Water is the most important nutrient for all living things. Dogs and cats are no exception. Water makes up 70-80% of an adult pet’s weight. It dissolves natural and unnatural substances and acts as the root of all biological processes including digestion, circulation and waste removal. Animals must hydrate themselves regularly throughout the day to stay healthy. Pets can hydrate themselves in one of two ways: by drinking water and/or ingesting foods that contain a high moisture content. If an animal is severely dehydrated and cannot ingest water on its own, they will need to be hydrated by a vet via intravenous or subcutaneous fluids. Animals can survive much longer without food (7-10 days) than they can without water (1-2 days). Severe dehydration is a medical emergency!
Staying hydrated is important, not only for short term health, but for long term health and wellness. Severe dehydration can cause serious illness, organ failure and even death and can be caused by vomiting, diarrhea, heatstroke, poisoning, viral/bacterial infection, and chronic illness. Animals can also be systemically dehydrated on a low-grade, long term basis. This type of dehydration is much more insidious because it can go unnoticed for years. It can cause long term stress on the organs and degeneration of cells and their function. Systemic dehydration usually occurs when the animal’s ingestion of dry matter exceeds it’s capability to hydrate itself correctly during the ingestion of the food. It can also happen if the animal is being given certain types of prescription drugs, incorrect mineral supplementation or if metabolic dysfunction within the body takes place.
If you have switched your pet from a dry food diet to a raw or home-cooked diet, you will be aware of the drastic difference in the amount of water your pet consumed before and after the switch. For those who have not, your pet’s water consumption might seem normal to you. The pancreas, gall bladder and stomach secrete water, hormones, enzymes and bile until food in the stomach reaches a semi-moist, mushy consistency, a substance referred to as chyme. Chyme cannot be cannot be created without water. The animal will usually become thirsty shortly after ingesting a dry food meal. This is because there is a need to replenish the water the cells have lost during the digestive process. Thirst is a reflexive response to dehydration on a cellular level. The ancestral canine and feline diets were made up of approximately 70-80% water. Dry pet foods are made up of 0-10% water. Pets must drink an excess of water to compensate for the moisture that they are not obtaining from their food.
Domestic cats are a direct ancestor of a desert-dwelling wild cat (Felis sylvestris) and naturally have a very low thirst drive. Studies have shown that cats do not become thirsty until they are approximately 3% dehydrated. This level of dehydration is often cause for giving IV fluids and is considered serious. Cats need to obtain moisture from their food in order to stay properly hydrated all day.
Can’t you just leave water down for your pet to drink all day? Isn’t that the same?
In short, the answer is no. It is not the same as offering food with a naturally balanced moisture content. It is vital for organisms of all types to be able to maintain their fluid levels in very narrow ranges. The goal is to keep the interstitial fluid (the fluid outside the cell) at the same concentration as the intracellular fluid (fluid inside the cell). In the process of consuming dry food, the animal becomes dehydrated and then needs to rehydrate with drinking water. The body has a water deficit during that time. The pet becomes thirsty and drinks to replenish water in and around the cells. It requires energy and time for the cells to rebalance. Why not just keep the moisture in? During the ingestion of fresh foods with a moisture content of approximately 70-80%, homeostasis is protected from the stress of dehydration. Additionally it allows the animal to drink to keep water evenly and correctly distributed throughout the body all the times, not just sometimes. Years of constant dehydration from food inhibits cell function and vitality. Long term dehydration is linked to several common diseases that affect our pets, including kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes.
A thirsty animal is one in distress. Don’t ignore it!
The natural way to keep your pet hydrated is by feeding fresh food and offering fresh, clean drinking water. Today, there are dehydrated raw diets on the market that are convenient for short term use such as travelling but there is no substitute for a natural, balanced, raw diet. Dehydrated foods do not have the same nutrient values as whole, fresh foods. When pets eat natural foods with high moisture content, it greatly reduces the amount of water that is displaced within the body each day. This protects the cells and allows them to function at their best to remove wastes from the body, form healthy blood and digest and absorb nutrients to the fullest. Staying properly hydrated becomes essential in emergency situations and can be the difference between life and death. If the pet already has a deficit and external stress is added (eg. poisoning or infection), the negative effects can be much more serious.
Let’s keep our pets healthy and hydrated with raw foods!