Top 3 Reasons Why You Should Think Twice About Neighbourhood Water Stations
Updated: Jun 30
With the best of intentions, our neighbours (one after another) have been placing these "Hydration Stations" on their boulevards for use by strollers' fur-kids. But, is it safe to let your pooch drink from them?
Beyond the obvious things like bugs, leaves, and other air-borne particulate, microscopic contaminants may also be lurking in the water your pooch has just lapped up.
It's rare that I have walked past one that looks "fresh". In fact, as you can clearly see in photos taken earlier this morning, some of these places were just downright disgusting! I met up with a fellow waiting while he allowed his two small shih-tzu gals to take a drink and commented about the one I had just passed a block or so earlier. "Would you allow your sweeties to drink from a bowl like that at your house?" I asked. "No, I sure wouldn't." he stated pretty emphatically. As I pointed out to him, the visible hazards in that tub might not be the worst ones to fear. Outdoor water sources can harbour organisms and chemicals that can be extremely harmful to your pup, some of which can put you at risk for zoonotic disease (such as roundworms, hookworms, and tapeworm) as well.
Just Some of the Risks
In a study by the National Sanitation Foundation (in the US), it was discovered that our fur-kids' drinking bowls are the fourth "germiest" item in our homes. (Their toys were number 7.) WOW! So, stop to imagine that plastic tub of stagnant water that's been sitting in the sun for a day or two and decide for yourself.
1. Disease, Bacteria, Parasites, and Other Organisms
Water contaminated with animal waste can contain bacteria, including species of Salmonella, Campylobacter, Escherichia coli and Leptospira. Yes, it may sound crazy to imagine how animal waste might enter this "tub" but if it's left out at the curb all the time, any infected rodent or small animal such as a raccoon, opossum, or skunk may have taken a drink. (I just witnessed a chipmunk drinking from our birdbath, so it's not impossible to imagine a racoon drinking from the "roadside" stand.) Some dogs like to paw at their water before taking a drink and if they've just had a romp through the local park, they may be harbouring fecal residue from an infected critter in their toes. In mild cases, these bacterial infections can lead to diarrhea, but severe infections with these organisms can be much worse. Some of these bacteria may be shed in the stools of infected dogs, and improper handling of feces can potentially lead to infections in people.
Canine Papilloma Virus is a virus that is spread through direct contact with saliva from an infected dog. If a dog sneezes into a bowl or drools into it after drinking, it’s possible that CPV may be spread through saliva left in the water. This virus often appears as warts around the mouth on the lips, tongue, or gums. Talk to your vet if you see warts appear on your dog.
Algae is another contaminant that can actually exist in your pooch's own bowl at home. While a bowl would likely have to be left for a significant amount of time to have the blue-green algae variety which is highly toxic to dogs form in it, the slimy, "regular" version of the stuff, called biofilm, could easily grow there. Even if the plastic tub -which is what these hydration stations use- has been sprayed out with the garden hose, it may not have been cleaned thoroughly with soap and water. [In my article Dinner Dilemma: Picky Eater or Hidden Issue I address the issue about using plastic bowls.]
Depending on where the "tub" is placed, the water left sitting there may become contaminated with invisible airborne pollutants. Next to a highly travelled roadway, there is potential for contamination from exhaust fumes and on a yard or boulevard, overspray from lawn treatments may find its way into that water.
3. Intentional (or unintentional) Contamination
Believe it or not, there are people out there who willingly and purposely perform acts of cruelty and intentionally harm others. A watering station that is left in a remote area or far from the property owner's view is a potential mark for disaster (yes, sad but true!). Sometimes, however, inadvertent acts by mindless folks can also pose serious risks of harm and illness to our pups. In a CBC news article from October of 2015, "...painting company had been painting the pavilion in Oak Bay's Windsor Park for several weeks and normally they cleaned their brushes and other gear off in buckets kept in the construction trailer. But on Tuesday a crew member decided to take a shortcut and wash the paint off his hands in a drinking fountain beside the building. What he apparently did not realize was that the fountain drains into a water bowl on the ground for dogs." (1) A dog who drank from that contaminated bowl had to be hospitalized but fully recovered after treatment.
So What's a Dog Owner to Do?
When heading into the great outdoors with your dog, always pack a portable bowl and plenty of fresh water. There are hundreds of sizes and styles available. Be sure to stop as often as necessary for hydration breaks -you need them too. If you're visiting a beach or other body of water, do your best to prevent your pooch from lapping up the water and lead him to his water bowl instead. The risks of other serious illness from these water sources is yet another story for another time.
As kind as your neighbours are trying to be remember: If you wouldn’t drink the water, it’s probably not safe for your dog to drink either.