Why Is My Dog Not Drinking Water? 14 Things to Try Before the Vet

Why Is My Dog Not Drinking Water? 14 Things to Try Before the Vet

Dog owner keeping his pet hydrated.Dog owner keeping his pet hydrated.
Dog owner keeping his pet hydrated.Dog owner keeping his pet hydrated.

Why Is Water Important to Dogs?

Water is an essential component of a dog’s body and critical to good health. Water is required for all cellular, organ, and tissue functions of the body. Pet owners sometimes ask the question “Why is my dog not drinking water?”

One realizes the importance of water when faced with the negative consequences of not drinking, which is “dehydration.” Dehydration results from more output than intake. This can occur from not drinking or from excessive output.

Output is defined as the amount of fluid leaving the body. It can be from normal fluid loss, drooling, panting, urination, and bowel movements. Output can also be from abnormal losses, such as from diarrhea, vomiting, and/or blood loss. As little as a 10% loss of body water can be fatal.

In this article, we will share how much a dog should drink, discuss reasons a dogs may not drink, provide tips on what you can do at home to get your dog to drink, and when you should see your veterinarian.

How Much Should a Dog Drink?

In a normal environment, the amount of water a dog should drink per day is dependent on their size. The general rule is that dogs should drink 20 to 40 ml of water per pound of body weight per day. This comes out to about 3 to 4 cups of water for a 20-pound dog or 6 to 8 cups of water for a 40-pound dog per day. Learn more about details of water requirements by weight with this article: How Much Water Should a Dog Drink?

Factors that Affect How Much a Dog Should Drink

There are factors that can impact how much water a dog should drink. For example, a dog may drink more if they are on certain medications like steroids, exercising, exposed to warm weather or hot temperatures, fed high sodium snacks, and/or primarily fed dry dog food.

Reasons Why Your Dog Won’t Drink Water

There are many reasons dogs may drink less water. Just like people, some dogs are naturally better water drinkers than other dogs. The big concern is if there is an acute change in YOUR dog. If your dog suddenly stops or substantially decreases their water consumption, that is cause for concern and a reason to contact your veterinarian immediately.

In general, some dogs will drink less for the following reasons:

  • Diet. Because canned food contains 80% water and dry food 10%, dogs that eat canned food will drink less water.
  • Lifestyle. Dogs with a sedentary lifestyle may drink less water than an active dog. Exercise naturally leads to fluid losses.
  • Environment. Indoor dogs and those primarily exposed to moderate temperatures drink less water. Some dogs will drink less as the seasons change and when temperatures get cooler.
  • Anxiety and Stress. Stress and anxiety that develop from unfamiliar situations or from travel to new locations can result in decreased water intake.
  • Health Problems. Any illness that makes a dog not feel well can decrease thirst. This includes viral or bacterial infection, gastrointestinal diseases, cancer, kidney disease or failure, bladder infection, any situation that causes nausea, oral pain or injury, arthritis, and more.
  • Old Age. Senior pets tend to drink less water. This can be especially true in pets with mobility issues that make it difficult for them to get to their water bowl.
  • Change in Water Source. Dogs that are used to a specific water source, such as tap, well, or bottled, will resist drinking from a different source.

Signs of Dehydration in Dogs

Signs of dehydration can be vague and may include:

  • Depression
  • Dry gums
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Slow capillary refill time
  • Sunken eyes
  • Weakness
  • Decreased urine production
  • Dark yellow urine

How to Check for Dehydration at Home

A well-hydrated dog is generally active with shiny bright eyes. Methods to estimate for dehydration at home include checking the gums, evaluating skin elasticity, and monitoring urine frequency and color.

  • Gums. To check the gums for hydration status, lift your dog’s lip to visualize and feel the gum tissue just above the teeth. The normal texture should be silky, shiny, and feel moist. Dehydrated dogs will have dull colored, sticky, and dry gums.
  • Skin. Loss of skin elasticity, also known as skin turgor, can be evaluated by pulling up on the dog’s skin over the shoulders and releasing it. Normal turgor results in the skin quickly falling back into place. The skin of dehydrated pets will lose this elasticity and fall back into place more slowly.
  • Urine. Urine in a normal, hydrated dog should be pale yellow in color. Dehydrated dogs with normal kidney function will have concentrated dark yellow urine and will urinate less frequently.

Practice these hydration tests on a healthy dog, so that you can better see the difference in a case of dehydration. Remember: these are rough tests. If you are worried about your dog’s hydration, see your veterinarian.

