Healthy Dog - Routine Maintenance


Daily Water intake, feeding schedule and salt water drinking while at the beach and urine killing the grass

Question: Dr. Richards,

I own a 1 year old neutered male Cairn Terrier. He is very active and drinks huge amounts of water for a small dog (goes through a medium size bowl of water a day, sometimes more). I have had his blood sugar tested for diabetes and he is fine, but his water intake still surprises me at times. His body temperature is also frequently 102.5, which is on the high end of normal. Considering his water intake, I would think that his urine would be very dilute, but he still kills the grass almost immediately when he urinates, and his temp would be lower, but it is not. Is this a sign if a problem? Also, he is at an ideal weight, but I cannot get him to eat on a normal schedule. He will only eat if I put his quantity of food out for him for the day and let him eat it a little at a time when he feels like it. Some days he will not eat anything and the next, he'll eat 2x the food. Is this OK or should I more closely regulate his feeding times? One last question. Last week, I took him to the beach for the first time. Surprisingly for a terrier, he loved the water. I was concerned though that he seemed to be intaking salt water and then became lethargic later in the day. After a good nights sleep he seemed OK, but his collar also seemed a little tighter around his neck, and I had to loosen it. I guess the salt caused him to retain water. Is salt water dangerous to dogs, and how much salt water would he have to ingest for me to begin to worry? Thanks for your time. I appreciate it a lot. By the way, my Cairn is 14 lbs in weight.

Sincerely, Gary

Answer: Gary-

We don't worry at all about dogs whose temperatures run 102.5 degrees on each office visit. We have several dogs in the practice who routinely have temperatures of 103.5 degrees but have not ever had any problem that we know of due to the higher than normal body temperatures.

It is a little unusual for a dog to drink more than about 90ml of water per kg of body weight. For a 14 pound dog this would be about 630ml of water a day, or about 2.66 cups of water. As long as he is concentrating his urine and doesn't have any signs of kidney disease or liver disease on routine blood chemistry examinations it is likely that drinking more than this is an individual variation. There are a few dogs who have diseases such as diabetes insipidus that cause increased drinking and urinating but this should also show up as urine that isn't concentrated, so checking that would also tend to eliminate this problem. It would be unusual to see diabetes in a dog this young but I would have wanted to rule it out, too, so it is good that has been done.

My practice is about a mile from the Chesapeake Bay. Consequently, we see lots and lots of dogs who come to the bay with their owners and who drink a lot of salt water when they are here. So far, I have seen a lot of diarrhea and a few dogs with vomiting, but no more serious complications of this behavior than that. There is a small chance of more significant problems from drinking salt water but I think that dogs would have to drink a whole lot of it, or start out dehydrated and then drink salt water for them to occur. I really don't know how much it would take but I do know that some of the dogs we see who have diarrhea from drinking salt water are reported to have been drinking very large quantities. I'm sorry I can't be more specific.

There are dogs who just like to drink a lot of water. It doesn't sound to me like your Cairn is drinking enough to justify behavioral therapy if no medical cause does turn up in lab work, though.

I have read that if you dilute out the urine by pouring a bucket of water over the area urinated upon, or soaking the area with water from a hose, that the urine burns won't occur. Of course, that is a lot of work.

Mike Richards, DVM 9/9/2001

Surviving without food or water

Question: I would like to know how long a dog can survive without food and/or water?

Answer: Jennifer

Dogs can live for quite a while without food, depending on their physical condition prior to the period of starvation. I have heard anecdotal stories about dogs living three to four weeks without access to food.

Dogs will die much more rapidly without water, although I do not know if anyone has actually studied this to determine some sort of average length of time that it would take. This would be influenced by the circumstances at the time of water deprivation. In hot weather water restriction might lead to death in as short a time as a day but under ideal circumstances it wouldn't surprise me if a dog could live as long as a week without water. That is just a guess on my part --- not sometime that I know to be a fact. But it is not a good idea to experiment to see. Dogs should have fresh water available to them at all times, ideally.

Mike Richards, DVM

A small stray dog was accidentally shut up in one my friends farm outbuildings this last winter for five days. He was thin and thirsty when found but recovered well .

