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Hydration for the Canine Athlete

As warmer weather is just around the corner, hydration is becoming even more important for our four legged athletes. In this article, we will be discussing when to hydrate, how, and signs of dehydration and bloat.

Lets look at the definition of dehydration in dogs:

There are many reasons why a dog can become dehydrated. Stemming from illness, excessive vomiting, or other health conditions. In this article we will share some tips and tricks to help keep your healthy dog hydrated when participating in sled dog sports and other activities.

1. Serve meals with water

What's the best way to avoid dehydration? STAY HYDRATED! Kibble is a dry food. When digesting kibble, part of that process includes the kibble absorbing liquid from your dogs system to break down. By soaking kibble in water prior to feeding, it allows the kibble to absorb liquid, and rather than potentially contributing to dehydration of your dog, it will contribute to hydration while aiding with the digestion process. You should add just enough liquid for the kibble to absorb, adding extra as needed. This can be practiced for every meal to keep your dog hydrated at all times.

Do you feed a wet or raw food? You will notice dogs who consume dry foods will often drink more water than those fed wet or raw diets. If feeding wet or raw foods, then you are already contributing to the hydration of your pup!

2. Baited water 1-2 hours before running

Baited water is used to encourage your dog to drink water and hydrate. Humans, often before physical activity such as running, playing sports, or going to the gym will make a conscious effort to drink water before activity. Dogs however, don't make note an hour or two beforehand to drink some extra water. When offering baited water, you may notice your dog requires less water breaks during your run and less water post run. After consuming baited water, give your dog the opportunity to relieve themselves and relax. Avoid having your dog run and play right after consuming excess water.

Baited water can be made by adding one of the following:

  • Bone broth

  • Tuna juice

  • Kibble

  • Meat

  • Yogurt/ Goats Milk/ Kefir

  • Anything else appetizing to your dog

Add just enough to encourage your dog to drink the water. These additives will encourage your dog to drink and ensure your dog is also consuming electrolytes. If worried about electrolytes, you can also add pedialyte to your dogs water at this time.

How much baited water should I give my dog?

This varies by dog taking into account their weight, activity level, and how much water they've already had. My baseline for my 50 pound dogs is 1 cup/ 8 oz. I've found when giving more than this amount, they would leave water in the bowl. 1 cup for us is just enough to add some extra hydration for my own peace of mind knowing that they have consumed water before running. If you have a dog who will down baited water no matter how much is in front of them, start with small amounts and see if you notice a difference. Forcing large amounts of water into your dog can cause stomach upset and vomiting.

3. Offer water periodically during your run

If your dog appears to be searching for water or slowing down, give them a water break. Offer a small amount of water, give them a minute, then offer more if they're interested. During a run they shouldn't consume a bowls worth of water all at once then start running full tilt immediately after as there would be a greater risk of stomach upset or bloat. If your dog is requiring a larger amount of water, give them a break to hydrate and recover. Do your best to take small and frequent water breaks on longer or warmer adventures for optimal hydration and as to not upset your dogs stomach or contribute to bloat. Some dogs will refuse to drink when working or panting, these dogs may need extra time to relax before consuming water.

When carrying water, I recommend using a camelback water bladder so you can quickly access water for yourself, and carry a collapsable bowl for your dog. There are more options when biking, scootering or using a four wheeler with your dogs. The water bladder is my preferred option when running just one or two dogs on the bike or on foot.

4. Monitor water intake after your run

After your run or hike is complete, immediately offer your dog a small amount of water. Allow them to relax, cool down, and slow panting for a few minutes, then offer more. Once your dogs panting has slowed, offer a full bowl of water and continue offering unlimited water as needed. If you have a dog who will drink too much water at once right after a run to the point they may make themselves sick, continue to instead offer smaller amounts every few minutes.

5. When to feed pre & post run

I will start this by saying every dog is different, and every breed is different. As well, every musher has a different goal in mind when choosing feeding times. A general guideline I like to follow is to feed at least 1 hour before a run for a small meal, and minimum 2 hours before for a larger meal. This gives the dogs system time to digest the food and should avoid any stomach upset. After a run I like to ensure my dog has had enough time to relax and is no longer panting. I like to follow the guideline of waiting at least 1 hour after a run for a small meal, and at least 2 hours for a large meal. I have had dogs who would be sick if fed right after running, though others can tolerate it.

6. Signs of Dehydration

  • Lethargic

  • Dog becomes weak

  • Loss of appetite

  • Excessive Panting

  • Sunken eyes

  • Vomiting

  • Dry Gums

  • Loss of skin elasticity

  • Refusing to continue activity

Click here to read "Warning Signs of Dehydration in Dogs"

7. Bloat

Bloat is something I have referenced several times in this article, and it's something all owners should take into consideration when feeding, offering water to, and working their dogs. Breeds such as Labradors, Boxers, German Shepards, and other large, deep chested breeds can be prone to Bloat. Bloat is a big reason why I recommend feeding your dog at minimum 1-2 hours before activity and monitoring water intake during exercise. I would highly recommend doing more research on bloat for your own knowledge especially if running with a type of dog which is prone to bloat.

Click here to read "Bloat in Dogs: Signs, Symptoms And Prevention Of Canine Bloat"

Click here to read "Bloat in dogs: Everything you need to know about the life-threatening condition"

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