Water - the elixir of your dogs life

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Despite its life-giving properties, all too often the impact of water on the health of our dogs is overlooked, as Dr Jacqueline Boyd explains

Despite its life-giving properties, all too often the impact of water on the health of our dogs is overlooked, as Dr Jacqueline Boyd explains.

Water is a wonderful substance — essential for supporting life.

It is one of the most basic requirements any living organism needs, but despite it being so critical, we often take water for granted and forget about its importance for our dogs’ health and well-being. What we feed our dogs usually gets much more attention than their water intake or the state of their water bowls!

It is estimated that about 70 per cent of the lean body weight of our dogs is water, so its importance cannot be underestimated. Let’s explore this amazing substance and consider why it is so important for our dogs.

What is water?

It might seem obvious, but knowing what water is helps us to understand why it is so important. Each molecule of water consists of one atom of oxygen and two atoms of hydrogen, leading to the chemical formula for water, H2O; you might even hear water described as dihydrogen monoxide. The molecular structure of water gives it some surprising properties. Indeed, it is often said that if water was not such an amazing substance, life on earth would not exist as we know it.

Keep an eye on your dog’s drinking so you can pick up on any changes in his consumption.

Wonderful Water

The chemistry of water gives it some interesting physical properties. It is generally liquid at room temperature, turns into a gas (steam) at boiling point, and becomes solid (ice) at temperatures less than zero degrees centigrade. Ice is less dense than liquid water so it floats. This means that life can exist under sea ice and in other places where ice forms on the surface of bodies of water. From a dog’s perspective, this means that frozen lakes, ponds, and rivers can be extremely dangerous if they venture onto frozen surfaces that have deep, cold water underneath. Water also expands as it freezes — burst pipes, milk bottles with frozen ‘spurts’ of milk, and, in my case, burst rabbit drinking bottles in winter all prove this remarkable phenomenon! 

Dogs cool themselves down through panting.

Keeping it cool

Two other properties of water make it essential for temperature regulation. It takes a lot of energy to heat water up and this helps maintain consistent temperatures in the environment. It is also important in regulating internal body temperature, and when you recall that about 70 per cent of your dog’s weight is water, you can see the importance of water in maintaining a consistent body temperature as well. Water is also critical for cooling. Many animals use sweat to aid cooling. Sweat consists mainly of water and as sweat evaporates off the surface of an animal, the change in the form of water, from liquid to gas, draws heat from the animal’s surface. This is called evaporative cooling and is highly effective. Dogs do not sweat to the same extent as horses or humans for example, but they do have some limited ability to cool by sweating, notably through the pads of their feet. Dogs will more typically cool themselves down through panting, and water is still critical for effective cooling by this process. Panting is a form of respiration where breathing becomes fast and shallow. This increases water loss from the respiratory system, which means excess heat is removed too. This is why a readily available supply of fresh, clean drinking water is critical for dogs in warm environments, and especially for dogs who have been exercising hard — dehydrated dogs cannot cool themselves effectively, and this can be fatal in extreme cases.

Discourage your dog from drinking from puddles.