Restricting Water Intake: A Dangerous Housebreaking TrendAt Spring Forth Dog Academy, we work with a lot of puppies! Over one hundred puppies come to us each year for Puppy Day School and group classes. As a result, we get to talk to a lot of people about puppy raising.

Over the past few months, we have noticed a very concerning trend. Some of our clients were deliberately restricting their dog’s water intake as a potty training strategy.

Generally speaking, most pet dogs have access to water whenever they are not confined to a crate. They naturally limit their intake of water. Unless trained to the contrary or ill, dogs drink only as much water as they need.

But some puppies join our Day School program and as soon as play group starts, they rush to the water bowl and drink every drop. Or, at drop off, little Fluffy is frantically pulling towards the water bowl we keep by the door.

When asked, owners tell us something like, “He was having a lot of accidents, so we stopped giving him so much water. Now we just give him a bowl every few hours.”

What is normal water intake?

The short answer is, “It depends.” WebMD reports one ounce per one pound of a dog’s body weight, but notes that puppies and active dogs need more.

According to this formula on DVM360, normal consumption of water in adult dogs, in layman’s terms, works out to be about 1.37 ounces of water per pound of body weight. But they also mention, “Puppies and kittens are predisposed to rapid dehydration as a result of their higher water requirements.”

Dr. Tracy Johnson, a veterinarian at Country Companions Veterinary Services in Bethany, CT, notes, “You don’t know how much water is appropriate for each individual puppy. Diet, weather, and exercise can also play a part in how much a puppy needs to drink. This can vary from day to day.”

Abnormally frequent urination and increased thirst are both signs of medical problems. These include diabetes, Cushing’s disease, urinary tract infections, and kidney disease. If you think your puppy is peeing “too much,” talk to your veterinarian before taking the water bowl away.

Keeping a log will help. Note every time your puppy drinks or urinates (indoors and out). The data may help you discover patterns, like an accident at a particular time of day. But, it’s also helpful information to provide to your veterinarian. It may help her make a diagnosis or help you determine what is normal.

Why is water restriction dangerous?

Restricting Water Intake: A Dangerous Housebreaking TrendDr. Julie Mahaney, a veterinarian at Oaklawn Animal Hospital in Cranston, RI says, “Water restriction can result in dehydration, urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and water obsessive behaviors.”

There are a variety of medical and behavioral reasons why limiting a puppy’s access to water is dangerous:

1. “Obsessive” behavior around water. If water is limited, you will condition your puppy to drink all of the water every time you put the bowl down. As a result, she will work very hard to gain access to water.

“If water is severely restricted, and the puppy isn’t given enough water and it’s thirsty all the time, you could cause resource guarding because now the water is a very valuable resource,” adds Dr. Johnson. (In addition to being a veterinarian, she is also a professional dog trainer working with dog owners through her business Happy Homes Pet Behavior Training.)

Thirsty dogs may jump up on the counter to try to reach the sink, drink from the toilet, or drink standing water outside. Puddles may contain antifreeze, fertilizer, and intestinal parasites.

“Risks of drinking from puddles are primarily leptospirosis and giardiasis, but other fecal parasites like round, hook, and whipworms could be ingested as well,” Dr. Mahaney explained.

2. Health risks of drinking too much water at once. Dogs with restricted water intake often become conditioned to drink all of the water they see. If your puppy unexpectedly gains access to a large quantity of water and drinks all of it, this can lead to trouble beyond urine accidents.

Health risks of drinking too much water in one sitting include vomiting, water intoxication, or even bloat (gastric torsion) which is life-threatening.

3. Urinary tract infections. Dehydration contributes to painful urinary tract infections. If you’re not giving your puppy enough water, you’re setting the stage for a UTI. If not treated early, UTIs can lead to bladder stones, permanent kidney damage, and sepsis.

We’ve kept statistics on this. Of puppies in our Day School program experiencing restricted water intake, more than half are diagnosed with a urinary tract infection within the first few days of starting our program. When we notice symptoms, we refer the client back to their veterinarian for input.

Is restricting water intake ever a good idea?

I suspect that this idea began with a piece of advice taken too far. Picking up your dog’s water bowl 30-60 minutes before bed time can help set your dog for success. It prevents a last-minute “tank up” right before 6-8 hours in the crate overnight.

That’s very different from only giving water at meal times, which some of my clients have tried. It’s very different from crating your dog without water for 8 hours during the day and 8 hours overnight. If a professional suggests making a change to your dog’s water intake, ask for specifics and write them down. That way, everyone in your household understands the recommendation.

If your puppy is having a lot of accidents in the house, contact us. We can help! In addition to our in-person training in Providence, RI, we also offer long-distance consulting just for potty training.