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How much is "too much" when "normal" is too little?
The Role of Water Intake for German Shepherds!
(and a bit for people too)
As always, this Periodical holds more than the title would suggest, so stay conscious to the end.
It is YOUR GSD that is affected.
And if you didn't have a German Shepherd at the time you subscribed to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL way over two years ago, I trust by now you feel well-prepared to get a GSD, right?
The role of water intake for German Shepherds. Why this topic?
From the questions posted by site guests into our Picasso-styled Question Box in the right sidebar, and from subscriber comments too - the few that leave comments - I notice that too many dog owners are unaware:
a) how quickly GSDs feel dehydrated
b) and how much fluid deficits impact on dog behavior!
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Therefore, I feel there is an urgent need for the wider topic of daily fluid needs of your GSD in this Periodical:
- What matter is made of, and why matter matters
- Factors that determine daily fluid needs
- How much fluid in a day and how much drink in a day?
- Water or something else?
- When to drink and when not to drink
- The impact of dehydration on dog behavior
- Worried that your dog drinks too much?
What matter is made of, and why matter matters
All matter, anything you see, feel or use, is made of something, obviously. But did you know what all the stuff you know is made of?
- Adult male German Shepherd Dog: 66% water!
- Adult female German Shepherd Dog: 56% water
- Barack Obama, the Pope, Yasser Arafat, Uncle Sam, your boss (if male): 60% water
- Oprah Winfrey, Paris Hilton, Mother Teresa, your boss (if female): 55% water
- newborn baby: 78% water!! (at 1 year: 65%)
- celery, cucumber: 96% water!
- lettuce: 95% water
- watermelon, strawberries, sweet pepper, spinach: 92% water
- broccoli: 91% water
- milk: 89% water!
- carrots, oranges: 87% water
- yoghurt: 85% water
- raw beef brisket: 71% water (56% after cooking!) *
- raw chicken breast: 69% water (61% after cooking!)
- even dried fruits!, human body bones, canine body bones: 31% water
- canned ("wet") dog food: 65-85% water!
- dog kibble: 5-10% water (max!)
Obviously, the figures vary slightly for each individual. And Yasser Arafat, Mother Teresa, and a few others are now made of: ashes.
- fresh ashes: 0% water
- old ashes: 5-40% water
You may be wondering: Why does Tim tell me these things?
To benefit your transfer of learning. You just memorized (hopefully):
- Female dogs and female people consist of less water per kg body weight than male dogs and male people
- Meaning, females' daily water requirement is lower than the males'
- Yet, way over half of the body mass of all females too is water!
- Over half of the weight of all natural foods you or your dog could possibly eat is water
- But the kibble that you give your dog, and the processed/packaged foods (except meats) that you eat yourself are exceptionally dry in comparison
- A healthy diet for your dog and a healthy diet for yourself is one which overall replicates the body's water content
- If instead you feed your dog kibble and you eat processed/ packaged foods yourself, you unbalance the body's natural composition
- It's like, you attack your own body, and your weapon is to deprive your enemy of water: "I will dehydrate you, you bitch!"
- For some years, your body will fight back with health signals - then it will surrender
- "Just drink more" is not a worthy substitute because fluid absorption from foods is much better than fluid absorption from drinks!
- Even substances you would think just cannot contain water, do in fact consist of water as well
- This is because many items and substances are hygroscopic: they adsorb or even absorb water from the air *
- Unfortunately, the canine body and the human body don't belong in this category, instead dogs and people permanently lose water through respiration and perspiration, urination and defecation, and most dogs and some people through salivation too
- This is why we need to replenish the necessary level of total body water on a daily basis.
* adsorb: the surface molecules of a substance bind the water molecules; absorb: the substance combines with the water molecules by volume.
Did you notice? Even after cooking, the best meats are still way over 50% water! It's in microscopic amounts in every of the millions of cells that you have there on your dinner plate.
The "best meats" because, today all commercial meat packages have added water: Quite literally, water is being injected into the meat to increase the weight sold (the price)!* Oddly, by law only part of the added water needs to be declared on the label. Thus processed/ packaged meats are even higher in water content - and accordingly they have less protein, fat, and mineral content.
