If your dog won’t drink water, or is drinking less than usual, it’s natural to be concerned. We look at the possible reasons for a dog to stop drinking and when you should seek help, and share everyday advice on how to keep dogs hydrated.
Like humans, dogs need a regular intake of water to stay happy and healthy. Water is a critical component of their core body processes, including digestion, blood circulation and waste removal, so if your dog isn’t drinking as much as usual, it’s a worrying symptom you shouldn’t ignore. Here, we look at how much water a dog should drink on a daily basis, the reasons they might refuse their water bowl and how you can help keep them hydrated.
How much water should a dog drink a day?
The amount of water your dog needs will depend on their breed, size, activity levels, the ambient temperature and their daily diet (dogs that eat kibble get less water from their food than those eating wet food). As a rule of thumb, dogs should drink around 40–60ml of water per kilogram of body weight a day. That means a small dog such as a Pug or Yorkshire Terrier that weighs around 6kg should be drinking around 300ml of water a day, while a bigger dog like a Labrador that weighs 30kg or more should be drinking at least 1,500ml. Your dog should always have access to fresh, clean water, and you should take extra care on hot days to avoid dehydration. Even a healthy dog will struggle to survive for more than a few days without drinking anything.
How to tell if a dog is dehydrated
If your pet is drinking less, keep an eye out for the signs of dehydration in dogs, such as:
- Dry, dull, sunken eyes
- Dry, sticky gums
- Thick saliva
- Panting (beyond their usual level of breathlessness after exercise)
- Loss of their usual skin elasticity
To check if your dog is dehydrated, you could try gently pinching and lifting a little of the skin on the back of their neck. In healthy, well-hydrated dogs, the skin should spring back into place more or less immediately, but in a dehydrated dog this will take longer than usual. (If you have a particularly loose-skinned, wrinkly breed, such as a Neapolitan Mastiff, this test may not be effective.) You could also try gently pressing a finger against your dog’s gums; as a rule, the area will look white for a second, but then return to its normal shade of pink almost straight away. In dehydrated dogs, the pink will take longer to return.
If you’re worried your dog is dehydrated, seek your vet’s advice, and in the meantime make sure they have ready access to fresh water. To encourage them to drink, try offering them a small amount of water directly from your cupped hand. Teaching them to do this is also a great way to encourage them to engage and bond with you.
How do I get my dog to drink more water?
If your vet has ruled out any underlying health issues but you’re still wondering how to encourage your dog to drink water, try these everyday ways to keep your dog hydrated.
Always keep water fresh and clean
You wouldn’t drink water that’s less than fresh, so make sure your dog doesn’t have to, either. Change the water in their bowl(s) regularly throughout the day to keep it chilled and appetising and limit the chances of harmful bacteria breeding and giving them a tummy upset.
Some dogs aren’t so keen on tap water due to its chlorine content, and prefer outdoor sources of water. If that sounds like your dog, try offering them filtered or bottled water, instead of water straight from the tap. If you’ve moved house or gone on holiday and the water tastes different to your dog, try mixing it with filtered or bottled water at first and phasing in the new taste gradually, so they have time to get used to it.
Provide more dog water bowls
Having multiple water bowls for your dog can come in handy; sometimes pets in larger homes are simply too lazy to walk to their sole drinking source, particularly as they get older. Try placing a single bowl near the entrance of the rooms your dog spends most time in. Aim for at least one water bowl on each level of your home, especially around spaces they associate with food and play.
Make sure dog water bowls are accessible
As well as putting multiple bowls around your home, you should also think about how to make drinking a comfortable experience for your dog. Our four-legged friends are likely to forgo tasks they find too challenging – even if that means not meeting their basic needs. For example, if you have an older dog with stiffness or mobility problems, consider switching to an elevated bowl, so they don’t have to bend down as much. (But if your dog is a breed prone to bloat, be aware that raised bowls are thought to increase the risk.)
If your dog has any negative associations with their current drinking location, change their routine and place the bowl in a new location where they can drink undisturbed. And if you’ve more than one dog, watch out for signs one of them is resource guarding water and deterring the other(s) from drinking. If so, you’ll need to feed and water them separately, and address the resource-guarding issues.
