What is Refusing to Drink?

Dogs need to stay well-hydrated, so a dog’s refusal to drink water might be cause for concern. You should expect your dog to drink water freely and enthusiastically several times a day. If your dog doesn’t drink for a day or more, and turns its head away when offered water, there is probably a problem. This could be related to your dog's age, medical condition or issue, or be a problem with the water itself.

Water is a basic health requirement. Dogs that go more than a day without drinking may become dehydrated, which is a dangerous condition that may require veterinary care.

Why Refusing to Drink Occurs in Dogs

Drinking water is a cornerstone of any dog’s health, and a disturbance in normal drinking patterns can indicate a wide variety of problems. It is not normal for a dog to refuse to drink.

Aging

While older dogs still need to drink water, and may have problems with staying hydrated, they may not want to use their decreasing energy to get to the water. Older dogs also may not feel as thirsty, as they typically exercise less, and might have an overall lower level of thirst. It may help your dog to provide meals with higher water content, such as switching to canned food instead of kibble. 

Tainted Water

Dogs are very sensitive to their surroundings. They can detect odors and tastes that are imperceptible to most humans. If a dog suddenly refuses water, and does not appear to be distressed in any way, the water should be checked for abnormalities. It may be tainted in some way, such as with iron or dirt. Dogs need clean pure drinking water. 

Dehydration

If your dog is panting or drooling more than usual, has red, dry, or sticky gums, problems with normal coordination, or skin that does not retain its normal moisture and elasticity, your dog may be suffering from dehydration. 

Illness or Injury

While any illness may disrupt a dog’s normal consumption of food and water, urinary tract infections and oral injuries are sometimes more likely to turn a dog away from water. 

Urinary tract infections usually begin in the urethra, then move up to the bladder, sometimes even infecting the kidneys. If your dog does not have a normal flow of urine, such as not being able to stand to urinate, or is holding his urine, has a compromised immune system, or has abnormal concentration of urine, they are more likely to develop a urinary tract infection, possibly leading to infection of the bladder and kidneys. Urinary tract infections are more likely to occur in female dogs, and especially in older female dogs. Symptoms include more frequent urination, urination in the house, painful urination, and blood in the urine. The pain of a urinary tract infection can cause a dog to refuse to drink water. 

Oral injuries can include periodontal disease, tooth root abscess, dislocation, loss or fracture, or mouth cancer. Periodontal disease is a bacterial infection of the mouth and is very common. Both periodontal disease and tooth root abscess are typically related to poor oral hygiene, while tooth root abscess, dislocation, loss, or fracture occur when there is trauma to the teeth, such as the dog biting something hard enough to break a tooth. Mouth cancer is an abnormal growth in the mouth. Cancers can occur in dogs of any age, but are more likely in older dogs.

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What to do if your Dog is Refusing to Drink

Every dog needs to drink water several times a day. This is one of the most basic necessities for a dog’s health. If your dog refuses to drink, your goal should always be for the dog to resume drinking, but your tactics will differ depending on the presumed cause. Issues of aging and clean water can usually be handled with common sense, but dehydration, urinary tract infections, and oral illness and injuries require immediate veterinary attention. 

If your dog is geriatric, or showing signs of being in the later stages of life, you will need to be more proactive about making sure your dog drinks water regularly. Age is not experienced in the same way by every dog; for example, larger dogs tend to age more quickly than smaller dogs. If your dog is over 10 years old and is having increasing difficulty with normal movements, less tolerance for normal activity, and more health problems of all kinds, then he may be geriatric. A geriatric dog should have water kept closer, with ample opportunities given to drink and closer supervision. To avoid tainted or contaminated water, always make sure that your dog’s water is clean and pure. Wash the dog’s water bowl daily, and refill it with clean water at least once a day.

While a dehydrated dog should drink water or another dog-friendly oral rehydration fluid, it also may need more advanced interventions. If your dog shows signs of distress, they should be assessed by a veterinarian. Under a veterinarian’s supervision, the dog may receive fluid therapy, such as subcutaneous administration of lactated Ringer’s solution. 

Urinary tract infections require a veterinarian’s immediate attention. If left untreated for any period of time, they can quickly worsen. They are typically treated with antibiotics. A tumor will require surgical removal. Sometimes a dog can develop a recurring condition, where the infection becomes resistant to an antibiotic, or comes back repeatedly. A urine culture may be needed in these situations.  

Dogs with oral injuries of all kinds should also be under veterinary care. When you notice an oral abnormality of any kind, take your dog to the vet immediately. A broken tooth can develop an infection, and mouth cancer can be fatal if left untreated. A tooth root abscess can be initially treated by gently cleaning out the dog’s mouth with salt water, but a veterinarian must supervise the clearing of any kind of pus buildup. The dog’s teeth should be professionally cleaned, and tooth extraction will be required in more serious cases. 

If a dog has dislocated or lost a tooth, oral surgery will be required, either to replace the tooth if possible, or to clean and suture the missing tooth’s socket. A tooth fracture will require a root canal, vital pulpotomy, or extraction of the tooth. Finally, as with any cancer, mouth cancer can be complicated to treat. The tumor may be removable by surgery, but the dog may also require radiation therapy.

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Prevention of Refusing to Drink

To make sure your dog drinks water regularly, always have fresh pure water easily accessible. Your dog must never be left in a hot confined space, such as a locked car with the windows rolled up. Monitor your dog carefully to familiarize yourself with his regular habits of drinking and urination. 

To avoid injuries to your dog’s teeth and mouth, don’t allow the chewing of sticks or other kinds of wood, as these may splinter in your dog’s mouth. Provide safe chew toys and have your dog’s teeth regularly cleaned by a professional. For early detection of mouth cancer, frequently inspect your dog’s mouth for any abnormalities, such as swelling, lumps, growth, and discoloration.

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Cost of Refusing to Drink

The cost of treating a dog’s refusal to drink depends on the cause. Making fluids more readily available to an aging dog costs nothing. Urinary tract infections might cost around $350 to treat. Tooth fractures, dislocation, or loss cost an average of $850. Tooth root abscess costs $1200 on average.  The average cost of treating mouth cancer is $12,000. 

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Refusing to Drink Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Mixed terrior

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Twelve Years

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Unknown severity

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4 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

She Won’T Her Food. Butshe Wil Ea Lunchmat. She S Not Drinking Water. I Have Been Giving Her Oral Peiatric Electrolyte

What should I do she yelps every time I try to open her month

Sept. 29, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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4 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. If she is not eating other than lunch meat and it hurts when you try to open her mouth, she may have a tooth that is infected and is causing her pain, or something else in her mouth that is bothering her. It would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian, as they can examine her, see what might be causing this problem, and get her treatment so that she feels better. I hope that all goes well for her.

Oct. 3, 2020

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Labrador Retriever

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Fifteen Years

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Unknown severity

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7 found helpful

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Unknown severity

Has Symptoms

Not Drinking Water

Not really eating much and her water bowl is always fun These past 3 days but she hasn’t touched it. Still full.

Sept. 28, 2020

Owner

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Dr. Michele K. DVM

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7 Recommendations

Thank you for your question. There are a number of things that might cause this problem in a 15 year old dog, and it would be best to have her seen by a veterinarian. They can examine her, may want to run some lab work, and will be able to find out what is going on with her. I hope that she is okay.

Oct. 7, 2020

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