* I tested this myself across several shoppings (though from the same supplier, thus not a representative sample), and here's the result for commercial Pork hash: Weight sold 1800 g (3 packages of meat à 600 g), weight after cooking 915 g, thus 49.2% of the weight sold evaporated during cooking!
Above you saw that beef brisket loses 15% water weight during cooking and chicken breast loses 9%. I know that the water content of pork meat is in between those two, thus we now know that about 1434 g of this commercial pork meat sold is water, ie 80%!
If this commercially packaged pork meat naturally is 70% water, it means that an additional 10% water weight is injected, so basically the vendor raises the price we pay by 10% without (most of us) even realizing it.
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Why is your dog (and you too) primarily made of water?
Functions of water in the body
Vital functions of water in our body and in our dog's body:
- Essential to survival, growth, and reproduction
- Helps to produce hormones and neurotransmitters
- Transports oxygen to all body cells
- Enables the dog to breathe, see, hear
- Regulates body temperature (panting, sweating)
- Keeps mucousal membranes moist
- Carries nutrients from the food we eat to the cells that need them
- Flushes out toxins and waste through urination and defecation
- Acts as shock absorber to the brain, spinal cord, bones etc
- Forms saliva for digestion
- Serves digestion in the gut
- Lubricates joints
In short: Without the high water content in the dog's body (56%/66%) and in our own body (55%/60%) we simply can't thrive!
Read this again. Because I am not saying something like: "If you and your dog don't drink enough, you can't survive". So much you knew anyway. That's obvious.
Instead, I am saying: "If you and your dog don't maintain the body's natural water content, you can't thrive". Meaning, we have to maintain that very level: 56%/66% for the dog, and 55%/60% for us. *
* Obviously, the exact figures vary slightly for each individual, depending on too many factors to mention. As always, the key message is what matters here.
What's the rest of the matter?
If natural foods are primarily water, then what's the rest? *
* Let's not discuss what the rest in people and processed foods is, because the opinions would differ there.
- The remainder in meats and poultry is protein, fat, carbohydrate (only 1% as glycogen in muscle tissue), and trace minerals.
- The remainder in fruits and vegetables are natural sugars and essential rehydration salts like calcium, magnesium, potassium and sodium, as well as antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals. *
* It is for these essential rehydration salts, antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals lost through respiration, perspiration, spitting and "snot rockets" why athletes take isotonic drinks, and why for working dogs exist equivalent canine remedies like Rehydrate and VarsityPets' Drool Fuel
(This is now on Amazon as well but with shipping cost it isn't any cheaper than when we order directly from VarsityPets, which gives their perks).
Fruits and vegetables also contain high levels of the antioxidants lutein and zeaxanthin which allow for better hydration than water alone: These foods provide twice the hydration that water alone provides, and more hydration and nutrients than the best sports drinks provide!
Thus, if you weren't so much affected by TV and other advertisements..., you wouldn't buy "sports drinks", rather you would put for example a cucumber and plain water in your food processor and drink the veggie water instead during your exercise. You might even want to come up with some unusual but potent recipes and start a booming business with "hydreggies", similar to the "smoothie" business! *
* Once you are financially successful with that, remember us here and share some of your profits to subsidize this site. Urgently needed! You don't even have to
donate because you can get terrific consideration with the uniquely revealing Dog Expert Interviews with Reviews which will save you further money, and a LOT!
Factors that determine daily fluid needs
Every day our dogs (and we too) lose body fluids through respiration and perspiration, urination and defecation. Further, most dogs lose body fluids through excessive salivation (slobber) and sneezing.
In addition, people may lose further body fluids through coughing, spitting, "moist" talking (not sure how you'd call that?) and/or "snot rockets" (I won't underline this one).
An increase in respiration and perspiration (and in some people and some dogs even an increase in urination, defecation, and salivation) may be caused by:
- changes in exercise
- dietary changes
- intestinal parasites, heartworm, etc
- medicaments or flea and tick remedies
- temperature or seasonal changes
- chemical house cleaning agents
All the above factors impact daily fluid loss, and it really is a LOT, oh yes. Thus:
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"Feeding Raw" and nothing else really is a fashion and nothing else. Before say the 1950ies when dogs became pet dogs and started to get "pampered" on commercial dog "food", the dogs weren't fed raw either! They were fed what was left from the human meals (table scraps).
