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Water — Fixing the Most Neglected Nutrient in Your Dog’s Diet

Mike Sagman


Mike Sagman
Mike Sagman

Mike Sagman


Dr Mike Sagman is the creator of the Dog Food Advisor. He founded the website in 2008, after his unquestioning trust in commercial dog food led to the tragic death of his dog Penny.

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Updated: September 27, 2023

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Dog Drinking Water from a Large Stainless Steel Bowl
Drinking Clean Water from a Stainless Steel Bowl

Poor Water Quality Can Lead to Disease

Water is perhaps the most neglected nutrient in a dog’s diet…

Which is why it may also be the most overlooked cause of diarrhea and soft stools in pets.

That’s because…

Dogs frequently drink water that’s contaminated with disease-causing bacteria and parasites… from sources found in:

  • Stagnant puddles
  • Community water bowls in dog parks
  • Polluted streams and ponds

And keep in mind…

Dogs Pollute Their Own Drinking Water

The slow-motion video below shows how a dog contaminates its own drinking water.

Notice how the animal uses its tongue to scoop up the liquid… while germ-laden saliva drips back down into the bowl.

Loaded with Disease-Causing Germs

No matter the source

Polluted drinking water can contain massive colonies of bacteria and other dangerous organisms.1

For example…

Giardia is a disease-causing parasite that can be found in shared water bowls at dog parks, restaurants and other public places.2

It can also be detected in suburban streams and ponds.


This common waterborne germ is capable of causing serious digestive problems in dogs.

Giardia in Contaminated Water Can Affect Dogs
Giardia parasite in water (CDC photo)

Even worse…

In a process known as cross contamination

Giardia can spread from one water bowl to another… which can lead to the infection of other dogs.

What’s more…

A dog’s water bowl can also be contaminated with even more dangerous bacteria, such as…3

More Germs in Every Ounce

In addition to water removed from the bowl by your dog, the unceasing process of evaporation is also working to empty it.


As water evaporates…

The disease-causing “soup” remaining in the bowl becomes more concentrated.

Which means…

There are now more germs in every ounce of water.

The polluted water is now more potent. More dangerous.

And thus…

More likely to cause diarrhea and soft stools in your dog.

Dilution Is the Solution

The easiest way to combat the steady increase of germs in the water is to continuously dilute it.

Simply add water to the bowl every time you get a chance.

Which will make it less concentrated.

And weaken the “dose” of the germs.

Dog Drinking Fresh Clean Water from a Large Stainless Steel Bowl
Clean Water Served in a Large Stainless Steel Bowl

Keep Your Dog Hydrated

As you’d expect…

A dog needs continuous access to water to lower the risk of dehydration.

Which means…

Clean, fresh water must be available on demand… anytime the animal’s natural urge to drink calls for it.

Choose a Safe Water Bowl

The biggest mistake dog owners make is choosing a water bowl that’s too small… for any dog.

That’s because…

Small bowls make it impossible to keep the number of germs in the basin sufficiently diluted… and your dog adequately hydrated.

Our best advice

Regardless of your dog’s size…

Serve your pet’s water from the largest bowl you can find… which helps dilute the germ concentration in the basin.

What’s more…

You’ll be taking advantage of the powerful dilution effect.

For Additional Protection

We recommend choosing a bowl that’s made from high grade stainless steel. They’re much easier to keep clean.

They hold up well over time.

And the better ones tend to resist corrosion and harsh dishwasher detergents.

Avoid bowls made from plastic.

That’s because some of these synthetic bowls are known to leak dangerous, cancer-causing chemicals into the dog’s drinking water.


Many older “china” bowls can contain lead and leaded glazes… which can cause neurological (brain) disorders in dogs.

So, be sure to avoid those, too.

The Bottom Line

The following recommendations will help ensure your dog remains hydrated at all times…

  1. Use an oversize bowl and keep it filled with fresh clean water
  2. Change all water in the bowl at least twice a day
  3. Wipe away any slimy biofilm from the inner surface of the bowl
  4. Keep water bowls as clean as you keep your family’s glassware
  5. Never separate your dog from her drinking water… ever
  6. Carry fresh water and serving bowls with you when traveling

For Extra Safety

We also recommend placing your dog’s water bowl in the dishwasher for a thorough scrubbing… at least once a week.

They come out sparkling clean and ready to serve up a refreshing healthy drink.

And best of all…

You’ll be one step closer to becoming your dog’s mealtime hero.

Final word

The Dog Food Advisor does not accept money, gifts, samples or other incentives in exchange for special consideration in preparing our reviews.

However, we do receive a referral fee from online retailers (like Chewy or Amazon) and from sellers of perishable pet food when readers click over to their websites from ours. This helps cover the cost of operation of our free blog. Thanks for your support.

For more information, please visit our Disclaimer and Disclosure page.


2: Giardia and Pets, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26 Feb 2021

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