Why won’t my dog drink water?

21 March 2021 - 5 min read

When your dog stops eating and drinking, it sets off alarm bells: "is something wrong... is it an emergency... how can I fix it?"

There are so many reasons dogs stop eating and drinking, but fewer reasons why they’re eating but not drinking.

Luckily, a dog who isn't drinking water isn't likely to be ill. In fact, most conditions increase water intake. Here we discuss reasons a dog who is eating normally might not be drinking water.


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How much water should my dog be drinking?

As usual, it depends. The amount of water a dog needs to drink in a day depends on their size, age, activity level, and type of food. Some things to keep in mind:

  • Depending on the size of your dog, they will need between 125ml and 3,000ml of water a day

  • Canned or fresh food may satisfy most of your dog's thirst.

  • Very active dogs or those who spend time in warm or hot weather need more water, while inactive dogs may need less. Puppies generally drink more than adult dogs.

What's preventing my dog from drinking?

Several things may cause your dog to drink less water from the bowl that are not related to their health.

These include:

  • Cooler weather

  • Decreased activity

  • Dirty bowl

  • Other sources available

  • Canned or wet food

  • Behavioural - other pets, location or type of bowl

  • Anxiety

  • Mouth or throat pain

  • Pain while standing or walking

Cooler weather and less activity may mean your dog needs less water. Canned and fresh dog food has much higher water content than dry food and may satisfy much of your dog's daily water needs.

Plus, while it can seem gross, many dogs prefer to drink from something other than the bowl, whether for taste or behaviour reasons or even just convenience, and it can be a difficult habit to break. So even though you might be thirsty when you get home from the lake, if your dog was swimming with you, they easily could have swallowed plenty of water for the day.

While some dogs like pond- or pool-flavoured water, others are particular about their water source and may choose not to drink from a bowl that they think is dirty or has an odd taste. For example, many dogs will avoid water with additives such as dental health supplements. Or, a new water filter in the home might require adjustment for your dog to drink from.

Other dogs refuse to drink water because the water bowl is in a place that is difficult to access or is scary such as the laundry room when the washing machine is running.

Occasionally, one pet in the house will guard the bowl so that other pets can't drink. If that's the situation adding more water bowls throughout your home will manage the issue while you call your veterinarian to discuss your other pet's behaviour problem.

Behaviour concerns can also be the cause of a dog who isn't drinking.

An anxious dog may be unwilling to drink during storms or in unfamiliar places.

The medical reasons that a dog will not drink water but will eat food are limited. The first is pain somewhere. Joint or muscle pain can make those extra trips to the water bowl difficult, so a dog only drinks when he is already at the food bowl to eat.

Pain in the mouth or throat is also likely to cause an unwillingness to eat or drink. In addition, some puppies can be born with a congenital disability, making it difficult for them to drink water even though they can eat normally. (Thankfully, this condition is rare.)

If your dog won't drink water and won't eat, it is much more likely to be a medical issue, and a veterinarian should see your dog.

Signs of dehydration in dogs

Unless there is an underlying health problem, like kidney disease, dogs with access to clean, fresh water are unlikely to let themselves become dehydrated. However, dehydration in dogs is a serious health concern, so pet parents need to know the signs.

These include:

  • Dry or sticky mouth and gums

  • Thick saliva

  • Sunken eyes

  • Reduced energy

  • Increased skin tenting

To test if your dog is dehydrated, try skin tenting. Gently pull up the skin between your dog's shoulder blades and see how long it takes to return to normal. A hydrated dog's skin will immediately slide back into place, whereas a dehydrated dog's skin will remain raised (tented). One important caveat: Different dog breeds have various skin types, so a skin tenting test is only useful if you know your dog's typical skin elasticity.

Dehydration can lead to many health problems, including digestive issues, constipation, impaired kidney function, and generally, a dog who doesn't feel well. Dehydration is different from heat sickness (heat stroke or heat exhaustion).

The most common signs of heatstroke are:

  • Excessive panting

  • Drooling (hypersalivation)

  • Increased heart rate

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

  • Bright red gums

  • Dry nose

  • Warm to the touch

  • Collapse

  • Seizure

  • Coma

Heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke in dogs results from a dog being in the heat and not drinking water, usually due to lack of access. If you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke, call your veterinarian immediately as this is always a medical emergency. While seeking care, move them to a cool area and begin to place cold, wet towels on their body, paws, and head.

How to treat dehydration

You can treat mild dehydration by encouraging your dog to drink more water at home. For example, you can try adding ice cubes or no or low salt broth to your dog's water, or purchasing a pet water foundation. You may also find your pet more willing to consume water when mixed with their food.

If your dog is still unwilling to drink, see a veterinarian right away. Your veterinarian can give your dog intravenous fluids either under the skin or into a vein, immediately correcting the dehydration. Your veterinarian will also help you determine the underlying reason for your dog's unwillingness to drink.

How to find the right water bowl

The right dog bowl is the one your pet drinks out of. The size depends on how many pets are drinking out of it and how big they each are. You should refill their bowl every few hours, change it daily, and clean it weekly.

Sometimes dogs are particular about their dog bowl, and that is why they don't drink. Dogs may prefer one type of material, such as glass, which does not pick up taste. Plastic, stainless steel, and ceramic dog bowls can absorb taste or release flavour into the water and may make your dog avoid the water bowl.

Dishwasher-safe bowls are the best choice.

Bowls can make noise as your dog drinks, and that can be scary to some dogs. Place the bowl on a non-slip surface, such as a mat or towel. You may need to remove your pet's collar or tie back any tags so that they do not rattle with the bowl.

Older dogs or those with any neck pain will benefit from elevated bowls. Also, consider that as a dog ages, their eyesight diminishes, and it may be easier to judge the water level in some types of bowls or under certain lighting conditions.

You can also make it easier for your dog to access water with at least one bowl per level in the home. Don't put bowls near loud appliances or in areas that block your dog’s access. The right location for the bowls is just as important as the type of bowl.

As pet parents, we worry about every little thing we can do to make our pets happy and keep them healthy. Providing constant access to fresh, clean water is one of the most essential and easy things we can do. A dog who won't drink may be trying to tell you something; hopefully, this article makes it easier to interpret their message.

Hanie Elfenbein, DVM
Emergency Clinician

Dr. Elfenbein received her DVM from the University of California, Davis where she also earned a PhD in Animal Behavior as part of the Veterinary Scientist Training Program.