What is Refusing to Drink?
Dogs need to stay well-hydrated, so a dog’s refusal to drink water is 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.
- Tainted water
- Urinary tract infection
- Oral illness or injury
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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. Strangely, the more dehydrated the dog, the less interested the dog is in water. Dehydration may be a sign of pancreatitis, which is an inflammation of the pancreas. Pancreatitis may be caused by a high-fat or irregular diet, obesity, or diabetes.
Illness or Injury
While any illness may disrupt a dog’s normal consumption of food and water, urinary tract infections and oral injuries are exceptionally 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, it is 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.
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 5 to 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. You can try saturating the dog with cool (not ice cold) water. If your dog still shows signs of distress, he should be assessed by a veterinarian. Under a vet’s supervision, the dog may receive fluid therapy, such as subcutaneous administration of lactated Ringer’s solution. Pancreatitis may require intravenous (IV) fluid therapy, medicine to prevent vomiting, low-fat meals, and longer-term monitoring of the dog’s condition.
Urinary tract infections require a vet’s immediate attention. If left untreated for any period of time, they can work their way into the bladder and perhaps even the kidneys. They are 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. In this case, your dog may be prescribed a long term low dosage of antibiotics.
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 brushing the dog’s teeth, applying a compress, and cleaning out the dog’s mouth with salt water, but a vet 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.
Prevention of Refusing to Drink
To make sure your dog drinks water regularly, always have fresh pure water easily accessible to the dog. 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 decrease the risk of pancreatitis, avoid fatty foods and maintain a stable and balanced diet for your dog.
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.
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 or dousing a dehydrated dog in cool water cost nothing. Urinary tract infections cost around $350 to treat. Tooth fractures, dislocation, or loss cost an average of $850. Tooth root abscess costs $1200 on average. The cost of treating pancreatitis is $2200. The average cost of treating mouth cancer is $12,000.
Refusing to Drink Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals
Small dog was attached by bigger Dog. Has internal swelling and bruising. Vet said swelling is putting pressure on the abdomen wall might cause a hernia. He refuses to drink out the water bowl. Try to incurage with syringe. He eats wet dog food. And some dog friendly human food. (Egg,chicken,ect) now scared, nervous,sad.
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Rescue yorkie brought to my house Saturday is not drinking the last 2 days & has not peed in 24 hrs. I have been giving 2 oz water in food 2 x's a day as she is eating well after 1st day. She is going #2 regular 1 x a day. I have tried many different bowls, different waters: broth, tap, filtered.
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My 11 yo lab/collie has just gotten over a bout of a gastrointestinal infection and was on metrondiazinole. He was also treated at the er with IV fluid therapy. We are now 5 days out from the fluid therapy and he is not drinking water on his own. He is now eating 3 cans of wet food a day and I will add some water to the food but otherwise that is the only hydration he is getting. Should I be concerned?
thank you Dr. Turner. His hydration is good; just had a visit with our vet. No real reason she could find for him to not drink at this point. She recommended not adding water for a day and see if we could get him to drink on his own that way. We'll see! Thank you for your recommendation and advice.
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My labrador will not drink while out on a walk. We go later in the evening after the sun has set, but its still very muggy. She can easily walk 2-3 miles,and usually insists on it! But I will often cut it short because of concern of her getting overheated. She drinks as soon as she's home. We have even tried taking her normal bowl with us. If she's truly not ready to drink fine, but I know field dogs can easily over exert themselves.
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