Can I put ice in my dog’s water bowl?

There’s been a lot of interest in a post that’s gone viral on Facebook recently, about the alleged dangers of giving dogs ice cubes in hot weather. This has gathered a great deal of interest… but there are some serious problems with it, and in this blog, I’m going to look at them.

What is the claim being made?

Supposedly, the post is reporting the death of an “animal clients” dog from heat-stroke, and the author claims that this is because the owner gave the dog ice-cubes in their water to try and cool them down.
They go on to claim that this is dangerous because the “canine anterior hypothalamus is triggered to warm up the body because it recognises something icy cold has been absorbed, and subsequently the bodily temperature rises to compensate for this”. In other words, by cooling the dog’s insides down, you are inducing them to increase their core temperature, therefore triggering heat stroke.

Is it true?

Basically, no. While it is theoretically the case that eating cold things can warm you up, that’s only to maintain your core temperature – if the dog is already uncomfortably warm, their cooling systems are already working to the max. By cooling them down (very slightly!) with ice-cubes, you’re actually helping them.
There is a grain of truth in it – if you force-fed your dog a lot of ice, then they might indeed initiate a shivering response, raising their core temperature – although even then, their temperature will probably stabilise at about normal, and I’d be more worried about overcooling them leading to hypothermic shock! Theoretically, it could also lead to constriction of the blood vessels in the tongue, reducing heat loss slightly – but of course, the ice melts quickly and most of the heat loss is via warm air from the lungs, so this isn’t likely to be significant.
Bottom line – a few ice cubes in their drinking water isn’t going to trigger the out of control rise in temperature that this post claims. There is NO evidence that giving a dog ice cubes in hot weather increases their risk of heat stroke.

But what about the advice that drink hot drinks help cool you down?

Different species, different physiology! Unlike dogs, humans can sweat to cool down – and drinking a warm liquid helps to trigger peripheral temperature sensors in the mouth and throat (not the central ones in the hypothalamus that monitor core temperature), increasing the sweating rate across the skin. As we sweat more, we tend to cool down a little bit faster than we otherwise would. However, this does NOT involve altering our core temperature, it just makes us more comfortable.

Why is the post so believable?

The author has been very clever. They have done five classical tricks to convince you that it’s real:
1) They’ve appealed to authority – they’ve claimed that this is an announcement being shared from a vet.
2) They raise an imminent threat to your dog – that they might die. As soon as immediate danger is perceived by the brain, it becomes harder to logically analyse information, meaning that by claiming severe consequences, it becomes harder to spot any mistakes.
3) They’ve used long and complicated words and convoluted arguments to make it sound “sciencey” – for example, “anterior hypothalamus” without explaining them.
4) There is a grain of truth in it! Much of their argument is theoretically possible – although as far as we know does not happen in practice. Additionally, they have tied it into the (real) fact that to cool an already overheated dog off, we do recommend avoiding icy cold water (because it triggers blood vessel constriction, and can lead to hypothermic shock if you cool them too far).

How can I spot this as “fake news”?

There are a number of key giveaways that this isn’t necessarily a reliable source of information.
1) The claim that its “From a vet on Facebook”. If so, why haven’t they shared that vet’s original post? Why haven’t they named the vet, so it can be checked? If you don’t know where news is coming from – doubt it.
2) Some odd use of words – “I’m with animal clients”. What other kind would a vet have? Also, “bodily temperature” is not a normal phrase – we’d normally use “body temperature”.
3) Where did it come from? Again, if this really was veterinary advice, wouldn’t it be on that vet’s practice Facebook page? Why is it being spread by individuals?
Note that this doesn’t mean a post is definitely untrue – this one has sparked debate on one of the biggest vet forums in the UK! – but it does mean you should tread carefully and look for more information before believing it.

OK, so what is heat-stroke?

Heat stroke occurs when the animal is unable to lose heat faster than it’s being generated or absorbed. Dogs are at particular risk because their physiology is adapted to keep warm, not cool – so, for example, they cannot lose significant amounts of heat by sweating, and must pant. Heat stroke may occur due to being trapped in a hot space and unable to escape – e.g. a car, greenhouse or conservatory – or from exercising too vigorously in hot weather. In either case, the symptoms are the same – excessive panting, drooling, dark tongue, weakness, vomiting, collapse and ultimately abnormal bleeding, seizures and death. Dogs really do die in hot weather, it’s far more common than most people think.

