Magic waters: Why I love 'smart' water therapy for pets
If Gatorade is for adults and Pedialyte is for kids, what works for pets in the dog days of summer?...during illness?...or all year round?
For most pets, the answer is “just plain H2O.” But did you know that enhanced waters are available for pets, too?
Some people use them to tempt pets to drink more. Think: heavily exercised pets, dogs with certain kinds of bladder stones, cats with upper respiratory infections or those with other conditions best managed via lots of fluids. Many of them can be driven to drink when waters offer yummy aromas. Here are a couple:
Fortifido comes in spearmint, parsley and peanut butter flavors). This "nutrient-enhanced" water tackles the "vitamin water" trend. Just like this one...
K9WaterCo's offerings include Toilet Water (chicken), Gutter Water (beef), Puddle Water (liver), and Hose Water (lamb). This one also contains "vitamins," presumably rendering it useful for smaller volumes only.
Even if you don’t want to buy one of those peanut-butter flavored waters so your pets will drink more (they give me the heebie-jeebies, too), consider that fluids don’t need to smell like the inside of a brewery or a chicken coop to provide a boost to your pet’s drinking pleasure.
In fact, my favorite approach to tempting pets to drink has nothing to do with flavor additives or aromas. I like the simple “magic fountain” trick: Get a recirculating waterer (like this $50 Drinkwell version).
These are so addictive to cats that they’ll even turn it into a cat toy as they lap up considerably more fluids than they might not otherwise. Keeping a faucet dripping? That’s the preferred method for many cats, though it’s not so great when it comes to basic water management, right?
For dogs, I go in for the standard “Lixit” faucet attachment.
Added to an outdoor spigot it’s fresh water on demand. Dogs trained to this method early on will even eschew the pool in favor of the convenient and ever-fresh water from your pipes. And that’s a great alternative considering that pool water could have lots of other stuff you might not want them to drink. More so considering they risk drowning as they age. (Older pets can get unsteady on their feet while going for a pool drink.)
Apart from waters designed to tempt pets to drink, lots of fluids are now marketed for pets on the basis of their electrolyte content. Electrolytes added to water can mean even faster resolution of illness, better recovery from injury and, reportedly, greater resistance to heat stresses (more on that later). That’s something your municipal water will never offer.
In the hospital, we’ve used these for everything from patients recovering from surgery to those for whom diarrhea risks drying them out...and taking important electrolytes along with their fluid stores. Lots of brands have made the veterinary rounds. Here are a couple:
Rehydrate: This one reportedly tastes salty but nothing more. And it comes in easily dissolved effervescent tablets. Think Alka-Seltzer.
Electramine: This one comes as a powder. Again, reportedly a tad salty.
OK so they’re specially designed for pets. I like that. And they do work. But such a large percentage of my patients won’t drink them (or some of the other chicken-flavored ones that come boxed like milk) that I started to wonder whether something else might do the trick.
Diluted Pedialyte or Gatorade-style sports drinks (but that nasty taste and so much sugar!), chicken stock-masked electrolyte solutions (works decently for some), ice cubes made of all of these, etc. All of my attempts met with varying degrees of success.
Finally, I happened upon one drink that worked best for all: SmartWater. It tastes like water. Its added electrolytes may be minimal but its the only product that doesn't taste like something other than what a pet normally likes to drink.
Too bad it’s not very environmentally sound to have water shipped like that all over creation. Too bad it’s pricey compared to regular water. But it’s still cheap compared to the pet-specific stuff. And I only recommend it for specific disease processes or injuries that cause electrolyte depletion.
For my own pets, I’ll offer it when soft stools assail them or when they've vomited from a simple upset tummy. But I won't go out of my way to offer electrolyte replacements to replenish stores post exercise. Why? Because dogs don't sweat like we do. They don't lose electrolytes in the same way.
Nonetheless there is some suggestion that dogs may be less susceptible to heat stress if they've taken in a good dose of electrolytes before heavy exercise. True? Not so much according to this great study. But it may be true for endurance athletes who lose electrolytes over long periods of time via their urine (think Iditarod).
In any case, I probably wouldn't go crazy splurging on electrolyte drinks unless your pet really needs to replace them. And I'd call you a tad over-the-top for offering it as a way to pamper your pets as many of these companies propose. But flavors for enhanced interest in drinking? I guess that's OK. But let's be honest: nothing makes me want to retch quite as much as the though of liver-flavored water. Parsley? OK so maybe I'd try it...just once.