Just like humans, dogs have complex nutritional needs. But the most basic nutritional truth pertains to the most basic of all life-sustaining nutrients: water is essential to your assistance dog’s continuing good health.
An adult dog is made up of about 60 percent water. An adult dog could survive losing all her fat and half her protein, but it only takes a 10 percent loss of water to result in life-threatening illness. Water is necessary to proper food digestion and waste elimination, absorption of nutrients, distribution of important compounds throughout the body, lubrication and protection of joints and tissue, regulation of body temperature, organ function, and just about everything else.
Assistance Dog Water Requirements
Dogs constantly lose moisture through urination, defecation, and evaporation when they pant to cool off. This water must be continuously replaced to prevent dehydration, a condition that can quickly become serious and potentially fatal.
A number of personal factors affect how much water your dog should drink each day. The standard recommendation is that healthy dogs should drink approximately 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight daily.
Because many service dogs are more active than pets, they require more water. This is especially true when they’re working during hot weather, which increases water needs for any dog. Certain conditions, such as diabetes, kidney problems, and some cancers, also increase water needs.
Dogs who eat canned food require much less drinking water than those that eat mostly dry food (kibble). Canned food is about two-thirds water, so it provides a considerable amount of fluids.
Providing Free-Choice Water
The best way to ensure your assistance dog stays adequately hydrated is to make fresh water available at all times. Healthy dogs drink what they need. But this doesn’t mean you can fill your service dog’s water bowl and forget about it.
Replace your dog’s water with fresh water at least twice per day. Tap water is fine, though many people provide bottled water, especially if they have well water, which is often high in certain minerals that can be damaging to an animal over time. Dogs generally prefer room-temperature water, or cool water when it’s hot out.
Your dog’s water readily becomes contaminated by bacteria in her mouth and other environmental pathogens. If left to fester, especially in a small amount of liquid, germs can reproduce quickly to levels that can cause illness.
Germs also build up along the surface of the water bowl (known as a bio-film) and in even the smallest surface scratches. Wash the bowl once daily and sterilize it every few days. Stainless steel bowls are a good choice for preventing scratches and for putting in the dishwasher.
Dehydration and Your Service Dog
Dehydration refers to when your dog has lost too much water, which in turn throws electrolytes out of balance and impairs essential bodily functions. While it often begins as a mild condition, it quickly causes sickness and can lead to organ failure and death if left unchecked.
Sick dogs tend to drink less than they need—or not at all—so are at increased risk for dehydration, especially when a fever causes them to pant more. You may need to administer fluids to your ailing assistance dog with an oral syringe.
To test for dehydration, gently pull up some loose skin over the shoulder blades. It should immediately snap back into place. If it doesn’t, your dog is dehydrated. Also, as dehydration progresses, the nose and mouth dry out; the gums become dry, pale, and even sticky; and the eyes become dry and sunken.
If you suspect your dog is dehydrated, offer water or administer it if she won’t drink willingly. Contact your vet right away for advice.
Adequate hydration keeps your dog happy and healthy, and it also ensure she can perform her service jobs. As Doctors Foster and Smith report, dogs given water during physical activity have shown up to an 80 percent increase in working ability. If your dog is becoming dehydrated, it will impair her ability to assist and protect you.
Fresh, clean, clear water is the foundation of life. It is a must every single day for your dog. If you wouldn’t drink her water, she shouldn’t be drinking it. Cheers!