can ice cubes and cold water kill dogs?

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Shiba Inu dog drinking ice water | Can ice cubes and cold water kill your dog?
Posted by Dr. Ernie Ward on Jun 30 2014

You can’t believe everything you read on the Internet – even if your Facebook friends post it.

Every now and then, an “Internet-ancient” urban legend from 2007 leaves dog lovers panicking about the dangers of giving your dog ice cubes. It started as a letter which recounts how a dog at a show developed bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus) and nearly died. The author of the letter blames the bloat on ice cubes and cold water.

I blame it on coincidence and bad luck with the story transmitted infinitely by the power of click, like, and share. Welcome to the Dog Story Universe circa 2014.

The letter itself...

"Hello Everyone,

I am writing this in hopes that some may learn from what I just went through. We were having a good weekend till Saturday. On Saturday I showed my Baran and left the ring. He was looking good and at the top of his game. He had a chance at no less then one of the two AOM’s.

It did not work out that way. After showing we went back to our site/setup and got the dogs in their crates to cool off. After being back about 30 min. I noticed Baran was low on water. I took a hand full of ice from my cooler and put it in his bucket with more water. We then started to get all the dogs Ex’ed and food ready for them.

I had Baran in his 48″ crate in the van because this is the place he loves to be. He loves to be able to see everyone and everything. After checking him and thinking he was cooled off enough, we fed him. We walked around and one of my friends stated that Baran seamed like he was choking. I went over and checked on him. He was dry heaving and drooling. I got him out of the crate to check him over and noticed he had not eaten. He was in some distress. I checked him over from head to toe and did not notice anything. I walked him around for about a minute when I noticed that he was starting to bloat. I did everything I was taught to do in this case. I was not able to get him to burp, and we gave him Phasezime.

We rushed Baran to a vet clinic. We called ahead and let them know we were on our way. They were set up and waiting for us. They got Baran stabilized very quickly. After Baran was stable and out of distress we transported him to AVREC where he went into surgery to make sure no damage was done to any of his vital organs. I am very happy to say Baran is doing great, there was no damage to any vital organs, and he still loves his food.

In surgery the vet found that Baran’s stomach was in its normal anatomic position. We went over what had happened. When I told the vet about the ice water, he asked why I gave him ice water. I said that I have always done this. I told him my history behind this practice and his reply was, “I have been very lucky.” The ice water I gave Baran caused violent muscle spasms in his stomach which caused the bloating. Even though I figured his temperature was down enough to feed, and gave him this ice water, I was wrong. His internal temperature was still high. The vet stated that giving a dog ice to chew or ice water is a big NO, NO! There is no reason for a dog to have ice/ice water. Normal water at room temperature, or cooling with cold towels on the inner thigh, is the best way to help cool a dog. The vet explained it to me like this: If you, as a person, fall into a frozen lake what happens to your muscles? They cramp. This is the same as a dog’s stomach.

I felt the need to share this with everyone, in the hopes that some may learn from what I went through, I do not wish this on anyone. Baran is home now doing fine. So please, if you do use ice and ice water, beware of what could happen."

Is ice water dangerous for dogs?

First of all, I think the letter started out with the best intentions. The owner of the dog sincerely believed her dog nearly died after overheating and drinking ice water.

The attending veterinarian allegedly legitimizes the owner’s fears by falsely claiming that ice water can cause “violent muscle spasms in his stomach, which caused the bloating.” The vet further explains, “If you, as a person, fall into a frozen lake what happens to your muscles? They cramp. This is the same as a dog's stomach.”

That's simply not true. This is where coincidence and bad luck come in. There were many risk factors described in the letter than could’ve triggered the bloat. The ice water simply threw the last punch and got blamed.

What doesn’t get discussed much is that according to the letter the dog in question was 1) left in a crate in a van 2) during the day 3) at a dog show. Stress plus heat plus at-risk breed plus rapidly giving a large volume of water is a pretty good recipe for bloat. Making things even murkier, the owner gives a drug called “Phasezime.”

What the heck is “Phasezime?” I’m sure it’s misspelled but I’m not exactly sure what this is or why it was given to a dog in distress who has dry heaving, drooling and starting to bloat. The owner further writes, “I did everything I was taught to do in this case.” My advice: if your dog is in distress or starting to bloat, skip your home remedies and get to the vet immediately.

Preventing bloat in dogs

Bloat is a serious, life-threatening canine condition that both veterinarians and dog lovers fear. Over the past 40 years we’ve learned a few things about the causes of bloat in dogs:

1. Feeding your dog two to four times a day seems safer.

2. Slowing the rate of food ingestion using food puzzles appears to help.

3. Avoid high fat diets or those with added oils high on the ingredient list.

4. If you have an at-risk breed, consider preventive surgical gastropexy.

5. Age, breed, family history, food gulping, and fear or stress are all considered important factors in the development of bloat. Ice cubes? Not so much.

As a lifelong pet advocate, any incidence of bloat makes me sad. I’ve had to perform numerous surgeries to treat bloat/GDV over the years, and, unfortunately, not all make it. I truly believe this pet owner was simply trying to prevent anyone from experiencing the tragedy she and her dog experienced. The unintended consequence was that ice cubes have been falsely accused as the cause of bloat in dogs. And the Internet never forgets, even when it’s wrong.

It’s okay to give your dog ice cubes as treats if you choose. I’m more concerned about your dog chipping a tooth than developing bloat as a result of chomping on ice. If your dog becomes overheated, start cooling it down by rinsing it with cool water and don’t allow it to rapidly gulp large volumes of water, with or without ice cubes. Even better, do me a favor and don’t leave your dog in a parked car, ever.

If you see the “ice cube and ice water kills dogs” post on your Facebook timeline, tell your friends it's not true.