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Why Water is Important

By: Dr. Nicholas Dodman

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"Thousands have lived without love, not one without water." W. H. Auden.

As Auden alluded, water is the basic stuff of life. Living creatures, like young pups, may go for some considerable time between meals, but not between drinks. Like us, their bodies comprise mainly of water, perhaps as much as 75% water, for an 8-week old pup.

Water is the substrate in which all the chemicals of the body are dissolved, all cells are bathed, and all cell contents are suspended. It is also the essential vehicle of the circulatory system.

Nothing in the body goes anywhere without water. As little as a 10%-15% reduction in total body water can result in death.

And water doesn't just sit there in a static pool. It is constantly lost and replenished resulting in a dynamic status quo. On the outputside of the equation are a) urine output and b) "insensible loss" caused by from evaporation from the lungs (plus a small amount from the digestive tract). On the intake side, water is obtained in food and free water and some is produced by metabolism. Water output and intake must balance if things are to remain the same. If output is greater than intake, dehydration results. If intake is greater than output, overhydration results (though the latter is somewhat rare).

24-Hour Water Balance

Water Intake(20-30 ml/lb) (+ metabolism 2-3 ml/lb)= OUTPUT

Output=Urine (10-15 ml/lb) and Lung (10-15 ml/lb)

In Charles Dickens' David Copperfield, Mr. Macawber says, with respect to money, "Income 6 pence a week, expenditure 5 pence a week, result happiness: Income 6 pence a week, expenditure 7 pence a week, result misery." The same dynamic holds true for water balance. The two sides of the above equation must balance for things to remain the same and for life to go on as usual.

In order to ensure that water intake is not compromised, clean fresh water should be available for puppies 24/7. There is never an excuse not to have water around. If the puppy has "accidents" on the floor and some unknowledgeable person volunteers, "I would pick up his water if I were you," don't listen. Leave the water down. When your pup is older and perhaps going in for surgery, water should be available to him until an hour or two before the procedure. During surgery, the veterinarian may hydrate the pup by means of intravenous or subcutaneous fluid administration. It's important to make sure the pup resumes drinking as soon as possible after surgery.

The actual volume of water the pup needs to take in, in the form of free water, depends on whether it is eating dry food or wet food. With dry food, the water intake will be at the higher end of the range indicated above. However, wet food contains 75% water (approximately) so an amount closer to the low end of the scale may be more appropriate. But don't worry about how much you pup drinks. Internal mechanisms closely regulate pups' water intake unless they are sick. If problems of water consumption become apparent (too little or too much), contact your veterinarian immediately.

On the output side, a pup's continuous production of urine means that it is being properly hydrated. One of the first things to happen when there's not enough urine around is that the puppy secretes anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which reduces urine production - sometimes to a very low level. In one physiology textbook, it says that the urine output in Baghdad is like "a puff of dust." This is because water is so scarce that Baghdadians secrete large volumes of ADH to conserve their body water. Under these circumstances, urine is very concentrated, though hopefully concentrated enough to remove waste products. Though this compensatory mechanism exists, it is better not to put it to the test with a young pup. Anyway, insensible loss continues and cannot be tailored in the same way.

Loss of water from the lungs occurs during the process of breathing as a result of evaporation of water from the lung lining. Evaporative cooling that occurs during this process is the prime way that dogs achieve thermoregulation (temperature control). If a pup becomes overheated, it will pant to increase evaporative heat loss, but note, panting also increases water loss from the lungs. Increased water loss in this way requires that water intake increases in compensation, if urine output is to remain uncompromised. So, if it is hot outside, it is even more important to make sure that your pup has a constant supply of water.

From the above discussion, you will see how important water is to pups, to their very makeup, and to the functional processes that ensure their viability. Shortage of water, or uncompensated, or excessive loss of water, as occurs in heat stroke and some metabolic disorders, will rapidly cause dehydration and a pup's premature demise, if unattended. As Leonard DaVinci said, "Water is the cause, at times, of life or death," and as Benjamin Franklin is quoted, "When the well is dry, we learn the worth of water." All very true.

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