Hyponatremia in Dogs and Summer Fun

Most dog owners love the summer months because they can spend precious moments with their pets. They can take them for walks, enjoy swimming and splashing in the water, and do lots of other activities that only the summer sun permits!

Not only do these activities provide a lot of fun, but they also keep your dogs cool on even the hottest of summer days.

However, you do need to be mindful, and this is because water play sessions at the pool or lake could result in hyponatremia. There is a saying that you can have too much of a good thing; that’s what hyponatremia is about!

Unfortunately, the disease is something that a lot of dog owners have never heard about. Also known as water intoxication, it occurs when a dog absorbs too much water, causing the blood’s sodium levels to reduce to a dangerously low rate. 

While hyponatremia is not common, you must understand the causes of this condition, as well as the different symptoms and preventative measures that you can take to ensure that summer fun doesn’t turn into a summer nightmare for you and your pup. 

What are the causes of hyponatremia?

To make matters complicated, there is no single cause of hyponatremia. It can happen because there is an increase in any behavior or activity that can dramatically increase the amount of water your dog’s cells absorb. This, in turn, can cause water intoxication.

Some of the examples of the different activities that can result in this include:

  • Drinking large quantities of water at one time soon after having a long swim session
  • Swimming with the mouth open, which can also happen if your dog has a stick or toy in his mouth
  • Diving underwater for sticks, toys, or balls
  • Lapping up water while swimming

Of course, you don’t want to deprive your dog of all the fun that comes with swimming and playing with water during the hot season. Plus, you need to make sure that your dog is well hydrated. We all know that a lack of hydration can cause a whole world of problems for dogs!

So, it is all about finding a balance. If your dog regularly swims throughout the summer months, make sure that you observe him carefully, especially after play. We will talk you through some of the symptoms that you should look out for so that you can act quickly if you suspect that your dog may have hyponatremia. So, let’s take a look. 

Hyponatremia risk factors

Dogs who love spending extended time in the water and enjoy swimming are at a higher risk of experiencing hyponatremia. This is especially the case if there is a lot of diving and fetching involved.

If your dog gulps large quantities of water once he has been swimming, this will put him at an even higher risk, so this is something you do need to keep in mind.

Any size of dog or breed can suffer from water intoxication. However, small breed dogs do tend to show symptoms at a more rapid pace because it takes less water for their levels of sodium to be impacted in the blood.

It also seems that high-drive dogs, including Border Collies, Papillons, and Jack Russel Terriers are more likely to develop this condition when compared with other breeds, so do bear this in mind as well. 

Symptoms of hyponatremia

It is essential to be aware of the symptoms of hyponatremia. As is the case with any condition, the quicker you can act, the easier it will be to prevent the issue from becoming something extremely problematic.

Some of the symptoms of water intoxication include:

  • Excessive salivation
  • Pale or light-colored gums
  • Glazed eyes
  • Dilated pupils
  • Bloating
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of coordination or staggering 

In very severe cases of hyponatremia, you may notice the following symptoms:

  • Coma
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Collapse
  • Difficulty breathing

There have also been cases whereby dogs have died because of hyponatremia, which is why this condition needs to be taken very seriously.

If you notice that your pup is exhibiting any of the signs or symptoms mentioned above, especially after a long swim session, it is crucial to take your dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Your vet may be able to stabilize your dog and treat him for low blood sodium. This could include using IV fluids with drugs, diuretic, and electrolytes to reduce the swelling on the brain. 

With fast treatment, your dog may be able to make a full recovery. However, a lot of dogs, sadly, do not make it. One of the reasons for this is education regarding the disease, and the symptoms, are lacking. Hyponatremia is simply not discussed as much as it should. It is also frequently misdiagnosed, which we will discuss in more depth below. 

How can you prevent water intoxication?

There are several precautionary steps that you can take to prevent your dog from suffering from hyponatremia. This includes:

  • Monitor your dog when he has a drink after playtime. Don’t allow your dog to gulp up big quantities of water straight after swimming. Let your dog rest for a short period. After this, offer frequent and small amounts of water, with a break in between. This will help monitor your dog’s water consumption, ensuring he doesn’t have too much water at once but ensuring he still gets the hydration he needs.
  • Limit or prevent diving or fetching under the water.
  • Limit the amount of time that your dog has in the water at any one time. Make your dog take regular rest breaks in between every play session. Again, this does not limit the fun your dog has and ensures he still gets to enjoy the water, yet it makes sure he is not consuming a lot of water at once.
  • Observe your dog closely during lake or pool play sessions. Be aware of whether your dog is lapping up a lot of water while swimming. There are a lot of dogs that will hold their head low while they are in the water, and this makes them a good candidate for hyponatremia. If you understand your dog’s pattern of play while in the water or surrounded by water, you will be able to get a better handle on the risk your dog has of developing this condition. 