Michal 5/27/2000

Cedar shavings as bedding

Question: Dear Dr. Mike, You have been so helpful to me; I have a question regarding the use of cedar shavings in dog houses....Will this use cause health problems in my dogs as I just read that I could be causing potentially dangerous health risks in the dogs housed with them? Please help me clarify the risks or potential health problems and I will immediately discontinue using them! Sincerely, Laurie

Answer: Laurie-

Cedar shavings cause contact allergy in some dogs, due to the oil in the chips. Dogs with this problem usually have itchiness and sometimes hairloss. There may be secondary infections if the problem goes on for a while. I have seen two or three dogs with this problem during the time I've been in practice.

There is a chance that cedar chips may cause respiratory problems in sensitive animals but I have only heard of actual cases of this in guinea pigs.

Wood chips in general can sometimes cause constipation or physical injuries to the digestive tract in dogs, at least according to clinical reports. We have seen this in dogs that chew sticks a lot.

A lot of people use cedar chips for bedding and we see very few problems with them, overall, but there is some potential for causing problems.

Mike Richards, DVM 4/4/2000

"Scooting" or dragging the bottom

Q: My neighor's older black lab is scraping his bottom HARD on a blacktop road. I say it might be worms. She says let it go because there are sacs that she is breaking open. What to do?

A: We see three common causes of "scooting" or dragging the bottom along rough surfaces.

The first is impacted anal sacs. While many dogs can express their anal sacs by dragging their rectum along the ground it is quicker to express them manually. Many vets will show owners how to do this if asked.

The second is tapeworm infestation. Tapeworms release muscular segments that exit the rectum and move around spreading tapeworm eggs into the environment. These appear to cause pretty severe itching in some dogs. They can usually be seen in the stool or haircoat when they first exit the rectum as small (1/2 to 3/4th inch) moving objects. If they are missed in the active stage, they dry up and look like rice granules stuck in the hair around the rectum.

The last is allergic disease -- flea allergy being the most common allergy leading to itching around the base of the tail and rectal region.

If my dog was dragging his butt on a surface as rough as a paved road, I think I'd want to provide some relief immediately. Therefore, I think your friend should consider at trip to her dog's vet for a diagnosis and for treatment of this problem.

Mike Richards, DVM

Normal respiration and heart rate

Q: What is the normal breaths per minute for a dog? My dog is a lab/blue heeler mix, 70 lbs. How about heart rate? I can't find this simple information. Appreciate your feedback. Thanks.

A: f.r.- The normal respiratory rate for dogs is 16 to 20 breaths per minute. The normal heartrate is 70 to 160 bpm. Large dogs tend to have slower heartrates so your dog should be in the 70 to 120 bpm range. This varies according to the cardiovascular fitness of the dog, too. The more active the dog is the slower its resting heartrate will be.

Hope this helps. We have a page on normal physiologic values for dogs on our site in case you need other values. The address is

Mike Richards, DVM

Feeding Dogs

The bottom line on pet foods is simple. We have a rough idea of the essential nutrients necessary for pets. We know some of the toxic levels for nutrients. Other than that, it is hard to be sure about any nutritional claims.

Studying nutrient needs is extremely complex. There are a great number of theories about what constitutes "proper" nutrition. For every good thing you hear about a food, there are likely to be as many bad things. Making sense of this is very difficult. There is no single food that is "best" for all makes and models of dogs.

Some things seem to be clear, though. Pets do require certain nutrients. A good way to ensure that the pet foods you feed your pets contain adequate nutrients is to look for a statement that the food meets AAFCO Food Trial testing standards. This is an organization which sets standards for pet foods. Most good quality foods will have this statement on their label. It is at least a good start in ensuring that your pet's diet is adequate.

Some people are currently advocating diets containing raw meat for pets. Before feeding raw meat, please stop to consider the health warnings for humans concerning raw meat. Dogs get the same illnesses from E. coli, Salmonella, Toxoplasmosis and other health hazards associated with raw or undercooked meat. Is the perceived benefit worth the risk of one of these diseases?

