Should I Give My Dog or Cat Filtered Water?

Giving dogs, cats, and other pets plenty of water is important for their health. But the quality of the water is just as important as the amount. Learn why filtered water is good for pets.

By: Rachel Carollo

Summers are getting warmer every year, and with those high temperatures come warnings to keep hydrated and drink enough water. But even as we take extra care to hydrate ourselves and our families well, we could be overlooking another family member’s hydration. Yeah, we’re talking about our cats, dogs, and other pets buddies that rely on us to keep them safe, fed, and healthy.

Our animal family all dehydrate just like humans. They need one ounce of water per pound of body weight every day and even more when it’s especially hot outside — particularly as the thermometer seems to tick higher with every passing summer. Dehydration in dogs and cats can look similar to dehydration in humans as well, with symptoms like weakness, dry nose and mouth, lethargy, and (a more animal-specific sign) a lot of panting. So it’s especially important to keep the water flowing for our canine and feline friends.

But even as we’re more vigilant about whether the family pets are getting enough water, it’s worth considering the quality of that water as well. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, water pollution impacts over 40% of rivers and 46% of lakes in the United States, making it a serious threat to humans and both wild and domesticated animals. Traces from fertilizer runoff, erosion, pollution, and environmental disasters can be found in much water across the United States, even after municipal cleaning processes. 

So if you’ve thought much about your own water quality, perhaps you’ve stopped to ask, ‘Should I give my dog (or cat) filtered water?’ The answer, in short, is yes. Because it’s not just humans that are impacted by water contaminants, but dogs and cats, too.

If you’re on the fence about filtered water for dogs and filtered water for cats, here’s five reasons you may want to think about it.

1. Increasing occurence and risk from cyanobacteria and algal blooms

Thanks to climate change, one occurrence that’s become increasingly common is algal blooms in bodies of water. Essentially, runoff from excess fertilizer and minerals, erosion, and any number of things that can end up in waterways get pushed into streams where they increase what’s called turbidity or the amount of solids floating in bodies of water. That blocks sunlight from the water and (especially if there’s excess nutrients from, say, fertilizer) encourages algal growth.

When these algal blooms grow out of control, they can grow cyanobacteria that possess potent neurotoxins that can make both pets and humans sick with fatal results. For instance, algal blooms in Austin, Texas in 2019 killed several dogs

Municipal water treatment takes on the task of removing much of these types of toxins and contaminants from the water supply going to our homes, but can often leave trace elements behind — not to mention it can’t account for the quality of the pipes delivering the water to our properties or those carrying it into our homes, much as Flint, Michigan can attest.

2. Hard water can cause urinary issues in cats and dogs

A recent study conducted by Trupanion, a pet insurance company, found a correlation between cities that received high hard water rankings from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a high incidence of larger claims for urinary issues in cats — males cats in particular. According to Trupaion’s findings, owners of male cats are 1.5 times more likely to send in claims for urinary issues. And cat owners are a further 40% more likely to make such claims than dog owners.

Dogs aren’t exactly free and clear from problems caused by the additional minerals in hard water, though. In communities that the EPA identified as having hard water, Trupanion claimed that dog owners there “commonly reported conditions including urinary tract infections, incontinence, cystitis, and crystalluria” in their canine companions. Furthermore, Trupanion found that owners of female dogs were 2.5 times more likely to submit a claim for urinary problems than those with male dogs. 

According to Ground Water Governance, "Hard water can aggravate Trupanion's primary condition, chronic kidney disease, by causing crystals in the urine."

In addition to not wanting our pets to suffer, there’s a financial concern as well. The claims being filed through Trupanion are hardly inexpensive. Claim prices for both cats and dogs ranged from a reasonable $77 to upwards of $1200 for diagnosis and treatment. That’s not only an argument for filtering your pets’ water, but one for buying them insurance as well.

3. Lead contamination can have long-term affects on pets

Since the crisis in Flint came to the fore in 2014, lead contamination has been in the news once again. And a 2017 study in “The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association” (JAVMA) reported evidence that Flint’s lead contamination had consequences beyond the human population, extending even to household pets. Among Flint animals they tested, the “median blood lead concentration for Flint dogs was four times the median concentration in control populations.” According to the report, this elevated level continued even after owners began giving their dogs clean water.

In fact, even small amounts of lead exposure can have a larger impact on animals than on humans. The JAVMA researchers also pointed to a 1994 report from Illinois' Hazardous Waste Research and Information Center that found that dogs and cats “were more likely than their owners to have high blood lead concentrations.” Furthermore, the researchers pointed out, lead is a cause of intermittent seizures in cats.

If you don’t live in Flint, it might be tempting to ignore issues of lead in your water, but consider the EPA’s warning that homes built before 1986 likely have, if not lead pipes, pipes that contain lead. In fact, new pipes, fittings, and fixtures were allowed to hold up to 8 percent lead until 2014, which means even houses built between then and 1986 might have pipes that expose household pets to lead through.

4. Excess iron from water can poison dogs

Unfiltered water may also contain iron, which can bring its own host of concerns for dogs. According to veterinary service, Wag, “excess iron acts as a poison in your dog’s body, and causes damage to the gastrointestinal, liver, metabolic, nervous, and cardiovascular systems because the body is not able to expel the iron.” 

Iron toxicity generally occurs if your pet ingests something they shouldn’t — like a dropped vitamin — but if you live in a city with hard water, pets might also be ingesting that excess iron from less obvious sources, like their own bowls of cold, refreshing hard water.

5. Exposure to chemical byproducts from chlorine-treated water

Most city water treatments use chlorine to treat and disinfect water and kill harmful bacteria before it’s parceled out to residents at their homes. This chlorine gets removed before it leaves municipal treatment, of course, but trace elements can remain in our water supply. 

Generally, small trace amounts of chlorine are safe in drinking water, but combined with other trace elements that naturally occur in water, it can produce hazardous chemicals known as disinfection byproducts, like chloroform and bromoform.

It’s not just humans that are impacted by water contaminants, but dogs and cats, too.

Is filtered water good for cats and dogs?

There’s hope in keeping your best furry friends healthy because filtered water is good for both dogs and cats. And there’s plenty of ways to provide the whole family, whether human or animal, healthy water that nourishes them (no matter the circumstances of your water) thanks to water state-of-the-art filtration. 

For something portable or if you’re renting, Aquasana’s Clean Water Machine filters 78 contaminants including lead, not to mention it’s a sleek addition to your countertop. It’s filtration that you can take with you no matter how many times you change address.

Still, other filters can cover ever the whole house and give you healthy water straight from the tap. For whole home coverage, look no further than the OptimH2O® Whole House Filter, which will filter lead and chlorine as well as PFOS and other contaminants. It's also IAPMO certified to NSF standards.

But still other folks may be thinking harder about the long haul. In that case, the Rhino® Whole House Filter with Salt-Free Water Conditioner add-on will filter water for your family and pets for one million gallons, which is about 10 years, and help tackle hard water, too. Regardless of what water filter you pick for your pets and family, you’ll rest easier knowing you’re giving them water that’s cleaner and healthier.