To a certain extent the answer depends on where you live. Simply put, if the tap water isn’t fit for human consumption then it shouldn’t be given to pets. However, even for water that is certified for human use this question has a deeper implication because of water additives, such as fluoride.
Chocolate, caffeine, raisins, and grapes are examples of things that are fine for humans, but not for cats and dogs. The same goes for fluoride. In many areas fluoride is added to the water supply, so what risk does this pose to our pets?
Let’s take a look.
OK, so your pet’s favourite drinking water is probably from a plant pot in the yard. This is hardly clean, so why get worried about tap water (if indeed, should we worry at all?)
In free standing water some of possible water contaminants include bacteria and parasites such a giardia and cryptosporidium which cause nasty stomach upsets. For dogs, there’s also the danger of leptospirosis picked up from stagnant water contaminated with rat urine.
So yes, tap water that’s been through a processing plant should be a whole lot safer. Where the worries set in are that processed water often has high levels of additives such as chlorine or ammonia.
Indeed, cats don’t like the taste of chlorine and ammonia, and is one reason they prefer to drink from running water. Not only is flowing water better oxygenated but the chlorine evaporates off. A top tip is that if you live in an area where the water is heavily chlorinated; let it stand in the bowl for an hour before serving to your cat. This allows the chlorine to evaporate and the water becomes more appealing.
But dirty water doesn’t just extend to puddles. Unfortunately, the contaminants in tap water can include painkillers, antibiotics, anti-depressants and even hormones (all at low levels, so no pressing need to panic). A study by the Associated Press (AP) in the United States found that 25 out of 28 water treatment plants tested, had detectable levels of non-prescription drugs such as ibuprofen and Tylenol. OK, those levels are low, but it makes you want to quiz your local water treatment plant. Indeed, this may be the way forward as water utility providers are encouraged to share water reports with their consumers. Check the website of your local water utility company and see what they are sharing about their water quality.
The Fuss over Fluoride
So what risk does fluoride pose to our pets?
In high enough levels fluoride is toxic. It puts a strain on the kidneys to excrete it from the body and can cause:
- Severe sickness and diarrhoea
- Weak muscles
- Racing heart rate
Wow! Sounds deadly. . . so why do we add it to our drinking water? OK, so the answer is to strengthen human teeth, but is this at the price of our pets?
Fluoride is added to drinking water at approximately the rate of 1 mg / kg. The toxic dose to animals is widely acknowledged as twenty to thirty times this level. This means for a cat or dog to be poisoned they’d need to drink a huge amount of water – which in itself can cause brain swelling from water intoxication.
Indeed, the bigger risk to our pets is from human toothpaste. This does contain high levels of fluoride – because it’s never meant to be swallowed. Brush your cat’s teeth with human toothpaste and she isn’t going to spit it out afterwards but swallow it. This is why it’s important to only ever use pet toothpastes when caring for your pet’s pearly whites.
The Last Word on Fluoride
It sounds like tap water is safe, because the levels of fluoride are low. But can we really be sure?
Some interesting food for thought from our canine cousins and a possible link between fluoride and bone cancer. It seems high levels of fluoride has been linked to the serious bone cancer, osteosarcoma, in growing boys. Long term exposure to high levels accumulates in the bone and predisposes to bone cancer.
Statistically, osteosarcoma is eight times more common in dogs than people. Could there be a link to sensitivity to fluoride? We don’t know. No studies as yet have looked into this.
However, nothing is ever straightforward. It might be that water is safe after all because the biggest source of fluoride for dogs is food containing bone meal. This is because fluoride supplemented livestock feeds lead to a build-up of fluoride in the bones of cattle and sheep. When those animals are slaughtered and their bones enter the food chain, our pets partake in a feast of fluoride.
Is tap water safe for your pet?
Yes, in the short term it’s ideal for quenching thirst. . . but in the long term. . . truly, no one knows.