Don't let your pet teach you to feed it a poor diet. It is very easy, especially with small dogs and cats, to fall into the trap of feeding your pet what he or she wants instead of what he or she needs. Dogs are very patient trainers of human beings. If you're not paying attention, you could find that Spot is on an all meat diet in no time. It can be hard to ignore those pleading eyes, but your pet IS better off if you feed a balanced diet!

Mike Richards, DVM

Giving pills to dogs:

Q: Hello Dr. Mike, My 9-year old spitz, Spike, has been diagnosed with a urinary tract infection. Before he was confined to the vet for some tests, he had been falling down and would clench his back, not to mention hardly urinate. Spike is back home now, but we were prescribed medicine 2X a day: Augmentin (antibiotics), Duphalac (for constipation), Ascorbic Acid and Sangobion (multivitamins). This is where the problem began. Spike is a very tough dog and has once resisted oral medicine to the extent of attacking me and regurgitating his tablets. He is very stubborn. I started giving his medicine by mixing it with his food. It worked one day, but the next day he simply stopped eating because he disliked the taste. He's weakening again, and can barely stand. This morning, I gave two of his tablets hidden in cheese rolled into a ball, which he thankfully ate. But I need other tips on how to get him to take his medicine. I cannot put myself through the struggle of forcing the medicine on him and risk being bitten. He is on strict medication for 2 weeks, so it's very important I have backup plans if the current one will stop working on him for the next few days. Please give me some advice on this matter ASAP. Any suggestion would be a great help. Thanks.

A: The first thing I'd recommend is to call your vet and find out which medications are the most important right now. I am not certain, but I'd lean towards the antibiotic with the history you have given. If you have to choose between giving him just one medication and not being able to get any in him, it is usually best to choose the one that is most important. Hiding the one pill in something sticky but tasty usually works except in very suspicious dogs. Soft cheese spread (Velveeta or something like that), peanut butter and soft meat products like liverwurst seem to work best for hiding pills. A lot of dogs like peanut butter. If he will catch and swallow food it is sometimes possible to toss him three or four small food items and then a pill -- usually by the third or fourth time you toss a dog something it is just swallowing automatically. This may only work once or twice, though. There are liquid equivalents of most medications, including Augmentin (Clavamox Liquid Rx) although the liquids tend to be a lot more expensive to use in big dogs. Another alternative is to ask your vet to hospitalize him and administer the medications. We do this when it is necessary. Obviously, this adds a lot to the cost of treatment, too, though. Hope that helps.

Mike Richards, DVM

Rawhides, safe

Q: My 10 month old shih tzu is not a very aggressive chewer--but she loves rawhide. I've heard some people had dogs who had all kinds of digestive problems. She has all kinds of other chewing toys--but really loves rawhide. I'm afraid she'll have stomach problems.-- Also she has a bed made of fleece (like lambswool). She tends to dig in it and then eats the fuzz. Can this also be harmful --like getting a lump of this stuff in her stomach??

A: I have been in practice for 18 years and I have only treated one dog that I remember for problems associated with ingestion of rawhide. This dog swallowed one of the formed rawhide sticks whole. This caused her to begin vomiting and it continued long enough that we surgically removed the rawhide chew toy. I do not consider this to be a high risk and give my dogs rawhide chew toys (but I do have to admit that I avoid the pressed rawhide sticks because of that problem).

It is interesting to me that a number of veterinarians I have spoken with do say that they have seen problems associated with these toys. Their experience differs from mine. I practice in a rural area and sometimes I think that I just don't have enough patients to see all the problems that vets who practice in more crowded areas do. Still, my personal experience is that rawhides appear to be a reasonably safe chew toy.

When dogs chew really fuzzy toys or objects it seems to wear their teeth down sooner. The fibers sometimes build up between the gums and teeth, too. I haven't yet seen many digestive problems from these things, either. I do have at least one or two dogs that have some vomiting episodes that relate to eating wool or fuzzy fabrics.

Mike Richards, DVM


Michael Richards, D.V.M. co-owns a small animal general veterinary practice in rural tidewater Virginia. Dr. Richards graduated from Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine in 1979, and has been in private practice ever since. Dr. Richards has been the director of the PetCare Forum...