Jeff Kahler: Is city’s tap water safe for our furry friends?

Erin from Modesto has a question about drinking water for her dog, Lacey. Lacey is 9 months old and of mixed breed descent. Erin knows of caretakers who only use bottled water for their companions, fearing potential problems from tap water. Is tap water safe for Lacey? If not, what makes it unsafe?

First off I must tell you I am not a water quality expert. This question is perhaps best dealt with by our tap water supplier. In your case Erin, that would be the Modesto city water department at (209) 571-5103. I would like to believe our tap water is completely safe to drink both for us and our companions.

There are times when the water coming from the tap has the distinctive odor of a swimming pool. This is because of the addition of chlorine – actually I believe chloramines – to the water. The chloramines are used to control bacteria and viruses that might creep into the water supply. Chlorine is considered safe in drinking water in the amounts used by municipal water companies in general. I’m sure that many of you have seen a dog or two lap up water from a well-chlorinated swimming pool without incident. Please understand, I am not advocating using the swimming pool as your companion’s water source, instead I am using this as an illustration to point out that the chlorine in the drinking water is likely safe.

There may be other additives to the tap water supply that are used for other purposes. Fluoride, for example, is added to the Modesto water supply to help prevent dental disease. Again, this should not be a problem for your companions and indeed will help prevent dental problems in them as well.

I’m sorry I can not be more specific in information provided here about tap water, however I know these answers are available through the water department. The use of bottled water, provided it is from a reputable source, should alleviate any concerns you might have. The bottled water distributors will be able to provide you with a list of “ingredients” in their product. Actually that sounds a bit strange discussing ingredients in water but there are various minerals and other chemicals found even in bottled drinking water.

There are water sources I would tell you to avoid for your companions. Some are obvious such as stagnant ponds, which can be a haven for bacteria and algae, potential causers of disease. Rain puddles of long-standing water can develop harmful bacteria and those found on the street or in the gutters may contain petroleum chemicals from automobiles that have been washed off the roads by the rain. These chemicals can make animals sick.

Some of these sources are less obvious. Virtually all rivers and streams, even the ones in the high mountains, can contain organisms called protozoans that can cause illness, most commonly diarrhea and/or vomiting. One of the more common of these bugs is Giardia. It can be found in the most pristine appearing streams in California and can, when ingested, cause gastrointestinal illness. Incidentally, this disease as well as other protozoans can infect humans.

Those of you with ponds in the back yard, realize they can be sources for bacteria, algae and protozoans and are often considered by our companions to be a great source of drinking water. As a result, illness can develop.

There is a vaccine for prevention of Giardia that has been developed for dogs and is available from your veterinarian. The need for this vaccine for your companion is something to discuss with your veterinarian and should be based on risk of exposure to Giardia. If your companion is primarily a “homebody,” the chance of exposure is just about zero. But if you and your pal visit areas with the discussed water sources, perhaps the vaccine would be appropriate. As always, it is much better to prevent this disease as opposed to having to treat it. It can be very tough to diagnose and treatment can be quite prolonged.

Jeff Kahler is a veterinarian in Modesto. Questions can be submitted to Your Pet in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.