Many dog owners struggle with their dog’s weight control and appetite but what’s even more puzzling is when they refuse to drink water.
Whereas increased food intake and lack of activity are commonly known to contribute to health issues such as obesity, there’s a lesser-known danger lurking behind a lack of water.
Temporarily sick dogs may refuse food and drink and some sick dogs may choose to just drink but not eat.
But what if your dog just chronically avoids water like the plague and happily wolfs down meals?
A lack of water intake is not necessarily connected to food intake but it may point toward a specific issue (for example contaminated water).
Whatever the root cause, water is essential for your dog.
How much water a dog needs is determined by breed, diet, activity level, and temperature.
If your dog is not drinking but still eating, it may be due to water quality issues, lack of access, traumatic events, inactivity, aging, or medical issues.
My Rottweiler is actually not the best at drinking water but a great eater, so I may have a couple of tips.
1. Water Quality Issues
Your dog may refuse to drink water but still eat because of the poor water quality in your area or otherwise contaminated water which may contribute to the transmission of diseases1.
Water can arrive contaminated at your household.
Issues with the pipes, water heater, water filter, or failure of other components are also possibilities.
The water may smell or taste rotten, moldy, fishy, or contaminated with chemicals.
For example, tap water that tastes or smells like rotten eggs or sulfur may contain hydrogen sulfide.2 A strong iron smell may indicate water pipe issues.
Smells are crucial to pinpoint the issue.
It doesn’t even have to be tap water. The same can theoretically happen with bottled water, although that’s quite rare.
Check your local water quality, pipes, filters, etc.
Then you may proceed with a water quality test kit if you suspect that’s the reason your dog is not drinking but still eating.
2. Lack of Access
Dogs who don’t have constant access to fresh and clean water may not seek it out when it’s there but will still eat and follow their feeding schedules.
It sounds simple but sometimes the issue is just that dogs might not have 24/7 access.
Provide your dog with a dedicated bowl and change the water frequently.
It’s also worth a try to experiment with different temperatures, bowl sizes, or materials (i.e. stainless steel vs ceramic, water fountains).
3. Negative Experiences
If your dog has been punished or experienced a traumatic event while drinking, they may refuse to drink while still regularly eating.
Evaluate whether or not your dog had any negative experiences while drinking or if they have been scolded or punished.
If so, the best way to get rid of the issue is positive reinforcement to counter-condition a positive response from now on.
4. Lack of Exercise
Dogs who are inactive may not drink water but will still eat their food, especially if the temperatures are low or if the diet provides some level of water intake.
While a diet with higher levels of water (wet food, raw diet, potentially homemade diet) is great for the initial water intake, your dog may not seek out additional water if they are not exercised sufficiently.
Water intake should increase with your dog’s activity.
Lethargy may point toward a medical issue so it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.
5. Unfamiliar Surroundings
Your dog may not drink water because something externally has changed and some dogs still manage to eat well but avoid water.
My Rottweiler would be that kind of dog who refuses to drink but will still eat a good meal.
6. Senior Dogs
Aging dogs need water, even if they may avoid it due to effort, medical issues, or seemingly diminishing thirst.
This lack of thirst is often accompanied by a lack of appetite but not necessarily.
A senior dog may require a dietary change to satisfy their need for water if they don’t seek out the bowl often enough and are otherwise healthy.
A study3 out of South Korea suggests that the digestibility of nutrients in aging dogs is influenced by the food moisture content.
Dogs who are approaching their final hours may refuse to drink entirely in which case you should consult your vet.
7. Medical Issues
Medical issues may cause your dog to avoid water but still eat decently. Consult your vet if you suspect any medical issues.
Any sudden shift in drinking or eating habits may point toward health issues. When drinking habits shift toward heavy drinking, that may also signal an issue such as bloat, among many others.
How To Get Your Dog To Drink and Eat
Your goal should be healthy food intake but also appropriate water intake that takes into account your dog’s weight, diet, activity level, and weather.
Here are 14 tips on how to get dogs to drink more water.
These tricks include flavoring the water or adding it to the food as well as making doggy ice cream or providing treats with high water content.
While these tricks can work well with all dogs, they’re particularly suited for dogs who eat but do not drink.
How Long Can Dogs Go Without Water But With Food?
Generally, 48 hours without water can be the maximum for survival, but fresh water every day is recommended. Food intake is decisive when it strips your dog’s body of water or if the moisture content is high.
It’s advised to provide 24/7 access to fresh water every day.
If your dog has gone longer than a full day without water, you need to think about options to get your dog hydrated again (as laid out in my other article).
Should all else fail, you need to consult your vet as dehydration is a serious issue and may point toward an underlying health problem.