What To Do If Your Dog Is Drinking Less Water

If your dog is drinking less water and this is a change from prior behavior, it is important to evaluate all aspects of your dog’s behavior for additional signs of problems.

For example:

  • Are they eating normally?
  • Are bowel movements normal or is there diarrhea?
  • Is your dog urinating normally?
  • Are they licking their lips or drooling, which could suggest nausea?
  • Is there any vomiting?
  • Is your dog coughing? Have you noticed any trouble breathing or labored respiration?
  • Does your dog appear to be in pain? Is your dog limping? Hunched posture? Reluctant to move?
  • Can you see any wounds on your dog?
  • Does your dog have the same behavior and activity level? Are they playing or greeting you at the door like normal? Or are they lethargic and less active?

Any abnormality is cause for concern. This can be compounded if your dog is very young or old, pregnant, nursing, or has medical problems such as diabetes or kidney disease. Learn more about causes for dehydration here.

14 Ways to Encourage Dogs to Drink Before Heading to the Vet

If your dog is drinking less water or you want to optimize hydration, you can try the following to encourage them to drink:

  1. 24/7 Access. This may seem obvious, but some dogs don’t drink as much water as they should because their bowl is empty. Fill the bowl daily with fresh, clean water. Choose a bowl that will hold at least two days’ worth of water (which will vary with your dog’s size) to allow for additional thirst.
  2. Soiled bowls. Bowls with dirt, molds, insects, or soap residue can discourage a dog from drinking. Wash and rinse the water bowl thoroughly with weekly cleaning in the dishwasher.
  3. Bowl types. Some dogs have bowl inclinations. Try a variety of materials, such as stainless steel, glass, or ceramic to see if your dog has a preference.
  4. More bowls. Adding additional water bowls around the house or outdoors can encourage dogs to drink. There can also be competition between dogs where one dog blocks or prevents another dog’s access to water. Having more bowls can ensure there is water for every pet.
  5. Optimize accessibility. Bowls should be easily accessible to dogs with arthritis or other mobility issues. Dogs should not have to go upstairs or downstairs to get water. You can also periodically take the water bowl to your dog to encourage them to drink.
  6. Pet fountains. Some dogs enjoy fountains and will drink more when available. If you use a fountain and your dog loves it, make sure you keep it clean. Some dogs will stop using the fountain if the water becomes moldy.
  7. Fingers. For an unknown reason, some dogs will lick water from your fingers. Offer water to your dog by allowing them to lick water from your hand or your finger.
  8. Canned food. Canned dog food has a much higher water content than dry dog food and can be a very good source of water. You can also add extra water, giving the canned food a gravy consistency.
  9. Flavor the water or food. Offer your dog broth, flavored water, or add moisture to dry food. Warm water or low-sodium chicken or beef broth can be added to canned or dry food. It works well to add the water or broth about 30 minutes before trying to feed.
  10. Pedialyte. With your veterinarian’s permission, offer small amounts of Pedialyte. Mix Pedialyte with water in a 1:1 ratio and offer small amounts at a time.
  11. Ice. Adding an ice cube to the water bowl can encourage some dogs to drink. You can also freeze broth into cubes or inside toys and offer them outside on a hot day.
  12. Water quality. Consider the quality of your water. Did something change? Some homes are on public water, while others may be sourced from a well or spring. Trying a different water source, such as bottled or filtered water, can encourage dogs to drink. Some dog’s familiar with water at home may drink less when traveling because the water has a different taste. If traveling, consider taking a gallon jug of your home water and their familiar bowl with you.
  13. Syringe water. As a last resort, you can use a syringe to give your dog water. Fill a syringe without the needle with water, place the syringe between the teeth and cheek, and slowly offer a small amount. If they swallow well and accept it, wait 5 minutes, and offer more. If your dog coughs or gags, stop. How much you offer will depend on the size of your dog. Try offering a dog less than 10 pounds about 5 ml (1 teaspoon), a medium size dog (40 pounds) 15 to 20 ml (1 tablespoon), and a large breed dog 30 to 60 ml (2 to 4 tablespoons) per dose. If your dog swallows the water and does not vomit, repeat in 1 hour. Gradually increase the quantity and frequency. PLEASE NOTE: If your dog is weak, there is a risk of aspiration, which can be life-threatening. In general, if your dog is so sick that you need to give fluid by syringe, they would benefit from the advice and treatment of a veterinarian. You can generally purchase a syringe from your vet, at most pet stores, or at your local farm supply store.
  14. Treat pain. Dogs in pain, such as dogs with arthritis, may not want to get up and walk to the water bowl. Treat their pain with medications as provided by your veterinarian.

