Pascual Hernandez
Pascual Hernandez

It seemed odd, but former Extension Veterinarian, Dr. Buddy Faries, used to say that the hottest, driest part of summer may put some cattle in danger of too much water.

Then, he’d explain that the danger arises when dehydrated cattle are given unlimited access to water.

Water intoxication, a potentially lethal condition, results when thirsty cattle drink more water in a short period of time than their bodies can handle.

Cats, dogs and people are susceptible to water intoxication, but cattle seem particularly susceptible because of the large capacity of their upper digestive system and their body’s inability to switch quickly enough from conserving fluids to getting rid of excess fluids.

Extremely thirsty cattle may, in a short time, drink far more water than they need to replace the water lost since their last drink.

Ordinarily, the kidneys would eliminate the excess water, but it may take up to six hours for the kidneys to adjust from saving water to removing water.

When that happens water accumulates in the tissues and water intoxication develops.

One of the first signs of water intoxication, especially in calves is red urine due to blood pigment in the urine.

Nervous signs become apparent in severe cases and include lethargy and muscle tremors, a wobbly gait and excessive rubbing or licking of the body.

The animal may often extend its head and neck, as though staring at the sky, according to Dr. Faries. Some cattle recover with no assistance, but extremely dehydrated cattle which consume large amounts of water can die.

He recommended handling affected cattle carefully and to have them examined by a veterinarian.

As far as water consumption by animals is concerned, consider these examples.

On a cool, overcast day, a calf weighing 350 pounds or less would probably need no more than a gallon or so of water.

On a hot, dry day, and with no shade, that same calf would probably need about five gallons of water.

Cattle in the 500-pound range need two to six gallons of water a day, those in the 750-pound range need 10 to 15 gallons, and cattle weighing 1,000 pounds or more need about 20 gallons of water daily.

The best solution for water intoxication is prevention. It’s best not to let animals get dehydrated this time of year.

But if they are, control their water intake until they’ve had several hours for their bodies to readjust.