With more than 30 years’ experience in the residential and commercial water treatment space, Mark Nelson is a Class 1 Drinking-Water Operator and a CBWA (Canadian Bottled Water Association) Certified Plant Operator. As founder and president of Nelson Water in Ottawa, Mark focuses on dealing with challenging water treatment system designs for problem water. He also heads the largest water bottling plant in the city of Ottawa with a delivery network throughout the Valley.

It goes without saying that every living organism on the planet needs to consume water to one degree or another. But, there are different types of water available, and many pet owners are not sure about the water that they need to supply for their furry friends. For this reason, some pet owners resort to using bottled water or other water products to keep their pets hydrated and happy. One of the most frequent questions that we get asked is whether it’s safer to provide soft or hard water for pets to consume. Let’s take a closer look at this issue in more detail so that you can make an informed choice about pet hydration.

Cats and Dogs

Many people have birds or exotic pets that have very specific requirements for feeding and hydration. Covering the hydration for every type of available pet is far beyond the scope of this particular article where we will focus on cats and dogs only. If you have concerns about the hydration needs of your pet, consult your local veterinarian today.

Pets Drinking Hard Water

In the majority of cases, it’s likely that an expert would advise a pet owner that there is no problem in supply them with hard water to drink. Hard water contains elevated levels of minerals, such as calcium, magnesium, and iron. In trace quantities, these minerals should have no detrimental effect on the health of your cat or dog. But, there are other veterinarians that strongly advise against providing untreated tap water to pets and this includes cats and dogs.

An increasing number of veterinarians with a more holistic approach advise that pets shouldn’t be consuming the chemicals used to disinfect our water supplies. Most water treatment plants add chlorine to our water to disinfect it and make it safe to drink. Many water treatment plants also add sodium fluoride to the water supply to improve bone and dental health. But, the quantities of these chemicals is a cause for concern when it comes to our pets.

When you think about it, these processes are designed to make the water more palatable and cleaner for human use. Also, the quantities of chlorine, sodium fluoride, and other chemicals used are carefully set for each stage of human development. So, the tap water will be relatively safe to drink for younger children, adults, and elderly people. When you consider the sizes of many breeds of cats and dogs, many of them are smaller than a young child. This means that they are being exposed to relatively large doses of chlorine and fluoride for their body size, and this may be a bad idea.

There are also other problems with using hard water directly from the tap for your pets. The basic water treatment carried out by your municipality is sufficient, but the water delivered to your tap may not be free from bacteria and other contaminants. The water delivery network is vulnerable to cracks and breaks where contaminants could enter your water supply. This may mean that bacteria, viruses, cysts, and other contaminants could be present in your water supply. This is a source of concern for you, your family, and your pets.

There is no conclusive proof that links drinking hard water to health problems in humans or animals. A study by Trupanion in 2016 did find a correlation between urinary issues in pets that lived in parts of the US with very hard water problems. Further study is required, but it is important to note that certain pets can be more prone to urinary tract problems than others. According to Trupanion, a cat is 40% more likely to have a health issue compared to a dog, and a female dog is 250% more likely to develop a urinary problem when compared to a male dog.

Pets Drinking Soft Water

Installing a water softener in your home will remove the minerals that cause hardness. This is typically achieved through an ion exchange process; the mineral ions are exchanged for sodium (salt) ions that are much softer. The quantity of sodium used will depend on the severity of your water hardness problems. Many people and pets don’t like the taste of softened water because it tastes saltier than they expect it to. The amounts of salt that are used are very low, but if you have a family member or pet that needs a low sodium diet, you need to rethink your approach.

There are “salt free” water softening systems available, and it’s easy to fall for the marketing hype. But, it’s important to understand that these types of water softening systems are nowhere near as effective as an ion exchange system. Perhaps the technology will improve in the future, but for now, the only effective way to remove hardness from water is to use a more traditional water softener. So, if you need to use less salt and you need to soften water, what are your options?

Many people switch out their sodium chloride water softening salt for potassium chloride instead. Now it’s true that potassium chloride is still a salt, but it’s far more benign than sodium chloride, it has a less salty taste and it doesn’t have the negative health effects associated with sodium chloride. If you choose to use potassium chloride based water softening salt, you will notice that it’s slightly more expensive, but it’s just as effective at removing water hardening mineral content.

Reverse Osmosis (RO) Systems

If you don’t want to use a water softener at all, there is another water treatment system available. A reverse osmosis or RO system forces the water through a membrane filter under pressure to clean the water to a very high standard. An under kitchen sink unit can supply water to the kitchen tap for drinking water, cooking and of course, filling a pet bowl for a tasty drink. But, many homeowners go a step further and install a whole house system to supply cleaner water to every tap and plumbing fixture in the home. This provides a better water using experience for bathing, cleaning, and other tasks throughout the home.