While it is important to get your dog to drink, it is equally important to not allow your dog to drink too much. Learn more about Why You Should Keep Your Dog From Drinking Too Much Water.

When To See the Vet

Ultimately if your dog is not drinking, the risk of dehydration exists. It is best to see your veterinarian to help identify the underlying cause and provide treatment if needed. They can supplement fluids through an IV or by subcutaneous fluid administration. Please contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns about your dog’s water intake.

How To Prevent Dehydration in Dogs

Tips to prevent dehydration in dogs include:

  • Ensure your dog always has fresh, clean water.
  • Never leave your dog for more than 12 hours. If you are on vacation, don’t assume your dog is good outside with a big bowl of water. Water can be spilled or knocked over.
  • Ensure your dog always has shade when outside.
  • Provide opportunities to exercise during cooler times of day, such as morning or evening.
  • Keep trash covered to ensure your dog does not ingest items that will cause gastrointestinal distress leading to fluid loss.
  • Change food gradually, as any acute change can cause vomiting and/or diarrhea leading to dehydration.

Frequently Asked Questions About Dogs Not Drinking Water

Why is my dog not drinking water?

There are many reasons that a dog may not be drinking water. Any disease or problem that causes nausea or impacts metabolic function can cause this problem. Learn more about the many possible causes of dehydration in dogs.

What should I do if my dog is not drinking water?

If your dog is not drinking water, look for other clinical problems. Are they vomiting or having diarrhea? Lethargic? The best thing to do is to call your veterinarian.

How do I get my dog to drink water?

If your dog is not drinking, the best thing you can do is encourage water intake. You can do this by flavoring the water, offering fresh water in a different bowl, or offering some canned food.

How long can a dog go without drinking water?

A dog can live a few days without water. How long depends on how quickly they are losing fluid or not taking in fluids. For example, if a dog is not drinking as well as having vomiting and diarrhea, they are both losing fluids and not taking fluids, which can cause faster and more severe dehydration.

My dog doesn’t drink water after exercising, what should I do?

If you have an active dog that doesn’t drink well after exercising, ensure they have access to fresh, clean water. Give them a little time. If they go into a shaded or cool environment and have access to water, most dogs will drink when they are thirsty. There have been reports of bloat in dogs that drink too much after exercising.

What should I do if my dog won’t stop drinking water?

Drinking too much can be as big of a problem as drinking too little, and can ultimately lead to water intoxication.

What if my dog doesn’t want to drink water?

If you try canned food, flavored water, syringing water, and all the other tricks discussed above and your dog doesn’t drink, the best thing to do is to call your veterinarian or closest veterinary emergency clinic.

My dog won’t drink house water, but will drink water from mud puddles. Is this a problem?

There are some dogs that love to drink from puddles. Rainwater has a different smell and taste compared to chlorinated tap water, making it more appealing to dogs. While this is not a problem for most dogs, there is a risk of the puddles being contaminated with bacteria, molds, and even automotive products like gasoline.

How much water should I let my dog drink?

The general rule of thumb is that dogs should drink about 20 to 40 ml of water per pound of body weight per day. This table may help:

Dog weight in pounds Amount of water a dog should drink per day in ML Amount of water a dog should drink per day in cups
10 200 to 400 ml Little over ¾ cup to 1 2/3 cups
15 300 to 600 ml 1 ¼ to 2 ½ cups
20 400 to 800 ml 1 2/3 to 3 1/3 cups
40 800 to 1,600 ml 3 1/3 to 6 2/3 cups
50 1,000 to 2,000 ml 4 ¼ to 8 1/3 cups
75 1,500 ml to 3,000 ml 6 ¼ to 12 ½ cups
100 2,000 ml to 4,000 ml 8 1/3 to 16 2/3 cups

Learn more about details of water requirements by weight with this article: How Much Water Should a Dog Drink?

I’m worried my small dog isn’t drinking enough water, what should I do?

Some small and miniature-sized dogs don’t appear to drink very much, especially if you are used to having large dogs around. Their water consumption will vary depending on if they eat canned food, which contains water. You can measure their water consumption daily to see if it is more or less than those listed above. If your dog is ill, please call your veterinarian as soon as possible.

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