Can dogs suffer from water intoxication?

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Your Dog expert, Vicky Payne helps a reader understand the dangers of her dog ingesting too much water.

Q: I read that dogs can suffer from water intoxication and it can be fatal. Is this correct?

I have a very busy and active Cocker Spaniel, who loves to plunge into a nearby lake after she’s been running through the fields. Although I have never heard of a dog suffering from water intoxication, this has worried me. Can you tell me more about it? What causes it and what are the symptoms?

Should I prevent my dog from swimming on her summer walks? 

Charlotte Beswick, Derbyshire.

Vicky says: Water intoxication is a rare, but real, thing. It is caused by dogs ingesting large volumes of fresh water. Dogs may drink to excess because they are hot, or they may accidentally swallow too much water while fetching balls, swimming, or playing with a hose. Mild cases will have a swollen belly and may just vomit up the large amount of water, but if the water is absorbed it can lower the levels of sodium in the blood with dangerous effects. If the body is unable to balance the levels of sodium in the blood and the cells, the cells can become swollen leading to organ damage. The brain is especially sensitive and brain swelling can lead to collapse, coma, and death. Small dogs and thin dogs are at higher risk. However, there is no need to stop your dog having a swim! Most cases are seen in dogs who have spent a long time in the water or who have been repeatedly fetching toys from the water. Short swims are a good way to cool down after a summer walk.