Only that those table scraps were very different from those today. Basically, they were all natural foods - while today too much of our table scraps is "fortified", "enhanced", and "filled" with additives from food laboratories! The few spices that most people add to their meals really don't matter, that was no different until the 1940ies.
Note that dogs need MUCH more to stay healthy than just meat and innards. If you don't give your dog veg and fruit as well (ie if you belong to those 15.1% of our subscribers who don't!), don't ask me about any issues you have with your dog, because that's it, that is your issue then.
Well, no. It's your dog's issue of course! Which ultimately again is: your issue. 😕
How much fluid in a day and how much drink in a day?
Did you notice that even this chapter is split?
In other places you will only find an article like "How much should your dog drink in a day?" (that is an article). But on MYGERMANSHEPHERD.ORG such a topic is just a chapter, and even that chapter is split to convey the right insight: Because there is a BIG difference between fluid intake and intake of drinking water.
Above you noted already:
- "Just drink more" is not a worthy substitute because fluid absorption from foods is much better than fluid absorption from drinks
- Also, no matter how much more drinking water you give your dog, (s)he won't get all the essential rehydration salts, antioxidants, vitamins and trace minerals that (s)he would get with veg and fruit *
* Yes I know, you could argue: "I'll just add a Rehydrate tablet or a Drool Fuel powder sachet to the water" - but I'd strongly advise against that: Rehydration supplements are supplements, they must never replace a balanced diet of natural foods. And a diet of natural foods is cheaper anyway. Thus why not try my "hydreggies" suggestion above and see if your dog drinks half of your own cucumber-water, or whatever your favorite recipe is?
How much fluid intake in a day?
Now you will see why all the above was not only interesting but needed.
As with everything, there are of course differing views as regards:
- "How many bowls of water should my dog drink per day?"
- and "How many glasses of water should I drink myself?"
You may have heard of the:
- "an ounce per pound of body weight" recommendation for dogs
- and the "eight glasses a day" recommendation for people
But by now you must have realized that I do not like to parrot pub talk (gin mill talk). For that you are much better served in other places. So let's not copy here what others have copied already, but instead we'll combine some biology and math to gain some new insight! Obviously all figures below are simplified, we'll leave out the finer details here. Simple is best for everyone to understand:
Male breed-standard GSD: 30 - 40 kg (66.1 - 88.2 lb). Let's use the upper end (40 kg) since the majority of our subscribed GSDs here are American GSDs, and thus they are bigger and heavier than the breed-standard GSD. Besides, even my new puppy (now 15 months old) weighs considerably more (and is taller too). That doesn't mean that my dog or your dog is obese, that you can much better find out for yourself here.
I suggest you check it out NOW. It's unique, and I developed it myself thus it is very thorough (obviously this will only become apparent if you fill in accurate data).
In terms of dog weight, 66% of the average male dog is water (see above). This means about 26.4 kg is water. At 1 hr daily exercise like running, swimming etc (in addition to plain dog walks), the MWR is 3.5 l/day (118 ozUS/day). If you don't know what MWR stands for, you haven't clicked the above link. 😕
3.5 l water weigh about 3.5 kg. 3.5 kg is 13.25% of 26.4 kg. So, every day this GSD needs to replenish 13.25% of its total body water content. Since water is the most essential element in the body (see above), you could say that about every 8 days the dog's body is completely renewed (but that's a topic for a different day).
However, the 3.5 l MWR (Maintenance Water Requirement at 60F / 15C) really means fluid requirement. As shown above, the body's fluid requirement can be covered with foods and drink, and veg and fruit hydrate the body better than drink.
How much drinking water in a day?
If 3.5 l is the total daily fluid requirement of a healthy 88.2 pound GSD at 60F / 15C that is subject to only 1 hr proper exercise (plus dog walks), then how much of that should the dog drink? Not splash on the kitchen floor or wherever, but actually drink?
