The Danger of Water Intoxication in Dogs · The Wildest

Skip to main content

When Drinking Too Much Water Is Deadly

How to keep your swimming dog safe

by JoAnna Lou
31 October 2023
Bearded Collie running in a lake
Christian Müller / Adobe Stock

Last week, a friend’s dog had a close call with water intoxication. Her dog crew was playing in a local river when one of her Border Collies emerged staggering and vomiting liquid. Symptoms quickly worsened on the way to the vet, but after a few harrowing days, the pup was fortunate to make a full recovery. Apparently, her dog ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball. Drinking too much causes electrolyte levels to drop, thinning blood plasma and leading to swelling of the brain and other organs.

Before I learnt about water intoxication, I thought that playing in the lake (or any body of water) was safe if your dog was a strong swimmer. But now I know to be mindful of how my pups interact with the water and force them to take ample breaks. Dogs can even drink too much water from playing with a lawn sprinkler, believe it or not. Unfortunately, water intoxication progresses quickly, so it’s important to review the signs to ensure you can get your dog to the vet as soon as possible if necessary.

Causes of water intoxication in dogs

When too much water is consumed in a short period of time – especially if the dog isn’t urinating or throwing up any of the water – the balance of electrolytes in the dogs body is disrupted, which can cause a disturbance in brain function. Water intoxication can lead to brain damage, heart failure, and even death. Fortunately, water poisoning isn’t common, but it’s important to be aware of the risk. The most frequent cases involve swimming dogs that ingest too much water and dogs who drink too many fluids after playing or exercising. 

Symptoms of water intoxication

Symptoms of water intoxication in dogs include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum colour and excessive salivation. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness and seizures.

Treatment of water intoxication

Because water intoxication in dogs can progress so quickly, time is critical. If your dog exhibits these symptoms, get to a vet immediately. A low level of electrolytes will show up on a blood test and confirm the condition. Treatment for water intoxication includes fluids to put electrolytes back in the system and sometimes a diuretic. Both pups and their parents need to practice water safety.

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Related articles