All animals need water for simple survival but make sure the water you give your working gundog is untainted, warns David Tomlinson
Dogs need lots of water. There are records of dogs living for weeks without food, but if they are deprived of water their survival is limited to days. Quite how much an individual dog needs to drink every day depends on a number of factors, ranging from diet to the temperature.
A dog housed in a cool outdoor kennel will drink less than one living in a warm house, while an animal fed a dry diet will drink far more than one consuming moist food.
I’m sure that many of us fail to supply sufficient water to our dogs when out shooting, as we expect them to drink from ponds or even puddles. If your shoot has clean running streams or unpolluted ponds or lakes that is fine but a water-filled tractor rut is best avoided.
The dangers of a dog drinking from a puddle were brought home to me many years ago, when a member of my shooting syndicate inadvertently let his German shorthaired pointer drink from a ditch that had been contaminated with diesel. It was a serious dose of poisoning and it took the animal a long time to recover.
A dog’s taste buds
What does seem surprising is that the dog drank from the ditch in the first place. Surely the water must have both tasted and smelled bad? However, it seems that a thirsty dog drinks without considering such things. Dogs have far fewer taste buds than us — 1,700 compared with 9,000 — but they do have taste buds that are tuned for water. This is something they share with cats and other carnivores, but not humans.
The sense of taste is located at the tip of the dog’s tongue; this is the part that the animal curls to lap water. This makes it all the more surprising that dogs will drink so readily from the most disgusting puddles.
The best water for dogs – not puddles
Many gundogs will drink from puddles throughout their lives without suffering any ill effects, a reminder that a dog’s constitution is much tougher than ours. However, there are risks involved. One of the most serious is leptospirosis, a potentially lethal bacterium that is spread mainly by rats. The biggest threat is if your dog drinks from a puddle that has been contaminated by rat urine. Not all dogs become ill when exposed to the bacterium, but those that do are likely to suffer from kidney failure, while symptoms range from loss of appetite and lethargy to vomiting and diarrhoea. Gundog deaths from lepto are not uncommon.
Vets usually recommend vaccination against leptospirosis, but it is one of the most controversial of vaccinations, with numerous recorded cases of serious adverse reactions to the jab. However, the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate suggests that the benefits greatly outweigh the possible risk.
Potentially as big a worry as leptospirosis is the threat posed by blue-green algae, a term used to describe a group of bacteria called cyanobacteria. This is chiefly a summer problem as the algae are most frequently found around lakes and ponds during hot weather. Though often obvious — the blooms look like a blue-green scum at the edge of the water — the bacteria can’t be seen with the naked eye.
Avoid letting your dog go anywhere near water that might be infected, as there is no cure, and the toxins eventually lead to liver failure.
Bacteria on dog water bowls
You are probably wondering how any gundogs ever survive drinking from water in ponds or puddles, let alone swimming in the stuff. Most, fortunately, are unaffected but the wise handler should be aware of the risks. Teaching your dog to drink from a bottle during a shooting day makes sense — it’s a technique I’ve often seen triallers use.
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During my research, I found that most dog water bowls carry lots of bacteria. This is because the water bowl is rarely scrubbed and cleaned or even put in the dishwasher, simply left on the floor and topped up when needed. Plastic water bowls aren’t recommended as they can lead to nasal dermatitis, due to the chemical p-benzylhydroquinone that is present in many plastics. Ceramic bowls are better, with stainless steel arguably the best.