Most of us don’t think twice about filling our dog’s bowl with tap water. After all, why would we go to the effort (and expense) of keeping them hydrated with fancy bottled water when water is free, easy, and, well, on tap? But is it time we started paying closer attention to what we’re giving our pets to drink? According to some, the answer is yes… although as with most things, it’s not as straightforward as it seems.
Is Tap Water Safe to Drink?
While most of us in the west are fortunate enough to have access to safe drinking water, not all areas are so blessed… a fact that no doubt contributes to the huge sums of money purveyors of bottled water are pulling in each year.
If you’re concerned enough about the quality of your tap water to give it a miss yourself, it should stand to reason you probably don’t want your dog lapping it up either. As Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, a staff veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center in New York, says “If you wouldn’t drink this water, you shouldn’t give this to your dogs.” As innocent as it seems, water can contain an almost infinite number of undesirable contaminants, some of which can have serious consequences for your dog’s health.
Potential Contaminants in Tap Water
- Lead – Depending on your piping system, tap water can contain lead. Although it’s likely to be present in trace amounts only, lead can build up in the body over time, leading to stomach pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Continued exposure can even lead to lethargy, seizures, behavioral changes, anxiety, and blindness.
- Chlorine – Kept to the right level, chlorine isn’t dangerous. However, the byproducts produced by chlorine might have negative effects on your pet’s health with continued exposure.
- E. coli – Some E. coli strains are perfectly harmless; others are potentially lethal. If your water supply contains any of the most virulent strains of the bacteria, your dog might see its effects in diarrhea, vomiting, weakness, lethargy, decreased appetite, and depression.
- Fluoride – In small doses, fluoride isn’t harmful and can even have positive effects on dental health. In large doses, it’s a different story entirely. As well as damaging the kidneys, excessive levels of fluoride in the body have been linked to drooling, weakness, seizures, and stomach problems. Some experts have even suggested a possible correlation between fluoride and cancer, but as yet, the evidence isn’t sufficient to support causation.
- Giardia – Giardia is a parasite spread by fecal waste entering the water system. In dogs, it usually manifests itself in an upset stomach and diarrhea.
- Hardness – Hardness isn’t a contaminant as such, but it can have many of the same effects. Hard water is defined as water with a high mineral content. While this may sound like a positive, too much of a good thing is just as bad as too little, with an excess of certain minerals, particularly calcium, linked to urinary illness and kidney stones.
How to Check Water Quality
It’s all very well knowing what horrors might be lurking in your water, but how can you tell if your supply’s affected? Fortunately, there’s a number of methods available to determine the exact quality of your tap water.
- Reporting – As PetMd reports, all treatment plants (in other words, the “factories” where water is treated prior to making its way to your tap) are required by law to publish an annual consumer confidence report. As water treatment plants are regulated at federal level, the report should give you a reliable indication of whether you can trust your water supply or not.
- Testing – One of the best ways you can test whether your tap water is safe to drink is to test it at the tap. Water testing kits are readily available and remarkably simple to use: simply take a sample of your water and send it to an EPA-approved laboratory for testing. They’ll then test the sample and feedback the result, giving you all the information you need to make an informed decision about your next steps.
- Bottle vs Tap Water – Given the number of contaminants that could be lurking in your tap water, it might be tempting to abandon it completely in favor of bottled water. But is it really any safer? According to Dogster, possibly not. In a 2008 study, 38 different types of contaminants were discovered in 10 of the US’s most popular bottled water brands – a figure made all the more distressing when you consider how much more a small bottle of water will cost compared to a liter of the tapped stuff.
The cost to your dog’s health shouldn’t be your only concern when it comes to considering the merits of bottled water. Unless you operate a strict recycling policy or choose only water that comes in glass bottles, you’re unlikely to do the environment much good by making the switch.
And the Winner is…
If tap water is questionable, and bottled water is a burden on both the environment and our wallets, then what exactly is a good pet owner to do? Fortunately, there’s another option, an option that as it turns out, comes out top for health, environment, and affordability.
If a water test confirms your tap water is hiding any nasty secrets, you don’t have to give up on it completely. Certified filtering products can help treat the water, and effectively remove any traces of contaminants. The options are extensive, with some of the most popular products including faucet mounts, water pitchers, and osmosis filters. Which product is best really depends on what contaminants you need to remove, so always base your purchase on the results of water testing via an EPA-approved lab. Prices can vary considerably, so be sure to shop the market before committing to a purchase. Choose wisely, and you’ll be left with a constant stream of fresh, pure water at a fraction of the cost (both to the environment and yourself) of bottled water.