As per our unique GSD Online Health Assessment tool, an 88.2 pound GSD needs about 992 gram (2.2 pound) of balanced natural dog food per day at this exercise level (Maintenance Energy Requirement). Obviously the gram amount further depends on what you feed, but we have to leave such details out here, and our dog database clearly shows that most GSDs don't get balanced natural dog food anyway. Instead they get kibble. Because the kibble vendors aren't stupid: many have learned to write "Balanced" on the package.
Let's assume here it's a bag of "Natural Balanced Moist DeLuxe Kibble" at 10% effective water content. Now we can do the calculation. Your vet would do the same, but (s)he would charge you $100 for this here. While we ask for just 29.5 peanuts for an entire quarter for the most beneficial Dog Expert Interviews and Reviews you will ever find in your life! And that even includes 4 members-only extra benefits - while your vet's extra benefit will be that (s)he is so kind to give you a printed invoice. Ah well, you get in life what you take.
If you feed moist kibble:
992 gram * 10% water content = 100 ml water (~)
3.5 l MWR - 100 ml = 3.4 l drinking water/day.
If you feed raw beef brisket*:
* Because I don't know the water content of innards, do you?
992 gram * 71% water content = 704 ml water (~)
3.5 l MWR - 704 ml = 2.8 l drinking water/day.
If you feed 50% chicken breast, 25% broccoli, and 25% strawberries (unlikely):
496 gram * 69% + 248 gram * 91% + 248 gram * 92% water content = 796 ml water (~)
3.5 l MWR - 796 ml = 2.7 l drinking water/day.
This seems like a LOT, doesn't it? Even with this ideal balanced diet of half meat, quarter veg, quarter fruit! In fact, it is a little bit more than the unspecific old adage "an ounce per pound of body weight": 88.2 lb * 1 oz = 2.6 l (what dog, at which exercise level??). And if you feed kibble, it's a LOT more! Here you see why I always say "if you still feed kibble(??), your dog doesn't get enough water": Even the (few) dog owners who give the 2.6l should really be giving 3.4l (see above), thus 800 ml more.
Note that this drinking water requirement is for an 88.2 pound GSD at 60F / 15C and 1 hr proper exercise (running). If your German Shepherd runs around during the day like a shepherd dog would (4-8 hrs), (s)he will need more water. And if your German Shepherd is lying on the couch all day? Then you need a different dog.
Remember that our German Shepherd Dog Online Health Assessment even includes a water intake calculator which incorporates the dog's exercise level. All is quantitative of course. Qualitatively we can only require: Running or Trotting, ie Sport or Work, not just dog walking.
Does your dog like to drink much?
Worth noting is also that many dogs don't like to sip much water at all. Have you noticed? I haven't exactly asked dogs why that is so (I expect I wouldn't get a precise enough reply), but here's my educated guess: Although the tongue (at least of a German Shepherd) is bigger and longer than mine - and presumably yours too - to sip a bowl of water or other liquid takes enormous effort and patience! *
* I remember as a child I tried to imitate the dog's drinking habit, but I failed miserably. Then I tried to teach the dogs to drink like I did (and still do, and you too), but there I failed again. - Now you may be tempted to say: "And today you try to teach me something that I can't find anywhere else, but again you fail to get me to even book it!" - Right! Ah well, at least I've tried multiple times to convince you of how much it would help you, while you haven't tried anything.
Consider here how long it takes a dog to empty a full water bowl. Into the mouth, instead of all over the kitchen floor.
Have you ever thought about why dogs gulp down food, but not water? And why we people do the exact opposite?
Is maybe the canine tongue not as spoon-like flexible as the human tongue? After all, many dog owners have tried but no one has ever succeeded to teach a dog to whistle. 😕
True, nonetheless the canine tongue is just as spoon-like flexible as the human tongue. Look at this intriguing shot here on the right!
Okay, stop the humor: It is MUCH easier for dogs to eat veg and fruit to get hydrated than to sip a liquid - and if you identify the right veg and fruit, your dog will like to eat them. Sipping a bowl of water almost costs the dog too much energy - (s)he could sip another one straight away so exhausting it is!
Presumably this is the reason why many dog owners find it very hard to motivate their dogs to drink more water.