What sort of treatment is offered for hyponatremia?

As hyponatremia involves a lack of sodium, this mineral needs to be replenished carefully. This is what your vet will focus on. 

Several different treatments can be offered. This includes administering moderate levels of electrolytes, which is a super-concentrated type of sodium. It needs to be delivered by a vet in a controlled setting, as it can cause severe neurological problems in its own right. That’s not said to worry you, purely to indicate how important it is that a professional vet provides your dog with treatment for hyponatremia.

Aside from this, your dog may be provided with diuretics such as Lasix, which can help speed up the removal of the fluid, and drugs like Mannitol, which can lower the intracranial pressure.

Sadly, for severe cases, survival chances don’t look good. This is because the condition can cause the brain stem to die, which controls respiration. There is too much permanent damage when a dog gets hyponatremia to this degree. 

Nevertheless, by knowing the different signs and symptoms to look out for, you will be best equipped to put yourself in a position to act quickly and to make sure that this does not happen to your dog. 

The misdiagnosis of water intoxication

One of the troubles with hyponatremia is that it is regularly misdiagnosed. This is something that a lot of experts have spoken up about, including veterinarian Janet Dunn of Hollister, California. 

She mentioned that not only do a lot of pet owners not know that hyponatremia exists, but a lot of vets are unaware as well. 

Dr. Dunn has spoken about the sheer lack of published literature on the condition. She was only able to find one piece of scholarly work, which was published back in 1925. 

This has caused some vets to misdiagnose water intoxication as overexertion, hypothermia, and even head trauma. 

One of the main signs of hyponatremia is sodium levels that are lower than usual. However, as is the case for many conditions – in both dogs and humans – these signs can be interpreted differently. This is where the problem lies.

Dr. Dunn has stated that when it comes to hyponatremia, it is not just about the low levels of sodium, but it is how rapidly these levels have fallen. By the time the pet is taken to the vet’s office, the intake of water has stopped, so the levels of sodium in the blood may start to normalize. This makes the situation appear a lot brighter than it is, as the cellular damage is already done. 

With most diseases or conditions, looking at the medical history of the dog will be used for around 75 percent of the diagnosis. Yet this is not the case with hyponatremia. Dr. Dunn says that she believes the figure is more around 95 percent. 

As an owner, you must make sure the vet is aware that your dog has been playing with water, whether jumping in the pool or playing with the hose. This could make all of the difference. Offering up this information can help to prompt the vet to look into the possibility of water intoxication when combining this knowledge with the symptoms that the dog is showing. 

Would it be best to avoid water play altogether?

After reading this, you may feel worried about taking your dog to the lake during the summer months. Of course, we all want our dogs to lead happy and healthy lives, and the risk of hyponatremia does not mean you should stop water play altogether. After all, we can’t live our lives in fear of every possible condition.

However, being educated and monitoring your dog’s play can make a massive difference. It’s all about tracking your dog carefully and perhaps tweaking how you enjoy some summer fun together.

For example, when you throw a toy into the water, make sure that your dog has a five to 10-minute break afterward. It is also a good idea to make sure you don’t throw the toy an excessive amount of time. Perhaps limit this to only five times per play session.

It is also a good idea to avoid throwing tennis balls into the water and look for flat toys instead. This is because your dog’s mouth is going to be wide open when holding a tennis ball, which means more water will flow inside. Little changes like this can make a massive difference. 

You may feel more comfortable discouraging diving for toys altogether. That’s fine too. After all, your dog can still enjoy a lot of fun water play without needing to dive for toys all of the time! 

Finally, learning about your dog and his behavior is key. Some dogs are cautious swimmers and will have their mouths shut at all times. This will give you confidence, but don’t let it trick you into thinking you don’t need to monitor your dog. If your dog seems to be consuming gulps and gulps of water every time he swims, you need to be extra careful and take more measures.

Final words

So there you have it: an insight into hyponatremia and what you need to be mindful of as a dog owner. 

As mentioned, this condition is rare. However, it is essential to educate yourself about it so that you can be prepared throughout the summer months and make sure that your dog does not fall ill due to water intoxication. 

Merely tweaking your dog’s play and monitoring your dog’s behavior can make all of the difference when protecting your dog from hyponatremia.

What Others Say
Ready to get started?
Book your dog's spot while they last
Book Now
© Copyright 2018 Off Leash K9 Training Huntsville. All Rights Reserved.