Wash dog water bowls after use
No one likes a dirty plate – it’s not healthy and can lead to diseases. Your dog’s water bowl is no different, so if you notice it turning slimy or looking grubby, be sure to clean it as thoroughly as possible – preferably with hot water and antibacterial soap. It could be that the bowl being dirty is the primary reason for your dog not drinking water.
Add water to your dog’s food
If your dog is not drinking enough water, adding some to their food can be a good way of boosting their daily intake. This can be particularly useful if your dog eats mostly dry food – add just a little water at first, then gradually increase the amount until they’re accustomed to having water with every meal.
Have water to hand when you take them out
Dogs have been known to refuse water after exercise, even if they’re panting and look in desperate need of a drink. Be prepared during outings by taking a travelling water bowl, bottle or cup and getting your dog used to using it. This is especially crucial during hot weather, when your dog is more likely to suffer from dehydration or heatstroke.
Try a pet fountain
Many dogs love running water – and if your pup’s the same, providing a pet fountain could be a fun way to keep them hydrated. Most models only use filtered water, so you don’t have to change the supply as frequently as you would when using a bowl.
Why isn't my dog drinking water?
There are many reasons why dogs stop drinking water, and we’ve listed some of the most common below. But if you’re worried about a change to your dog’s drinking habits, it’s always best to consult your vet – and if your dog won’t drink water at all, seek help straight away. Similarly, you should book a veterinary appointment if your dog is drinking more water than usual.
Any health condition that makes your dog feel sick and puts them off their food could also deter them from drinking. This could mean anything from a simple stomach upset to poisoning or advanced kidney disease. Similarly, pain in dogs, such as the discomfort of a bladder infection, may also affect their usual habits and appetite. If your dog is not eating or drinking, observe them closely for other symptoms such as lethargy, abnormal movements, vomiting, diarrhoea or toileting problems, and seek vet advice without delay.
Some neurological diseases can also affect your dog’s thirst levels. The best known is rabies – and while thankfully this deadly disease has been eliminated from the UK pet population, your dog will need to be vaccinated against it if travelling abroad.
Mouth or throat problems
If your dog is not eating or drinking but still seems hungry and thirsty, it may be that they’re suffering from a mouth or throat problem. This could mean a dental issue such as gum disease or a tooth abscess; mouth cancer; or an injury to their throat or jaw. Again, it’s best to observe their symptoms closely and get them checked out by your vet.
Changes in weather/activity
You may notice that your dog increases their water intake during the summer months and drinks less when the weather turns colder. This is completely normal and isn’t usually a cause for concern, unless they’ve stopped drinking completely. Similarly, your dog is likely to drink less when they’re less active. Always make sure they’re getting a healthy amount of exercise for their breed, age and fitness level.
Changes in water
Your dog may well detect when water smells less than fresh, or has been contaminated. Similarly, many dogs get used to the taste of their usual water, and may notice the difference if the source changes.
Our dogs are sensitive creatures, and stress and anxiety can cause them to lose their appetite for food and drink. This could follow an unsettling change in routine, such as a house move or new pet, or could be caused by separation anxiety if they’re seeing less of their favourite person or people.
Similarly, if your dog has had a bad experience while drinking from their water bowl – such as someone stepping on their paw, or being chased away by another dog – they may become fearful of repeating the experience. Always pay attention to signs of stress in your dog, and consider adjusting their routine to help relieve any anxieties they might be feeling.
Some dogs are naturally inclined to drink less than others, or are pickier about the water they drink. Things we might not even notice, such as noise or smells around their water bowl, may also deter them from drinking. These dogs may benefit from a little encouragement – see above for some tips on keeping your dog hydrated.
Why is my older dog not drinking water?
While excessive thirst is more typical in older age (as older animals develop kidney and some hormonal issues), occasionally older dogs reduce their water intake. They may be less active than in their younger days, and simply require less refreshment. They’re also more likely to develop underlying health issues that affect their appetite – and if they’re tired, sore or arthritic, may not want to exert themselves to make the trip to their water bowl. Cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) – aka doggy dementia – can make dogs forgetful of their usual habits and routines.
As with any behaviour change in older dogs, it’s wise to discuss an alteration in drinking habits with your vet.