After a perfect day on the lake doing all of his favorite things- swimming, sniffing chasing- Jasper fell asleep at my feet. After about an hour I woke him up, and the moment his eyes opened I knew something was off. He had a dazed look and was struggling to hold his head steady. He stumbled as he worked his way to his feet and swayed as he stood in front of me. This was not my usual energetic, graceful boy.
When I described the symptoms to the emergency vet they said their main concern was that Jasper had something they called "water toxicity." They proceeded to tell me that this relatively rare condition could also be fatal.
We raced to the hospital where they ran several tests to rule out water toxicity, and once we got the news that he was completely healthy I took my first, real breath in over five hours.
Although Jasper did NOT end up having this condition I feel compelled to share information about it. I had never heard of water toxicity and my guess is that other dog owners aren't familiar with it either. With the summer months upon us and most of us flocking to bodies of water to keep our canines cool I felt that it would be valuable information to have. I have gathered the following intelligence from reputable websites and our emergency veterinarian. Stay safe out there, friends!
WHAT IS WATER TOXICITY?
Water toxicity, or water intoxication, can result in life threatening hyponatremia (excessive low sodium levels).
WHAT THE EFF IS GOING ON?
Hyponatremia occurs when more water enters the body than it can process. It is the presence of so much water dilutes bodily fluids, creating a potentially dangerous shift in electrolyte balance. 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. This inflow of water causes the cells – including those in the brain – to swell. The central nervous system can also be affected. A swelling brain is obviously an emergency situation, but there are some very obvious signs that this has started to occur, which I explain below.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Symptoms of water intoxication include staggering/loss of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. When I mentioned that Jasper had the signs of being drunk the vet instantly feared for water intoxication. In severe cases, there can also be difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness, seizures, coma, and death. Also note that these symptoms will rapidly increase and as their health rapidly decreases.
IS MY DOG AT RISK?
Short answer: yes, all dogs are at risk for water intoxication. The condition is seen most commonly in very active dogs who consume water rapidly, or dogs that spend a lot of time in bodies of water. Because of the high pressure, dogs that drink water straight from a hose are also at risk.
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.
This is key, and there are some really simple ways to reduce your dogs risk of this scary situation.
If your dog loves the water, make sure you’re there to supervise his activity. If your pet is repetitively retrieving a ball or other toy from the water, insist on frequent rest breaks. Be especially vigilant on days when the water is rough. Keep an eye on things, watch how your dog interacts with water. Is her/his mouth open? Is your dog lapping up the water or gulping it down.
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 him frequent short water breaks to keep him hydrated.
Basically. be a helicopter parent. It's easy in the summer months to think that your dog should be consuming absolutely as much water as possible, but taking breaks in between bowls and throws of the stick into a lake will help slow the consumption down while also keeping them hydrated.
Whenever I am traveling outside of the city my first order of business is to route the nearest pet hospitals. This was a lesson I learned early in my camping-with-dogs existence. You don't want to be driving out of a campsite and going in the opposite direction of a clinic that could administer life saving resources.