Integrative Pet Vet column: Water, an essential nutrient critical for health
Integrative Pet Vet
Water is considered the most important nutrient. Seventy percent of a dog’s or cat’s body is water. All the biochemical processes that are part of metabolism and maintaining a healthy body require water. Water is critical for transport of nutrients and cells in the bloodstream as well as elimination of toxins and metabolic waste through the urine and feces. It is also essential for the digestive process.
It is critical for life that water be replenished in the body daily. The body has an ongoing need to replace water that is lost through urine and in the feces. Water is also lost as vapor during breathing and as part of the normal metabolic processes. Replenishing the water in the body mostly occurs through drinking but some water ingestion occurs while eating, depending on the moisture content of the food.
The amount of water required daily depends on a number of factors including body size, environmental temperature, activity levels, age and health status. A healthy cat generally drinks 5-10 ounces of water daily. But this depends somewhat on the type of food eaten. Cats eating dry kibble usually drink closer to the 10 ounces, while cats consuming canned foods tend to consume around 5 ounces daily. Dogs typically consume more water than cats based on their body size. The average dog needs 1 ounce of water for every 1 pound of body weight. That means that a 10 pound dog will need about 10 ounces of water and a 50 pound dog needs 50 ounces. Just as with cats, when a dog is eating canned food, the amount of water needed will be less because of the water that is already in the food. When outdoor temperatures are higher, like in summer, the need for water can be higher. Increased physical activity can also increase the need for water.
Not having enough water or losing water too rapidly can lead to dehydration. Fresh water should always be available. During the cold season steps should be taken to make sure that the water does not freeze. Some pets will drink too much water too fast if they have not had reasonable access to water for a period of time. Too much water intake can also cause problems.
In addition to environmental factors and activity levels, certain health conditions can lead to increased need for water. These conditions include vomiting, diarrhea, diabetes, adrenal problems, liver and kidney disease, where there can be increased water loss. Aging also results in the need for more water ingestion because the body becomes less efficient at conserving water, such as concentrating urine properly. Some medications like diuretics also increase the need to drink more water.
It is important to monitor your pet’s water intake daily and be aware of their average over time. Increased water consumption can be a sign of a health problem. Your veterinarian may need to know the amount of water being consumed as part of diagnosing and treating the problem. Determining the exact amount of water intake with a dog can sometimes be challenging because they can be sloppy drinkers, spilling water onto the floor or outside the dish. Cats may not be so obvious about their drinking. This means that watching the amount of urine produced can be a valuable indication of increased water consumption. For example, cats passing more urine in the litter box would indicate increased water ingestion. For dogs this could mean that it taking longer to urinate or seeing dilute urine that is very pale in color.
For acute or sudden conditions like vomiting that can create dehydration, evaluation by your veterinarian is important. Determination of hydration status is valuable so that fluid can be replaced through an IV or by injecting fluid under the skin if needed. A diagnostic workup may be needed to determine additional therapies. For chronic, longstanding situations when increased water consumption or increased urination are observed, contact your veterinarian. A physical exam and diagnostic tests should be considered. Tests that can be important include the basic blood cell count, chemistry panel, thyroid (T4) and urine evaluation. Having a clear diagnosis sets the stage for developing a focused treatment or support plan. Depending on the diagnosis treatment could include changing diet to a specialized food, use of nutritional supplements and herbs, or administration of a specific medication.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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