Water Intoxication in Dogs

June 21, 2023

water intoxication in dogs

What is Water Intoxication in Dogs?

Featured in Pet Connection Magazine
By: Jessika, Pet Nutrition & Education Specialist, Biotech Adv. Dip, B.Sc Candidate 2024
Article Featured in Pet Connection Magazine – August/September 2022 Issue. 

Water Intoxication in Dogs: Dogs Can Drink Too Much Water 

While it is important to avoid dehydration, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Many dog owners do not realize their dog can actually drink too much water. If this happens and it is left untreated, it could be fatal. The over-consumption of water is often referred to as water toxemia or hyperhydration but regardless of the name, hyponatremia is the result. 

Hyponatremia is a condition that happens when the sodium level in the blood becomes abnormally low relatively quickly (this is different from chronic mildly low sodium levels). Sodium is found primarily in bodily fluids outside the cell and is a major electrolyte which is responsible for maintaining blood pressure, muscle and nerve function. When this major electrolyte is not present in proper concentrations problems can arise.  

Physiology and Symptoms 

A quick physiology lesson – water balance inside the body is essential for maintaining health and wellness. There are two types of fluids to keep in mind when discussing the impact water balance has on bodily cells – intracellular fluid found inside the cell and extracellular fluid found outside of the cell.

Generally speaking, the body is able to maintain a specific balance of water and electrolytes within these fluids with relative ease. The kidneys play an important part in maintaining this balance as they are responsible for excreting water from the body.  If water is taken in faster than the kidneys are able to excrete, sodium levels will begin dropping because of this dilution. 

Sodium levels in extracellular fluid will drop below normal concentration as water moves from outside of the cell into the cell in an effort to maintain balance. This increased water volume inside the cell will cause swelling – organs such as the liver can accommodate this increased volume but others cannot. Brain cells are particularly sensitive to such swelling due to water intoxication, this results in many neurological symptoms presenting. 

water intoxication in dogs - dog jumping


The early symptoms of water intoxication in dogs include pale gums, confusion, lethargy, disorientation and stumbling. These symptoms can quickly progress (in a matter of minutes) to severe symptoms such as laboured breathing, collapse and seizures which can sometimes result in coma or death.  

While this condition is considered to be relatively rare, it is no surprise the incidence rates increase during the hot summer months. Excessive water intake in dogs often occurs when the dog is swimming, diving underwater, retrieving or even while playing “catch” with a garden hose or sprinkler. 

Dogs that are particularly susceptible to water intoxication are those that are high-energy/high-drive, live in extreme heat and/or are small breeds. Dogs who live in areas with extreme heat need to drink water more frequently increasing their likelihood of over consumption. High-drive/high-energy dogs often have higher pain thresholds allowing them to push through the discomfort of drinking too much water, this is especially true when they are participating in dog sports or working. For smaller dogs, it often takes their body longer to excrete excess water, allowing more time for water and electrolytes to become unbalanced. 

Water Intoxication in Dogs: Treatment 

Water intoxication in dogs progresses quickly. If your pet has been playing in water and begins to exhibit any symptoms listed above, it is important that you seek immediate veterinary care. 

The primary goal when treating acute water intoxication is to raise the sodium concentration in the body gradually, and over the course of a few hours. This can be done using a combination of diuretics and other IV medications to rebalance the intracellular and extracellular sodium and water balance. For mild water intoxication, treatment may be more conservative and result in mild water restriction with an electrolyte supplement.  

water intoxication in dogs - dog on beach

Prevention is Key 

Water intoxication in dogs can be irreversible in many advanced cases, so prevention is key. Monitor and assess your dogs swimming style – if they keep their mouths open or head low to the water, they are at a greater risk for consuming too much water and will require frequent breaks. If your dog is fortunate enough to have easy access to open bodies of water such as a lake, swimming pool or pond, do not allow them unlimited access. Planned swimming or fetching adventures are much safer and will allow you to enforce rest periods and more closely monitor their water consumption. 

When playing fetch in the water, it is important to pay attention to the style of toy you are using. Avoid playing fetch with large items that force the dog to keep their mouth open wide, such as a tennis ball or excessively large bumper. Instead, opt for a toy that is flatter and allows the dog to close their mouth. 

Now that you know the signs and symptoms to watch out for, we hope you and your pets have a great summer and enjoy the beautiful weather. 

If you have any topic requests you would like to see features on our blog, contact us at Iron Will Raw!


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