What should I do if I suspect my dog has heat-stroke?

Get them into the shade, offer them water, pour cool (but best to avoid ice-cold) water over them, and call the closest vet immediately. If you’re on holiday within the UK, find your nearest vet here.

So is ice 100% safe?

No – there have been a few isolated reports of other complications (thanks Susan Carlton!). Large lumps of ice can seem like nice things to chew on, and fractured teeth can occasionally result. There have also been a very few reports of more serious problems, especially around temporary breathing difficulties. These are probably due to the dog inhaling a large lump of ice. Until it melts (which it will do but it’s really scary at the time!) it can block the airway. In fact, until a message this afternoon, I’d never heard of it happening in “real life”, so I very much doubt that it’s a common risk. That said, if you’ve got a pet who has problems with their larynx, or tends to “inhale” food and drink, making sure you either avoid ice, or only use small cubes, is probably the best bet.

But heat stroke? Shouldn’t be an issue!


34 thoughts on “Can I put ice in my dog’s water bowl?

  1. Thank you so much for clearing this up. You have given some clear practical advice and signs if your pet is suffering from heat stroke – which I know I have been very worried about in this hot weather we have been experiencing !! Very informative .

    1. NEVER GIVE YOUR DOG ICE! WE WERE DOING THE SAME THING. PUTTING ICE IN OUR DIGS WATERBOWL TO COOL HIM DOWN. THEN HE STOPPED BREATHING. HE HIT THE FLOOR AND COULD NOT BREATHE. We thought we were going to lose him. My husband did the hymlick maneuver and it did not work. He then began giving him mouth to nose breathing. I was on the phone with the vet. My dog was NOT breathing on his own. After what seemed like forever, he began breathing on his own again. If my husband had not done that our dog would have died. After discussion with the vet, and the fact that the dog was eating ice, we concluded that the ice was the culprit. It either blocked his throat or froze something. We have never given him I’ve since and never had a repeat of this. I do not care what people say, it is dangerous and I know first-hand.

      1. Thank you for that Susan! The blog was about a specific Facebook post claiming that ice in water bowls caused heat stroke (which it doesn’t), and I didn’t mean to suggest that it was 100% safe in all respects. The most common complication is fractured teeth from chewing on hard lumps of ice. The issue with inhaling an ice cube is really rare. I must admit neither I nor any of the other vets I’ve talked to had ever heard of this happening “in real life”! The good news is that the ice in the airway will melt very rapidly – and I’m so glad that you got her back! I’ve added a section to the post about the risks; again, thank you so much for bringing it to my attention.

        1. I have given my 2 cockers ice in h20 both since they were 6 months ols. If the weather is hot i dont let them stay out. They have done well with ice. I will continue

  2. Thank you for that sensible advice. There is a lot of hysteria on Facebook at the moment and it’s good to get a proper perspective

  3. trouble is… ive been toldby my vet that ice will drop their temp to fast. so now im even more confused.. they said frozen is best

    1. If you’re trying to TREAT heatstroke then yes, avoid pouring ice or ice-water over them, as there is some evidence that it may cause additional complications (essentially, trapping the heat inside the body) – although the data is a bit ambiguous and in other species (humans and horses) ice water is the recommended approach.
      However, this post was about giving icy water to drink in hot weather, when the dog can control how much they drink – and there’s no evidence that doing so is harmful.

      1. Just be careful – if they lick the alcohol off it’s potentially poisonous. Also, it will REALLY sting in any cuts or scrapes!

  4. Well THANK GOD ‼️ that you posted this. It cleared up something’s I didn’t know. So, I best not give them ICE COLD water?? Nor HOT like water, meaning being outside, or from the vehicles?

    1. If they’re healthy, ice cubes aren’t likely to be a problem (unless they’re big enough to crunch and injure teeth!). I wouldn’t recommend hot water though – if it’s warmer than your hand, it’ll potentially make matters worse.

  5. I have given my dogs ice in their water for years. It keeps it cool and fresh and therefor they don’t drink out of the toilets for the cool water. They are fine and none have died or even been sick.

  6. I’ve been putting ice in my dog’s water for years. She is never left outside for long in extreme heat anyway but the purpose for the ice is more about compensating for evaporation than the idea of cold water. Thank you though for clearing this up.