Dogs will typically only go to their bowl to drink water when - and as long as - they are really thirsty. Once the biggest thirst is quenched dogs walk away from the drinking bowl, although they haven't sipped enough yet to feel fully rehydrated. Hence why some dogs go back after a minute or two, and the owner then wrongly thinks: "Oh, my dog is drinking too much, (s)he must be ill". No, the dog didn't get enough to drink just yet!
Is thirst a good advisor?
In some places - incl. medical websites (which are always filled with content by cheap contractors: no doc or vet would have the time and interest to write for the unthankful public - they seek to earn money with their work) - you can read that "for healthy adults, thirst is a good indicator of the body's fluid needs". I know because I read in other places as well; we can only judge what we can compare, right?
So, is thirst a good indicator?
No, thirst alone does not adequately supply the body's fluid needs. There is a hypothesis that the brain only signals us or the dog "thirsty" when the body's fluid needs are catered for at less than 50%. Meaning, when you or your dog feel thirsty, the body is already 50% dehydrated. At this point the brain sends the alarm signal "thirsty".
An example can illustrate this: Say, the natural total body water content of a certain dog (because it slightly varies for every individual) is 65% of the dog's weight of 40 kg, thus 26 kg (about 26 l). And this dog's body notices the effects of water underprovisioning (dehydration) at 1% under the optimum of 26 l, thus when 260 ml are lost. However, this dog's brain may send the alarm signal "thirsty" only when the fluid deficit exceeds 520 ml - at which point the dog is going to the water bowl and drinks. But he only drinks 260 ml at first.
Why does the brain not tell the dog (or you): "Hey buddy, you must drink 520 ml now"?
Because both the canine body and the human body are so highly developed that they can compensate for temporary imbalances, including underprovisioning of water (dehydration). This is why you and your dog don't get immediately sick or unconscious when there is any form of imbalance in your body - but also why you do get sick later if you let the imbalance become permanent.
Even though the "50% hypothesis" may be slightly off, it is plain (biological) common sense that the brain won't signal "thirsty" at say 50 ml fluid deficit! Both the human body and the canine body are so highly developed that people and dogs can do a LOT to their body (and have a lot done to their body!) before the body enters a critical state and the brain signals us to act. Thus it is plausible that this hypothesis is pretty correct indeed.
Some biologists even argue that the brain only sends the alarm signal when the person or dog is at risk to faint if the fluid deficit continues much longer - because an unconscious person or dog will not be able to act and look for water!
Regardless at which exact point you or your dog feel thirsty, it always is only after the total body water content has fallen significantly. Thus, to stay healthy long-term it is necessary that you and your dog supply the body with fluids regularly. Meaning, before you or your dog feel the urge to drink to compensate for the fluid lost through panting (your dog) and perspiration (you).
Water or something else?
Does the fluid intake through drinks have to be water?
No, not at all. You know that you can quench your thirst say with beer or coffee instead of water, and indeed both are hydrating too. Though, the side effects of this - certainly for your dog - would be terrible.
Instead, the following can offer great variety for your dog:
- mix your dog's favorite veg or fruit juice with water
- you can also freeze that and add a few such ice cubes to the water
- save the water of your unsalted tuna can for your dog (not "in brine")
- mix a bit unsweatened coconut milk with water
- add the broth of any cooked meat or poultry to the water
- add the drip residue of your supermarket meat packages to the water *
* If you have to worry that the meat may be pathogenic then obviously a) don't feed raw, b) don't use the drip residue, c) don't eat that meat, and d) change the supermarket.
What motivates your dog to drink water? - Share your experience below.
Why "add" or "mix"?
Adding a bit of the above to your dog's water bowl (mixing it) is safe, because the water dilutes it and the body is mainly water anyway (see above). While if you give your dog too much of any substance, your dog may show or develop an intolerance to that substance. Remember here that the GI tract of German Shepherds generally is very sensitive, ie easily out of balance.
When to drink and when not to drink
Recently I read on one veterinary(!) website: "After exercise, only let your dog have an ice cube first. If you give your dog water to drink it may drink so fast that you risk bloat".
