Ice Water, Bloat, and Internet Urban Mythology

Written by:

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 08, 2010

Every few weeks I get treated to e-mails warning me of some pet hazard or another. While all seem well-intentioned, some don’t quite meet the standards for reliability and veracity I’d consider a necessary minimum for vet-worthy viral-icity.

Which is why this following e-mail makes me crazier than most. Though it’s a purely anecdotal, easily debunkable, and borderline irresponsible message on the subject of bloat, it’s been going around for years now (three, to be exact). Read it for yourself:

WARNING regarding Ice Water and Ice Cubes in your Dogs [sic] Water Bowl

Hello Everyone,

I am writing this in hopes that some may learn from what I just went through. We were having a good weekend till Saturday. On Saturday I showed my Baran and left the ring. He was looking good and at the top of his game. He had a chance at no less then one of the two AOM's.

It did not work out that way. After showing we went back to our site/set up and got the dogs in their crates to cool off. After being back about 30 min. I noticed Baran was low on water. I took a hand full of ice from my cooler and put it in his bucket with more water. We then started to get all the dogs Ex'ed and food ready for them.

I had Baran in his 48' crate in the van because this is the place he loves to be. He loves to be able to see everyone and everything. After checking him and thinking he was cooled off enough, we fed him. We walked around and one of my friends stated that Baran seamed like he was choking. I went over and checked on him. He was dry heaving and drooling. I got him out of the crate to check him over and noticed he had not eaten. He was in some distress. I checked him over from head to toe and did not notice anything. I walked him around for about a minute when I noticed that he was starting to bloat. I did everything I was taught to do in this case. I was not able to get him to burp, and we gave him Phasezime.

We rushed Baran to a vet clinic. We called ahead and let them know we were on our way. They were set up and waiting for us. They got Baran stabilized very quickly. After Baran was stable and out of distress we transported him to AVREC where he went into surgery to make sure no damage was done to any of his vital organs. I am very happy to say Baran is doing great, there was no damage to any vital organs, and he still loves his food.

In surgery the vet found that Baran's stomach was in its normal anatomic position. We went over what had happened. When I told the vet about the ice water, he asked why I gave him ice water. I said that I have always done this. I told him my history behind this practice and his reply was, "I have been very lucky." The ice water I gave Baran caused violent muscle spasms in his stomach which caused the bloating. Even though I figured his temperature was down enough to feed, and gave him this ice water, I was wrong. His internal temperature was still high. The vet stated that giving a dog ice to chew or ice water is a big NO, NO! There is no reason for a dog to have ice/ice water. Normal water at room temperature, or cooling with cold towels on the inner thigh, is the best way to help cool a dog. The vet explained it to me like this: If you, as a person, fall into a frozen lake what happens to your muscles? They cramp. This is the same as a dog's stomach.

I felt the need to share this with everyone, in the hopes that some may learn from what I went through, I do not wish this on anyone. Baran is home now doing fine. So please if you do use ice and ice water, beware of what could happen.


Though undoubtedly well-intentioned, the problem is obvious: The writer is misguidedly offering up her story as a helpful truth. When, in fact, the information is unproven, unreliably sourced, unverified, and utterly unnecessarily disseminated to the public — to the potential detriment of dogs who may indeed benefit from drinking cold water or getting ice cubes in their water to brake their drinking binges.

Frigid water gastric "cramping" is a falsehood akin to those that inform you that your hair will grow back coarser if you shave it (myth), or that you shouldn’t go swimming for 30 minutes after eating lest you drown in a fit of cramps (myth). And though it’s not a big deal to warn people about something that will at the very least do no harm should they avoid it, it drives me crazy to get these e-mails, nonetheless.

Since 2007, when this message started making the rounds, I’ve received this ice water e-mail ten times over — at least. It even once served as an impetus for a post I wrote on the truth behind bloat risks, and on another occasion, it inspired a piece I wrote for The Bark (Sept/Oct 2009), treating current veterinary thinking on the subject.

Why so sensitive? Because the story needed to be outed for what it was: a simple tragic anecdote. Because it annoys me when people feel the need to pass along their personal tales of woe without consulting the science behind the tragedy. And because people should probably think before playing a viral game of online Cassandra with respect to everyone else’s pets.

PS: Since writing this, it came to my attention that there's a whole Facebook thread on the ice water myth that's recently been getting lots of play. Why is it that some Web-based misinformation will JUST. NOT. DIE?

Dr. Patty Khuly

Image: "Outside of a dog, a book is probably man's best friend, and inside of a dog, it's too dark to read." - Groucho Marx by jamelah.

Last reviewed on July 31, 2015