Photo by Gary, Madison
You’re hiking up a trail in the heat of the summer when you come to a stream. Your dog races ahead and wades in, drinking with every step. You console yourself with the fact that the stream is remote and running clear. But that pristine mountain stream likely isn’t as pure as you might like to believe. If mountain stream water isn’t clean enough to drink, what does that say about puddles and runoff in the city? We want to protect our dogs at all times, but if you allow your dog to drink non-potable water from potholes, sprinkler runoff, and other water sources during your daily walk, your dog is at risk of illness or even death in extreme cases.
It May Be Unsafe for Dogs to Drink from Lakes and Streams
Hiking with your dog or hunting with your bird dog are great ways to spend time together while getting the exercise you both need. But water sources, even miles from the city, can present dangers. Although many dogs drink from lakes and streams with no ill effect, microscopic organisms in that water can make you and your dog quite sick. Giardia and cryptosporidium are two of the bugs that can mess with the gastrointestinal system. Nobody enjoys “beaver fever” but that’s exactly what your dog might find himself suffering from if allowed to drink untreated water. Severe diarrhea, vomiting, and additional symptoms can put your dog down for days. Older or sickly dogs may suffer complications from these illnesses beyond what their body can handle.
If you’re planning to hike a long distance with your dog and want to prevent him from drinking non-potable lake or stream water, yet don’t want to carry enough water for both of you, then carry a water filtration device to filter water along the way if you know there will be reliable sources. A filtration system can turn questionable water into safe drinking water. Of course, filtering water as you go takes time, reducing the distance you can cover, but it’s an option when you’d otherwise have to carry large quantities of water, which adds weight to your pack.
Photo by Ann, Saint Helens
Puddles Hide Hazards for Dogs
Veterinarians get the call all the time: my dog drank from a puddle—should I be worried? It happens to all dog owners. You’ve spent the past hour carefully controlling your dog and guiding him around sketchy looking puddles with who-knows-what lurking in them. Then you see a friend, exchange smiles, a wave and quick hello, only to turn back and catch your dog drinking lustfully from a murky puddle. What have you done? Fortunately, in all likelihood nothing that will cause long-lasting effects or even short-term harm. But there are risks, and you should stay vigilant for symptoms that he ingested something. The biggest risks from puddles include parasites, bacteria and viruses, and fertilizers, not to mention automobile pollutants like oil, gasoline, and antifreeze. The first two risks, along with others, are also a concern in lakes and streams.
Leptospirosis is a bacteria that is spread through the urine of wild and domestic animals including deer, rodents, cows, sheep, and pigs among others. After a rain or during snowmelt, leptospirosis can concentrate in puddles. Not all dogs get sick when exposed to leptospirosis, but the results can be serious, including kidney failure. Watch for lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, and loss of appetite. If your dog tests positive for leptospirosis, your vet will probably treat him with antibiotics and supportive therapy to help him recover. There is a vaccine for leptospirosis. Consult with your veterinarian about your options.
Giardia is a protozoan that is shed in the feces of wild and domestic animals. It is often found in puddles where other animals are present, such as in dog parks and on busy hiking trails as well as in rivers and streams—including remote locations. The most common symptom of giardiasis is diarrhea, although dogs may also vomit and refuse to eat. Your vet can provide medicine to help your dog rid himself of giardia. Giardia is also common in humans who drink untreated water, so either bring water with you or treat water for both of you on the trail or during your daily walk.
Oil, Gas, and Antifreeze
Automobiles pollute everywhere they go, leaking gas, oil, and antifreeze, that in turn get washed into puddles with a rainstorm. Oil can be seen in the shimmering rainbow sheen in puddles, but often, there is no sign that the water is contaminated. While fuels and oil are not good for your dog, the biggest concern is antifreeze, which even in small amounts can cause irreversible kidney failure. Symptoms include lethargy, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weakness. Even aggressive treatment often does not work, so the best solution is to keep your dog away from puddles in driveways, parking lots, and the sides of roads where antifreeze spills or leaks may occur.
