Dogs need clean drinking water just like you do

To earn money for college, I worked summers on a big ranch in southern Idaho. I once heard the oldest hand say, "I ain't packing water up that mountain, there's streams everywhere. Hell, you ain't a man until you've drank out of a cow track anyway."

Umm, I guess that still leaves me out of manhood since I've always packed along water for myself and any dogs that are out with me, even in winter.

Yes, plenty of people grew up with dogs and cats that never had a formal water bowl or someone providing access to fresh water each day. The latest information contradicts what we used to do.

Always pack along water for your dog. Off-leash dogs will often cover more than 10 times the distance that on-trail hikers or bikers may cover, and their needs for water are greater. Use water from the same tap you water them from at home. Water at other locations may be perfectly safe, but your dog may not drink enough because the taste is off.

In most locations, a gallon of water per dog per day is a minimum, and more may be needed in more extreme climates. Remember too, dogs and humans also lose water through respiration even in cold environments, so bring water along every time.

Avoid letting pets drink surface waters. All surface waters may potentially carry a variety of risks from bacterial contamination to toxic runoff to blue-green algae toxins that build up seasonally. Spokanites will recall the couple who sadly lost their dogs last year to blue-green algae toxins concentrated in the waters behind their dream home.

You may have heard your veterinarian recommend a leptospirosis vaccination. That's to protect from just one common bacterial risk found in surface waters.

Some won't get their dogs vaccinated for leptospirosis because, they believe, "That's just a plot by veterinarians to make more money." Some people won't pack water for their dogs because, they think, "We're going to the lake."

Such thinking escapes me. There is a known hazard, and they know the risk of exposure to that hazard is significant, and yet they still ignore protective measures.

click to enlarge Charlie Powell
Charlie Powell

It's also important to take special care of the geriatric dog's water needs. We'd like to see them romp like they did as a pup, and sometimes we take them out when we shouldn't. Old dogs will often perform like a champ even with severe arthritis and other conditions because they want to please you. At the same time, they have old kidneys, and if they do not drink adequate water, often enough, they may face some degree of kidney stress or even failure.

So it's up to you to halt your activity on a regular time schedule and water the dogs. If it gets hotter, the intervals should shorten. Teach them to take water breaks, and they'll look forward to them.

Adjust your expectations for an older dog with any known maladies, and if necessary, let them be the retired champions of our hearts as they should be.

Charlie Powell is the public information officer for the Washington State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

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