When the sun shines brightly on the hottest days of the year, we often reach for electrolyte-laden drinks for hydration. These special drinks are great to help replenish nutrients lost during sweating. However, should we be using the same for our dogs during the dog days of summer? Read on to learn why you might want to just stick to plain water when it comes to re-hydrating your pooch.

How do dogs regulate their temperature?

You’ve probably noticed that dogs will often pant in the heat or after a long run. Panting allows warm air in their lungs to be exchanged for fresh air from the environment. As the moisture in the mouth and respiratory system evaporate, the dog is able to effectively cool down. Unlike people, dogs do not sweat to regulate their temperature. Their different cooling tactic allows them to preserve minerals that would be normally be lost in sweat through the skin during overheating.

What has the research shown when it comes to offering electrolytes to dogs in the heat?

The research that has been done on electrolyte use in dogs has been mainly comparing the effects of electrolytes in drinking water versus other methods of hydration. Most of these studies have found very few benefits when offering an electrolyte drink versus regular drinking water. Another important point from this research is that most of the test subjects chosen are working dogs engaged in intense activity, such as military tracking. Further research is needed to determine if the same beneficial effects of electrolytes would also apply to our pet dogs cooling down on a hot day.

Should I add electrolytes to my dog’s water when it is hot outside?

It is generally recommended to stick to plain water when replenishing our dogs’ bowls on a hot day. Based on some of the minor benefits seen in dogs consuming electrolytes from the research, you still might be tempted to use an additive to your dog’s water during a heat-wave. However, there have been some reports of dogs having diarrhoea after consuming an electrolyte supplement in water. Especially in dogs with sensitive tummies, even small changes away from what they are used to can lead to some negative consequences. Plain water is always an excellent option when it comes to keeping your dog hydrated!

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What if I’m worried that my dog has an imbalance of electrolytes?

A true electrolyte imbalance in the dog is likely to only be caused by a clinical illness. This is something that your vet should assess and treat. Only a blood test can determine which electrolytes are needed to correct an imbalance. Your vet will correct any deficiencies by administering electrolytes through an intravenous injection.

What is the best way for me to ensure that my dog is staying hydrated in the heat?

A thirsty dog will normally seek out water to drink. If you are concerned about a dog who is not drinking enough, having multiple bowls of water available in different locations can encourage drinking behaviour. As a special treat, you can include broth in one of their bowls for some extra flavouring. This is one sure way to increase fluid consumption! Giving your dog ice cubes to play with can also encourage water intake but ensure you are keeping a close watch to ensure they aren’t damaging their teeth or swallowing large chunks whole. Some dog friendly treats, such as watermelon and cucumber, have a high water content. These can be fed as part of a balanced diet and any treats should not exceed 10% of the required daily caloric intake.

During those dog days of summer, it is probably best to stick with the basics when it comes to hydration. Plain water will always be a safe option to ensure your dog stays healthy and hydrated in the heat. 

Further Reading:

Niedermeyer, Greta M., Elizabeth Hare, Leslie K. Brunker, Richard A. Berk, Kathleen M. Kelsey, Tracy A. Darling, Jess L. Nord, Kasey K. Schmidt, and Cynthia M. Otto. “A randomized cross-over field study of pre-hydration strategies in dogs tracking in hot environments.” Frontiers in Veterinary Science 7 (2020): 292.

Young, D. R., N. S. Schafer, and R. Price. “Effect of nutrient supplements during work on performance capacity in dogs.” Journal of applied Physiology 15, no. 6 (1960): 1022-1026.

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Otto, Cynthia M., Elizabeth Hare, Jess L. Nord, Shannon M. Palermo, Kathleen M. Kelsey, Tracy A. Darling, Kasey Schmidt, and Destiny Coleman. “Evaluation of three hydration strategies in detection dogs working in a hot environment.” Frontiers in veterinary science 4 (2017): 174.

Wakshlag, Joseph, and Justin Shmalberg. “Nutrition for working and service dogs.” Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice 44, no. 4 (2014): 719-740.

Ermon, Valentina, Molly Yazwinski, Justin G. Milizio, and Joseph J. Wakshlag. “Serum chemistry and electrolyte alterations in sled dogs before and after a 1600 km race: dietary sodium and hyponatraemia.” Journal of nutritional science 3 (2014).

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