Photo by Murray, Chicago
How to Safely Let Your Dog Drink Tap or Hose Water
When refilling your dog’s water bowl at home, don’t forget to analyze your tap water. Some dog owners wouldn’t consider drinking their tap water for various reasons, but mindlessly fill their dog’s water bowl from the sink or hose. Some locales are blessed with clean, healthy, tasty water flowing right from the sink faucet, and in other places you would never consider drinking the tap water. Some water sources are riddled with problems, including chemicals, bacteria, viruses, metals, and volatile organic compounds. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulates drinking water sources, sets acceptable standards, and is responsible for the oversight of drinking water—and annual reports on safety are required for public water sources. Check the results of your public water supply often or test your private well annually so you know the quality of the water you—and your dogs—are drinking.
Filling up a dog bowl from the hose may seem quick and easy, but where does that water come from? Is it from the same source as your tap water? How often do you use the hose? Nasty bacteria may be hiding in the hose, especially if it’s not used often. And, the hose itself may be treated with flame retardant chemicals, contain BPA or PVC, or include brass fittings and fixtures that contain lead. If there are no other options, let the hose run for a bit before filling the bowl to flush out any sediment that’s come to rest within. Storing your hose away from heat and direct sunlight can prevent the hose from breaking down and leaching additional chemicals into the water.
A good rule of thumb is, if you won’t drink it, don’t give it to your dog. That leaves bottled water or some kind of purification system as the only logical answers. Water purification runs the gamut from large systems that purify all water running out of your taps, to faucet or pitcher filters. The filtration level varies depending on which type of filter you choose, what contaminants it’s rated to remove, and how often the filter is replaced.
Dogs can drink whatever water you drink, but please remember that individual plastic water bottles are not only expensive, they’re also a major environmental hazard. Americans use about 50 billion plastic water bottles per year with an estimated 38 billion of those bottles discarded instead of recycled. Bottled water isn’t necessarily safer than tap water, either—the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates bottled water, and the safety and testing procedures are similar to those by the EPA for public water supplies.
Keep an eye on your dog when he’s around empty water bottles, too. Many dogs can’t resist chewing on crinkly water bottles: They’re fun to toss and crunch, but it’s not always safe. Shredded bottles can cut his gums, while plastic bits and bottle caps pose choking or blockage hazards. If your companion wants to play with a plastic bottle, remove the cap and ring from the neck of the bottle, tuck it inside a sturdy wool sock, knot the top, and only allow him to play with the bottle while supervised. For a safer toy, opt instead for a crinkly toy designed to stand up to your dog’s teeth while offering a similarly satisfying sound.
Giving Alkaline Water to Dogs
There are many claims about the benefits of alkaline water—the term for water with a pH level above seven—but none of them have been sufficiently tested. Hard water is more likely to be alkaline than soft water because of the minerals present. Hard tap water may be alkaline, and water ionizers can also be used to increase the pH in drinking water. Dogs’ (and humans’) bodies keep a natural acid-base balance, so even ingesting alkaline water is unlikely to have much effect. But, it’s still best to consult with your veterinarian before switching your dog ionized alkaline water: Your dog’s medical history, including urinary concerns and whether she’s pregnant or nursing puppies, may play a role in whether or not your vet will recommend offering alkaline water. With underlying conditions, if water is too alkaline it could upset the body’s pH levels, which can be dangerous. Similarly, distilled water should not be your dog’s main source of water unless recommended by a veterinarian.
We know our dogs need fresh, clean water available all the time for their health and to keep their bodies functioning properly. At home, it’s as easy as filling the dog bowl or crate water source with whatever water we’d drink. But on the hiking trail or walking around town, we must carry water for our dogs and ourselves. Offering fresh water regularly isn’t always enough to prevent a dog from wanting to lap at every puddle or river he comes across. Despite our best efforts, dogs will be dogs. If your dog gets into questionable water, don’t worry too much, but watch him for symptoms of a waterborne illness. And if you notice anything that doesn’t seem right, get him to the vet right away.