  7. I have placed ice cubes in my English black Labrador’s water for years, not daily but infrequently. He laps up the water he wants and leaves the water bowl. Within 10-15 minutes the ice cubes have melted. There are times that when I have given home small ice cubes and he eats them.

    1. Just be a bit careful if he eats them – it is possible for a dog to fracture a tooth on a really solid ice cube!

  8. My pittie loves ice in his water. BUT, we o my add two to three pieces in his bowl.
    What he really loves is tea ice. When I make myself a glass of tea, he is right there at the fridge to get his tea covered ice cube .
    Mt little terrier is same way about tea ice. Been doing it for years. The terrier is 11 yrs old now and can’t crunch ice any more, so just licks the tea off the cube. It’s a sweet treat for the boys and they love it !

  9. I’m quite surprised that a dog choking on an ice cube is something you’ve never heard of!!! Anyone with little kids knows the dangers of swallowing an ice cube. And throughout the years it’s happened to me a few times and it’s a very scary experience!!! It would be very easy for a dog to lap up an ice cube along with the water and swallow, not even realizing there was ice in it…

    1. “Choking” and coughing it up yes – a dog actually getting a complete respiratory obstruction seems to be much rarer in practice! While everyone’s heard of someone who’s heard of someone who saw it, real cases seem rather fewer and further between. However, I’m willing to admit that I’ve always practiced in the relatively cold damp UK, where giving ice-cubes to dogs is something you do maybe a couple of weeks a year at most, so perhaps we’re at the lower end of the risk spectrum over here…

      1. I ty for clearing things up on ice cubes.
        As for giving ice cubes to ur animals & them choking on them,
        My question is what r u people giving them, icebergs???
        There would be no reason why an animal should choke on ice.
        Why would u give lrg cubes to you animal anyway? U take the to crush them up then put them in the water. & if u don’t want to to that each time u do give them ice in water. Then take 5 or 10 min & make a bag of crushed ice. As for letting them chew on ice, my boys ( dogs) love to chew on ice. But the first thing I thought of was about their teeth getting chip, broke, etc & I’m not even a vet. I look at it this way if I can break a price of ice with my teeth, then I know that same size will not hurt their teeth at all. Come on people, they r ur family. Just stop & think. just like you would with a child.
        It’s not ice cubes fault, its how the owner raised them….

        1. Any member of our family , whether they’re 2 or 4 legged can choke on an ice cube if they swallow it and it gets stuck in their esophagus. Until it melts enough to become unlodged or it can be coughed up it is a horrible experience and could have a horrible outcome. This thread is about ice cubes..not ice chips which is a completely different thing. Being aware of possible dangers can help prevent an accident.

  10. Learning to care for my baby daughter, nearly 40 yrs ago, our doctor’s advice was always to use water at normal body temperature, for external and internal needs. That has always seemed sensible to me as normal procedure
    for my dogs and cats too. No problem.

  11. I have been putting ice shavings in my dogs water bowls for 20 years. Not once did any of my dachsunds ever have an issue. My oldest dachsund passed 1 week shy of her 21st birthday. The next 2 oldest at 18. Im down to my last of 9 and she is 16. Going strong. They love in summer having ice cold water.

  12. I’ve given my dogs ice in their water during the summer for the last 35 years, and never had an incident or any harm to my pets. So, the article is fake, concerning heatstroke.

  13. I have 3 Great Danes currently and have had many, many other Danes over the past 25 years. I’ve also had many other types of dogs in my life including a toy poodle and dachshunds (and many other sizes inbetween). I’ve always given ice in their water dishes. Not frequently like every day or once a week but when it’s warm out or warm in the house in the winter. Never had an outside dog. However the last 25 years I’ve used the crushed ice feature on my refrigerator when I give them ice in their water. I’ve never had an issue.

  14. are used to give ice to my dog all the time she loved it she don’t love to eat ice so there’s something wrong with your dogs at your dogs got sick then there’s something wrong with your dogs is my just fine

  15. Hi, although pretty sad to here that you doggy went through a hard time. Always sad to see a pet in pain so I feel for you.
    On the ice matter, I think it was just a bit of bad look. We have been letting out dog play with ice cubes on hot days for years, he looks it! It’s sound more like just a touch of bad look, it was probably that hot that day that he was gulping water because of the heat and just inhaled the ice by accident. If you do let him play with ice, just put it on the floor. My dog loves playing and chasing it around and gets very depressed when it’s melted.
    Great job by your hubby, well done.

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