RemiYou arrive at your favorite campground with your dog, play fetch for an hour in the lake, and suddenly he is not acting quite right. Is he tired? Perhaps, but something much more serious can happen when dogs partake in summer water fun.

Water intoxication, or hyponatermia, in dogs is a life-threatening condition that causes many dog deaths per year, yet most dog owners are not aware of it until it is too late. What’s worse is that most of these incidences happen far from home when dogs and their owners are camping, rafting, fishing, or traveling.

Often what starts out as a fun game of catch in the water at a lake or river turns deadly before dog owners even know what has happened.

Water intoxication happens quickly and is often irreversible. Ingesting too much water, too quickly can lead to low electrolytes, thinning blood plasma, and eventually coma and death when organs swell and shut down.

Often the symptoms come on very quickly, and sometimes it is too late to get the necessary medical treatments by the time symptoms are evident. The symptoms may include: lethargy, lack of coordination, ataxia ( falling over), salivation, stupor, vomiting, bloating, lack of consciousness, coma, seizures, and difficulty breathing.

The dogs that are at greatest risk are the dogs who love to play in the water for hours at a time, fetching or diving. But any dog exposed to long duration water activities are at risk and should be afforded extra care especially on unusually hot or humid days. When any dog swims, they can ingest large amounts of water; taking frequent breaks is key as the main cause of this serious condition is simply bringing in more water than the body can excrete.

When water enters the body quicker than it can be removed, bodily fluids dilute and a dangerous shift in the electrolyte balance occurs. This causes cells to swell, which can affect various body systems such as the central nervous system and the brain.

If you ever feel your dog might be showing signs of water toxicity, you must get the dog fast, emergency veterinary care. Time is critical.

Enjoy the water with your dog when you travel, but in small doses and with plenty of breaks.