Water: The Benefits To Your Pet's Health

Did you know that what is the most important essential nutrient?

Created: 26/10/2016 Updated: 04/08/2021 - Shelley Audis-Riddell

Diet & Nutrition, dogs, health, summer advice

Water and oxygen have something in common, they are both vital for life as we know it. Yet, oxygen is the invisible ingredient of the air around us that we rarely, if ever, think about except when there’s not much of it around.

For example when stuck in a small room with lots of other people, or when climbing a high mountain. Water is a bit like that too because it’s all around us and it’s so common that as to be almost invisible. We wash in it every day, get wet in it when it rains and cool off in it when we’re hot. And it’s in everything we eat and drink as well, yet it’s role as a vital nutrient is often overshadowed by the mighty proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. In this edition of the ‘featured ingredient’ we will celebrate the wonders of water and reinstate its importance in the everyday health, vitality and happiness of our pets and all living things.

H-O-H, or H2O. 1 atom of oxygen and 2 atoms of hydrogen. That’s water and as much as 80% of your pet’s body weight is made of it if he is lean and muscular. Pets with more body fat have relatively less water accounting for around 60% of body their weight. What on earth does all this water actually do? The answer is that it does far more than you may be aware of.

Dog and cat snuggling happily together

Water’s Most Important Functions In The Body

  • Your pet’s shape, and good looks, are formed and maintained by water, dehydrated animals lose their shape.

  • All moving parts of the body such as joints are lubricated and kept supple by water-based fluids.

  • Water keeps your pet’s mucous membranes moist and healthy so he can see, smell and taste. It is also a vital part of respiration and exchange of gases in the lungs as your pet breathes.

  • Water pads and protects your pet’s brain, nerves and vital organs.

  • Everything your pet eats, drinks and breathes is full of chemicals which have to be transported around the body to where they can be used.

  • Body water is the solvent that does this quickly and efficiently. Body water can carry hundreds of different chemicals dissolved into it all at the same time. Likewise, body waste is removed from the body dissolved in water to form urine and in faeces as well.

  • Many vital chemical reactions in the body rely on hydrolysis, transformations in water driven by enzymes. The digestion of food, the building, repair and maintenance of muscles, organs and other tissues, and the production of energy all rely on hydrolysis reactions.

  • Water has a high specific heat capacity which means that it acts like a storage radiator, taking up heat to keep your pet cool and releasing heat to keep your pet warm. Body water also acts as a heat buffer that maintains a constant core body temperature at times when you pet is generating a lot of heat, for example while running around playing with a ball, at agility, or competing at a canicross competition. When your pet is active, he also needs to loose excess heat through evaporation of water, particularly from the mucous membranes of the mouth and tongue. As water has a high latent heat of vaporisation, a great deal of heat can be lost through the evaporation of a relatively small quantity of water.

Border Collie running on a walk

How Much Water Does Your Pet Need?

The daily water requirement for any animal is defined as the amount of extra water required each day to maintain a stable body water balance for that animal. Your pet uses up a significant quantity of water each day in hydrolysis reactions, through losses during respiration, sweating through the mouth and the paws, and in the urine and faeces. These losses need to be replaced each day and this is achieved for the most part through the diet and from drinking free water. Eating and drinking account for about 90% of your pet’s daily water requirement. In addition, your pet also produces a significant quantity of water of his own when oxygen and hydrogen are combined as part of the energy- producing metabolic pathways. This ‘metabolic water’ accounts for up to 10% of your pet’s daily water requirement.

So, how much water does this all add up to? Luckily, there is a reasonably accurate rule-of-thumb that states that any healthy animal needs to consume 1ml of water every day for every kilocalorie of energy it consumes, at rest and in an environment that is neither too hot, nor too cold, but just right, i.e. thermo-neutral. This can be put into an equation - ml/day = (70 x (body weight in kg)0.75) x 1.6.

This equation makes a lot of assumptions of course. Sick animals and especially animals that are vomiting and have diarrhoea need a lot more water, either through drinking, but more commonly straight into a vein if they are very unwell. Healthy dogs also need more water on days when they are busy and running about. The equation thus represents an absolute minimum daily water requirement – according to this equation, a 1 kg dog required 112 ml per day, a 4 kg cat required 317 ml / day and a 15 kg Spaniel requires 854 ml / day.

Cat drinking for a bowl outside

The nature of the pet’s diet determines how much fresh water he needs to drink each day, which may include from ponds, puddles etc. Pets on exclusively dry commercial food need to drink a lot more than those fed moist foods, which themselves consist of around 75% water.

From what has been said above, estimating daily water requirements for pets is really quite straightforward, but there are 1 or 2 other caveats that need to be taken into account. First, cats generally produce more concentrated urine than dogs, therefore they may need to drink a bit less water. Some pets drink over and above what they actually need because they simply enjoy it. This is fine as long as they do not do it to an excess. It is possible (but very rare) for an animal to drink so much in one go that it induces water intoxication which can be fatal.

And what about pets that don’t drink enough? Well, water losses of just 15% to 20% of total body weight is rapidly fatal, and this can happen in pets deprived of water completely over just a few days. Much more common are pets that don’t drink enough because of chronic illness, for example kidney disease. Cats are particularly susceptible to this. Other diseases in cats linked to not drinking enough include feline lower urinary tract disease (cystitis) and urolithiasis (bladder stones).

Senior dog poorly at the vets

Tips For Keeping Your Pet Hydrated

  • Always ensure that all pets have plenty of fresh, clean drinking water available at all times. Because of the vulnerability of cats in particular to developing diseases that are associated with, among many other factors, not drinking enough water, here are some tips that may help.

  • Cats are very sensitive to the taste and presentation of their water.

  • Drinking water should always be fresh.

  • Generally cats prefer ceramic water bowls, although well-maintained stainless steel bowls are also fine, but can be noisy and move easily on solid, tiled floors. Plastic bowls can be easily damaged and prone to harbour bacterial deposits and other contaminants which taint the taste of the water.

  • Deeper, wider water bowls are often preferred so the cat's whiskers do not touch the sides of the bowl whilst the cat is drinking.

  • Cats may prefer a water bowl that is washed and filled several times a day.

  • Many cats are attracted to running sources of water and many varieties of commercial water fountains are now available. Alternatively, a tap left dripping near to the drinking bowl can encourage some cats to drink more.

  • Water and food bowls should always be positioned in a quiet place and well away from litter trays. Never place the water and food bowls together.

  • Water bowls should be positioned in open areas in order to give the cat a wide field of vision whilst drinking. This can help simulate wild felid behaviour where cats prefer to be able to see what is around them while drinking water.

  • Placing multiple water stations around the house can encourage cats to drink more because they are more likely to find a water bowl which they are comfortable to drink from.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.