Are any of the water alternatives we enjoy safe to share with our dogs? Water covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface, makes up 60 percent of the adult human, and is fundamentally important to sustaining life and health. When it comes to our favorite beverages, though, we are never satisfied with what’s right in front of us. Humans crave variety and new taste sensations. From alchemists fruitlessly seeking the elixir vitae to caffeinated drinks, juice cleanses, and craft beer, we have always wanted more from the liquids we consume.
What can dogs drink? Dogs are curious, easily bored creatures, whose experience of the world depends in great measure on their mouths and tongues. They are also opportunistic omnivores, meaning they’ll happily ingest — eat or drink — anything we put in front of them or leave within their reach. Dogs can drink anything, but should they? Let’s examine some of the most frequently asked questions about dogs and fluids!
During the first five or six weeks of life, you can reliably find a baby puppy locked onto one of mother’s teats. Dog milk provides not only essential nutrition to puppies, but also passes along useful antibodies. Once a puppy is weaned, though, and ready to move on solid food, his need for milk and ability to process it diminishes accordingly. Dogs can and will drink milk if it’s available, but once they reach maturity, adult dogs are largely lactose intolerant. The calcium and protein that dogs derive from milk is capably provided by a quality dog food.
Does lactose intolerance mean that dogs cannot drink milk at all? No. For dogs, just as for humans, being lactose intolerant involves not producing sufficient lactase to break down dairy products in large quantities. All milk is not the same, so a dog’s reaction to cow’s milk will differ from that of his mother. The worst that the typical dog can expect from drinking more milk than his digestive system can process is temporary digestive upset. A bit of milk on occasion can be a nice treat, but shouldn’t be depended on as any kind of alternative to water.
Can dogs drink wine, beer, or any other kind of alcoholic beverage? These kinds of questions are asked especially around festive occasions, such as holidays and major sporting events, when dog owners tend to enjoy a tipple. In the vast majority of situations, they are asked out of a kind of heedless curiosity. Some people might find it amusing to see their dog act drunkenly, but there is nothing funny about testing a dog’s tolerance or subjecting them to alcohol poisoning.
Dogs can get drunk, and suffer much more debilitating effects from a fraction of the alcohol consumption than the average adult human. Ethanol toxicosis can cause not only motor function impairment, but also lead to problems with heart and lung function. Some of the primary ingredients in wine and beer — grapes and hops — are each potentially toxic to dogs in their own right. Alcohol of any variety, whether in the form of wine, beer, or distilled spirits, offers our dogs nothing but deadly danger.
As much as I may enjoy a beer after work, when I’m at work, a mug of coffee is never far from my lips. Are caffeinated beverages, like coffee or tea, safe to share with dogs? The simple answer is no. Caffeine poisoning poses health risks just as great to dogs as alcohol. Because dogs typically have much less body weight than humans, it takes far less caffeine to negatively impact a dog’s body, much like with alcohol.
Found in everything from coffee, tea, and soda to energy drinks, chocolate candy, and nutritional supplements, caffeine is also more readily available and more likely to be accidentally ingested than alcohol. If your dog likes to root around in the same garbage can where you toss your coffee grounds, even these can threaten her health. Where fermented drinks depress a dog’s vital systems, caffeinated foods and beverages accelerate them beyond acceptable levels. High blood pressure, increased heart rate, and hyperactivity are only a few consequences of caffeine toxicity in dogs.
It’s understandable that a dog’s digestive system is not physically capable of processing lactose, alcohol, and caffeine in the same ways as a human’s. What about nominally healthier drinks? Surely fruit juices must be safe for dogs to drink? Not so fast! In limited quantities or as an occasional treat, de-seeded apples and oranges are neither toxic or unhealthy for dogs. Store-bought juices or fruit juices from concentrate are another matter.
If you are making the juice yourself from fresh fruits, a small bit of these juices should not contain enough natural sugars to upset your dog’s stomach. The sugars, preservatives, and other chemical additives in even the healthiest fruit juices at the grocery store may put a strain on your dog’s digestion. If you’re inclined to offer your dog apple or orange juice, start with a small amount to gauge your dog’s reaction.
The truth is, once weaned from mother’s milk, the only beverage a strong and healthy dog needs to stay that way is a steady supply of clean, fresh water. While humans derive health, energy, or joy from a variety of fluids, food should provide all the nutrients and energy a dog needs. Dogs don’t get or require the same kinds of carnal pleasures that we do from milk, coffee, soda, or fruit juices. There is no substitute or alternative drink that does as much for the average dog as water.
Dehydration can cause just as many problems for dogs as drinking the wrong kinds of beverages. Water contributes substantively to every part of a dog’s physical life. From the circulatory system to joint mobility and flexibility, and from temperature regulation to energy level, water is essential to your dog’s health. Keeping your dog properly hydrated means providing them water and keeping their water dishes clean.
Fresh water is even more important during periods of extreme weather. Be particularly vigilant about your dog’s water supply during the summer and winter. Since dogs have limited ability to sweat and panting uses up a great deal of internal moisture, they should have constant access to water to help them regulate their body heat. In the dead of winter, it’s just as important to make sure your dog’s water bowl isn’t freezing over.
About the author: Melvin Peña trained as a scholar and teacher of 18th-century British literature before turning his research and writing skills to puppies and kittens. He enjoys making art, hiking, and concert-going, as well as dazzling crowds with operatic karaoke performances. He has a two-year-old female Bluetick Coonhound mix named Baby, and his online life is conveniently encapsulated here.