Water Intoxication in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

Water Intoxication in Dogs

Water Intoxication in Dogs

Water intoxication in dogs is an uncommon but dangerous reality for water-loving pups. Through play, diving, and fetching toys in the water, dogs may swallow more water than their bodies can handle. This leads to a devastating condition known as hyponatremia, which can only be treated by a qualified vet.

Does your dog like to play in the water? Too much of a good thing can be dangerous, so look out for water intoxication!

Water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, is a relatively rare but potentially fatal condition that is most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in the water. Water games that involve retrieving items or diving into pools to catch toys can cause them to ingest large quantities of water very quickly. It can also happen when they “catch” pressurized water from sprinklers or hoses.

Hyponatremia in dogs occurs when the sodium in their blood becomes abnormally low. If untreated, hyponatremia causes a dog’s brain to swell. This can cause brain damage. For these reasons, you must take your pooch to the vet as soon as possible if they show signs of water intoxication!

Excessive amounts of water cause the body to lose sodium. The body’s cells begin to fill with water and swell. If the cells in the brain swell, it can affect the central nervous system, which can be fatal.

Symptoms include:
  • Loss of coordination
  • Lethargy
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Glazed eyes
  • Excessive salivation
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Your dog may also have dilated pupils and pale gums as a result of water intoxication. Also, dogs may experience muscle cramps, weakness, and twitching after taking in too much water. In extreme cases, your pet may experience seizures or coma. This is because water intoxication can cause the brain to swell.

The onset of water intoxication is often rapid (<30 minutes) but may take several hours to become obvious. Once signs show they progress very quickly, so if your pet shows any of these signs, make sure to seek out veterinary help immediately. Without treatment, death can occur within 24 to 72 hours but may occur sooner in extreme cases. With treatment, your dog can expect to recover from mild water intoxication in 3 to 4 hours. More severe cases may persist for 2 to 5 days.


Luckily, for your pooch, water intoxication is uncommon. Dogs are most at risk of water intoxication when playing in the water, where they may swallow large amounts. Many owners who have witnessed this devastating condition find that it occurs after their dog has played fetch in the water. This is because the dog must open their mouths to retrieve the toy, allowing large amounts of water into the body. Dogs may also experience water intoxication when diving, swimming, or drinking from a pool.

The water intoxication risk increases for certain dogs. For example, small dogs who need less water than large dogs are more likely to encounter water intoxication. This is because their bodies have less capacity to rid themselves of the excess water. It also means that smaller dogs develop signs more quickly and thus deteriorate quicker than large dogs.

Similarly, dogs who spend a lot of time in the water are at a higher risk of water intoxication. This is because dogs who swim, dive, or fetch toys in the water may swallow large amounts of water during exercise. Finally, dogs with little fat in their bodies are also at a greater risk. With little fat in their bodies, dogs are less able to absorb the excess fluid.


Treatment for water intoxication in dogs is typically aggressive. In acute cases where the dog’s sodium serum levels are less than 125mmol/L, the main treatment is administering hypertonic saline to the patient. Hypertonic saline is given intravenously for more accurate measurements.

The goal of this treatment is typically to increase serum sodium levels by 3 to 5 mmol/L over the course of one hour. This helps to reduce brain swelling and restores sodium to your dog’s bloodstream. If your dog’s symptoms are severe, this rate may increase to prevent further damage to their body.

Alongside hypertonic saline, your dog will also receive diuretics to treat water intoxication. A diuretic works by increasing the amount of water and salt that is expelled from the body through urine. This not only helps to balance your dog’s sodium levels but reduces excess blood volume caused by water.

Diuretics are typically given intravenously so that their levels can be monitored more accurately. It’s important to monitor diuretics as they may cause further electrolyte and acid-base disturbances.

Water intoxication progresses quickly, so if your pet has been playing in the water and begins to show any of the signs mentioned above, it’s crucial to seek veterinary care immediately to save your dog’s life.

Treatment of water intoxication typically includes IV delivery of electrolytes, diuretics and drugs to reduce brain swelling. With aggressive veterinary care, some dogs are able to recover, but sadly, many do not.

It’s important to closely watch dogs that are very active in water and ensure they take regular breaks in between playing. Be especially careful on days when the water is rough. If your dog empties their water bowl after playing hard or exercising, ensure they are rested before refilling the bowl.

Familiarize yourself with the symptoms of water intoxication to keep your furry family member safe!


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