Water is an important part of every dog’s diet. Dehydration can set in quickly if your dog is not drinking enough, especially during hot weather and activity. Insufficient water can lead to kidney failure, lethargy and even death. Older dogs are even more prone to dehydration.

How Much Water Does an Older Dog Need?

Although most adult dogs are able to monitor their water intake, different factors such as illness, advanced age and depression can make it hard for your dog to get enough water. There are several different ways to calculate how much water a canine will need, but on average, a dog requires between a half-ounce to one ounce of H2O per pound of weight each day. So, if your canine weighs 20 lbs and is fairly sedentary, he or she will need a minimum of 10 ounces of water a day (1.25 cups). Increased activity however, can require as much as twice that amount.

Therefore, knowing how to tell if your pet needs increased liquids, and familiarizing yourself with ways to help with hydrating, is important.

How to Tell If Your Dog Needs Water

The first step is to learn to “listen” to your dog. Familiarize yourself with his or her distinctive behaviors. Canines often pant when they are hot, in need of liquid, or uncomfortable. Older dogs can be particularly prone to panting when they are in pain, but can also become dehydrated much more rapidly. Familiarizing yourself with your friend’s pain indicators is important for identifying warning signs of either pain or dehydration.

Some dogs will tell you rather directly when they need water, by leading you to the bowl, sitting down next to it, or tipping the bowl over (no problem communicating here!) If not, do a physical check of the canine’s snout, gums and skin. It’s a good idea to do this on a routine basis.

Feel the nose. Is it dry? Are the gums pasty and dry, or are they sufficiently wet and “slimy”? Can you pinch the skin on the back of the neck, and does it spring back to normal appearance, or does it appear wrinkled? Lack of hydration, just as in humans, will give an elastic appearance to the skin. Physical signs of dehydration, especially in an an older dog, need to be checked by your veterinarian.

Ways to Increase Water in Your Dog’s Diet to Avoid Dehydration

  • Make sure there is a water bowl in each room that he/she spends time in
  • Refresh the water bowl regularly.
  • Increase the water proportion in food recipes by adding water to the bowl of food, or increasing the proportion of water in home-cooked recipes.
  • Serve homemade soups using beef, chicken or other (unsalted or low sodium) broths that are easy for a dog with decreasing appetite to eat.
  • Give ice cubes as a treat. Be conservative with this technique at first as elderly canines often have sensitive stomachs.
  • Train the dog to hydrate on command from your hand or the bowl
  • Offer water by dipping your finger into the bowl and letting the canine lick the water at first, so that it stimulates interest
  • Set specific times for hydration so the animal comes to anticipate the event, just as he/she would expect food, a treat or other attention.
  • If your canine is still not drinking adequately, be sure to consult your veterinarian.

Older Dogs and Drinking Water

A dog’s scent capability is much stronger than that of a human’s, so while the water in yesterday’s bowl may look fresh to us, dogs can tell by scent if it is stale. Older canines can have more sensitive digestive systems, and may refrain from drinking the water if it smells off.

Many of these tips are learned from specific experience. Elderly dogs, and those suffering from arthritis or degenerative diseases will often conserve energy and refrain from going to the water bowl as frequently as they used to. For this reason, having a bowl in the room where you work or spend a lot of time is a good idea, since the canine will likely gravitate to where you are.

If you have a particularly close bond with your friend, pouring a little water into your palm first and letting him/her lick the liquid (which will have your scent) may give comfort to an animal that is elderly, in pain or simply can’t see well enough to see the way to the water bowl. You can then use the command method, such as “drink water,” or “hydrate” while holding the bowl close enough for scent, to further encourage drinking.

During travel many animals will refrain from drinking, either for reasons of comfort or to lessen the need to relieve themselves. Setting a schedule for hydration, and developing language that will encourage the dog to drink when the opportunity is available is extremely important. Stress, nervousness from travel, heat, disorientation or discomfort can increase the need for water. Learning how to “read” your dog’s signs of stress and pain is all part of the process of ensuring sufficient hydration, and a healthy best friend.