Should You Let Your Dog Drink Out of a Public Water Bowl? · The Wildest

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Should You Let Your Dog Drink Out of a Public Water Bowl?

A good basic rule: It’s best to bring your own water.

by T. Kent Jones | expert review by Dr. Bartley Harrison, DVM
August 28, 2023
A bright blue public dog bowl with a sign that reads “dog friendly” above it.
Grzegorz Kozakiewicz / Alamy Stock Photo

How hot was July? Well, if you can check with the World Meteorological Organization and Copernicus Climate Change Service, they will tell you the first three weeks of July 2023 were the warmest three-week period on record. As in ever. This summer continues to bring record heat to many major U.S. cities, so all you need to do is look at your thermostat, or wipe the sweat from your own face to know that it’s hot.

Or you can just look at your dog who is probably sighing that the weight of the world is on my shoulders kind of sigh they give you when life has gotten unbearably uncomfortable. In most cases, they might be being a tad overdramatic (do you see them scrounging for rent each month or filing taxes?). But in this case, they’d be right to complain.

This historic blast of climate chaos is no fun for anyone — with or without fur. Walks in the heat with your pup become scavenger hunts for water bowls beckoning like oases in front of hardware stores and ice cream shops. Panting dogs stop and slurp deep — wouldn’t you? — but then a whole new set of worries set in: Like, is that water safe?

To get some hot weather, public water bowl advice we talked to a regular contributor to The Wildest, Dr. Bartley Harrison, a veterinarian based in North Carolina. 

Have you often experienced dirty public bowls for dog water?

Definitely. It seems like many of the bowls left out in public for dogs aren’t cleaned as regularly as they should be. It’s awesome that cities, people, and businesses make water bowls available for dogs, but some seem to get left by the wayside when things get busy.

What should a dog parent look for in a public water bowl that will tell them it’s definitely not safe for their dog to drink from?

The big thing that dog parents should watch out for is evidence that the bowl has older or scummy-looking water in it, that wildlife has been in the area, or that it hasn’t been cleaned recently. Dogs aren’t usually very picky, so it’s our job to help them make better decisions about what they put into their mouths. 

I won’t say that I need a water bowl to look like something I’d be willing to drink out of myself, but it at least should be clean enough that I’d have it in my kitchen. When walking, I try to steer clear of bowls that look obviously gross, so my dog isn’t tempted to try them.

What should a dog parent look for in a public water bowl that would be on the safer side?

Dog parents should look for bowls that are about as clean as their dog’s bowl at home. My favorite is when a business has a few bowls out for you to fill yourself from a hose or faucet. That way, you know the water is fresh and clean, and you can rinse the bowl yourself before using it.

How important is it that you bring your own water with you?

Bringing your own water with you is the best way to make sure your dog has fresh, clean water available. If you’re taking your dog for a walk (or even for a sit at a cafe or brewery) when it’s hot, packing water and a container for your dog to drink from is very important.

Even in dog-friendly cities, you can’t rely on fresh water being available for your dog when you’re out. It’s your responsibility to make sure you think ahead and provide what your dog needs.

Which is better, a portable bowl or dog water bottle? Both? Something else?

I think portable bowls and dog water bottles can both work well. Whichever you use, the big thing is to make sure that your dog is used to drinking from it before you’re out in the heat. Some dogs may refuse to drink from something if they don’t like its shape or smell. You want to know that before they’re hot and in need of a drink.

What are the risks from letting pups drink from public bowls?

I think one of the biggest concerns about public water bowls is the spread of leptospirosis, which is usually carried by wildlife. Wild animals will get thirsty in the heat as well, and a big bowl of water is very tempting to them. Some animals that would normally avoid areas with people will overcome their fear if they know water is available.

What is leptospirosis, and how can you shield your dog from getting it?

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that’s spread primarily by wildlife. Dogs most commonly get infected by drinking standing water that has been contaminated with urine from a wild animal carrying the disease.

Leptospirosis can cause liver and kidney failure, as well as a host of other issues. Vaccination against leptospirosis will reduce the risk of a dog getting the disease, but no vaccine is perfect. The safest bet is to keep your dog away from potentially contaminated water. 

Given the global heat wave this summer, if your dog is really thirsty on a walk, and you don’t have water, is it worth the risk to hydrate them and let them drink from the public bowl?

If your dog is showing signs of overheating or excessive thirst, stop the walk immediately and let them rest in the shade or in a cool area. If no other water is available, a public bowl is probably the best option to help them cool off. You can always ask around to see if there’s a place where you can fill it with fresh water. 

If you’re worried your dog is overheated, take them to a vet as soon as possible. Heat stroke is no joke and is a big danger this time of year.

How often should you water your dog on a walk?

A dog’s water needs will vary based on the temperature outside, how much energy they’re expending, and their health status. Healthy dogs that are just sitting out in the heat should be offered water at least hourly. Dogs that are running, playing, or hiking in the heat will need water more frequently.

During this heat wave, it’s best to keep your dog indoors as much as possible during the hottest part of the day, especially if they’re a short-faced breed or aren’t fully acclimated to the heat. Save the longer walks for early morning or nighttime. 

What are some signs you should look for that your dog really, really needs a drink?

Signs that your dog really needs a drink include rapid or loud panting, a sluggish pace when walking, weakness, and water-seeking behavior. But if your dog is showing signs of excessive thirst, you’re already behind the game and need to stop any further activity immediately. Be proactive and offer your dog a drink before they tell you they need it. 

Dogs always want to be on the go, and most don’t think to stop and ask for water. It’s our job as dog parents to make sure we’re not letting them fall behind on water or be too active in the heat. Hopefully, we’ll be able to let them enjoy some more activity in cooler weather soon.

Kent Jones with his dog, Pops

T. Kent Jones

T. Kent Jones is a writer and broadcaster whose work has been featured on The Daily Show on Comedy Central, The Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC, Morning Sedition with Marc Maron on Air America Radio and in many publications and comedy websites.  He lives in New York City with his wife, Kelly, and their rescue Schnoodle, Pops, who suffers much foolishness with stoic forebearance. 

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