication
Water intoxication in dogs can be fatal without treatment.

Dog Water Intoxication Treatment

Treatment for water intoxication in dogs is typically aggressive. In acute cases where the dog’s sodium serum levels are less than 125mmol/L, the main treatment is administering hypertonic saline to the patient. Hypertonic saline is given intravenously for more accurate measurements. The goal of this treatment is typically to increase serum sodium levels by 3 to 5 mmol/L over the course of one hour. This helps to reduce brain swelling and restores sodium to your dog’s bloodstream. If your dog’s symptoms are severe, this rate may increase to prevent further damage to their body.

Alongside hypertonic saline, your dog will also receive diuretics to treat water intoxication. A diuretic works by increasing the amount of water and salt that expels from the body through urine. This not only helps to balance your dog’s sodium levels but reduces excess blood volume caused by water. Diuretics are typically given intravenously so that their levels can be monitored more accurately. It’s important to monitor diuretics as they may cause further electrolyte and acid-base disturbances.

Water Intoxication in Dogs – FAQs

Have any more questions or concerns about water intoxication in dogs? Feel free to refer to our Frequently Asked Questions section for more details. If in doubt about your pup’s health, always ask your vet for advice.

How do you treat water intoxication in dogs?

Water intoxication must be treated by a qualified vet. This is because a dog with water intoxication needs special drugs to treat the hyponatremia associated with the condition. If your dog suffers water intoxication, a vet will administer hypertonic saline and diuretics to treat them. Hypertonic saline is a strong saltwater solution with a higher concentration of salt than blood plasma. This helps to restore the blood’s sodium levels to normal. A diuretic, on the other hand, is a drug that encourages your dog to pee more. It also increases the amount of water expelled in your dog’s pee. By encouraging these changes, your dog’s water levels are reduced considerably.

How much water is too much for a dog?

The amount of water that is “too much” for a dog also varies depending on their breed and size. While a giant breed like a Great Dane may drink more water to sustain itself, a toy breed like a Chihuahua probably needs less water than them. This is due to the difference in body size. However, as a general rule, your dog should drink an ounce of water per pound of body fluid per day. This base amount increases for young, very active, or lactating dogs. Your dog may also drink more if they are suffering from a metabolic illness such as Cushing’s disease. If your dog regularly drinks more than the recommended amount, consider talking to your vet to get to the bottom of your dog’s thirst.

What happens when a dog drinks too much pool water?

In general, taking an occasional drink of pool water won’t cause harm to your pooch. However, if your dog drinks too much pool water, they could be at risk of water intoxication and irritation to the gastrointestinal tract. Not only is your dog drinking too much water, but the water is chlorinated! If your pool has too much chlorine, your dog is at risk of nausea, vomiting, and erosion of their esophagus. This risk increases with the amount of chlorine in your pool.

The main risk of pool water is water intoxication. This occurs when your dog swallows large amounts of water in small amounts of time. Without a way to quickly get rid of the excess water, your dog’s serum sodium dilutes and becomes unable to manage how much water is in the body. In 30 minutes to several hours, this can progress to hyponatremia.

How quickly does water intoxication happen in dogs?

Water intoxication happens quickly. Its onset can be as rapid as less than 30 minutes, but in some cases, it may take several hours for the signs to become noticeable. Once the signs begin to show, they progress very quickly. The condition advances much more quickly in small dogs as their bodies become easily overwhelmed by the excess water. This leads to death within 24 to 72 hours. Luckily, with treatment, mild cases may resolve within 3 to 4 hours. More severe cases take longer. If your dog shows severe signs, such as seizures and brain injury, their recovery may take 5 days or more.

How do you get water out of a dog’s lungs?

If water gets into your dog’s lungs, take them to the emergency vet immediately. Do not wait for your dog’s symptoms to get worse, as dogs who are unconscious upon arrival at the vet will not have a good prognosis. Your pooch will need chest X-rays to evaluate the amount of water in the lungs. They will also need antibiotics to prevent pneumonia. These are treatments that cannot be given at home. Do not be tempted to perform the Heimlich maneuver on your dog. This technique is only recommended when a dog’s airway is blocked by a solid material. Abdominal thrusts can cause vomiting and aspiration of stomach contents, which can cause further damage to the lungs.

To reduce your pooch’s risk of dry drowning, monitor them closely during playtime in the water. Additionally, you could fit them with a lifejacket to ensure their head stays above the water. Most importantly, be aware of the signs of drowning in dogs, and know your closest vet’s location in case of emergency.

Water intoxication in dogs is a rare and potentially fatal problem. Without treatment, a dog with water intoxication will experience hyponatremia. This causes signs and symptoms that include a lack of coordination, difficulty breathing, vomiting, bloating, and lethargy. If this sounds like your pooch, make sure to get emergency veterinary help right away.

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