What dangerous advice! Always let your dog have access to water, both during and after exercise. As shown above, this is necessary to replenish the fluids lost ASAP. Conversely, if after exercise you give a dog an ice cube, the exhausted and excited dog may swallow it whole and might even suffocate! Note that during and right after exhausting exercise both our own and the dog's reflexes are very limited. This includes the swallowing reflex.
Bloat does not result from drinking water, but from gulping down a large meal or the wrong diet. For a GSD to develop Bloat from drinking water, the dog would probably have to drink at least half a liter without pausing. Dogs are fast eaters, but very slow drinkers.
Further: What many people don't get (including the "veterinary bloggers" on that website): While Bloat is upsetting (and in extreme cases can even be painful), it is not a dangerous health complication. Had the article on that website not been written by bloggers but by real veterinarians, they likely would have been able to distinguish Bloat from Gastric Torsion. They can't but you can now.
So, no worry here. The dog will naturally stop sipping water when the biggest thirst is quenched.
The following suggestions seem more sensible:
- Motivate your dog to drink more after exercise about 5 min and 15 min after (s)he walked away from the bowl
- During exercise of say more than 20 min, have short breaks to give your dog some water
- On hiking trips, motivate your dog to drink more water than (s)he wants to drink
- Motivate your dog to drink more when it's cold weather!
- Motivate your dog to drink more when it's hot weather
- Motivate your dog often to drink until (s)he's 12 months old
- Motivate your dog often to drink while pregnant and until end of weaning
- Don't motivate your dog to drink in the last hour before bedtime (but always keep a full bowl available)
- Don't motivate your dog to drink in the last hour before planned heavy exercise, ie other than dog walks (but always keep a full bowl available)
The impact of dehydration on dog behavior
Dehydration, or excessive fluid loss, causes the blood volume to drop. This increases the heart rate as it tries to compensate for the decreased blood supply to the organs. If this happens during exercise, the heart rate may go up dangerously high. The increased heart rate can quickly lead to muscle cramps, dizziness, fatigue, irritability, disorientation, reduced muscle control, and - in extreme cases - unconsciousness.
The wider effects of dehydration on dog behavior can then be:
- excessive scratching (but not chewing)
- frequent whining (but reduced barking)
- first restlessness, then listlessness
- first increased attention-seeking, then retreating
- increased obstinacy
- irritability and snapping
- sudden bouts of aggression
Therefore, it is good practice to fill up the drinking bowls at regular times, so as not to forget it and then wondering about the dog's behavior changes.
Also note that it takes the body 24-36 hours to fully recover after it was dehydrated!
For the effects of dehydration on dog health and the bodily symptoms of dehydration, click the link.
Worried that your dog drinks too much?
Thanks to the recent steep rise in "copy-and-paste" veterinary websites, some dog owners have become hysteric as regards: "My dog drinks too much! He must be ill. I must see the vet." - True?
In almost all cases: No.
- First check: Is the dog stressed? (restless walking around, scratching a lot, unaltered, etc)
- Second check: Does the dog's exercise level exceed the dog's fitness level? (have you slowly built it up?, what's the dog's heartrate before and after exercise?)
- Third check: Is the dog panting a lot?
- Fourth check: Is the dog fed kibble?
- Fifth check: Is the dog pregnant?
Only if the dog is not stressed, not panting, not exercising heavily, not fed kibble, and not pregnant, yet drinks more than its MWR, only then I'd worry about potential illness and I'd pay the vet a visit (and the bill).
An ailment where the only symptom is "drinks too much" is very rare! If your dog is ill, you'll likely notice it from tons of other symptoms - assuming you've looked through or even read the MyGermanShepherd Health Manual that you received for free upon subscribing to the MYGERMANSHEPHERD PERIODICAL.
Should hyponatremia worry you?
Hyponatremia or sodium deficiency may result from illness or very excessive drinking, and leads to a rise in total body water and dangerous swelling of the cells.
Hyponatremia is very rare, thus it shouldn't worry you at all. When you feel "My dog is drinking too much", rather go through the five checks above. Conversely, dehydration is the common, everyday problem of GSDs, thus better focus on avoiding dehydration!
Now, what do you do to ensure sufficient water intake of your German Shepherd? Share your experiences below.
Next edition: Let's go hiking!