Is Toilet Water Safe for Pets to Drink?

By David F. Kramer

When it comes to strange pet behaviors, drinking out of the toilet may very well be at the top of the list.

Oddly enough, some of the reasons for a pet drinking out of the toilet are rather sensible—at least on the surface. Dr. Jennifer Coates, veterinary advisor with petMD, puts it this way, “When was the last time you dumped and scrubbed your pet’s water bowl? If you can’t remember, chances are the water in the toilet is more appetizing than what’s available in the water bowl!”

Nature Calls: Why Pets Are Attracted to Toilet Water

The fact that your toilet is running (complete with sounds of flowing water) may very well speak to the primal nature of your pet to seek out running water in the wild. According to Coates, running water tends to be a healthier choice than stagnant water in a natural setting. “Perhaps some of our pets have an instinctive pull towards running water and that’s why they’re attracted to water that ‘moves’ in our homes,” she says. 

Ask anyone who has a cat that hangs out on the kitchen counter. Turning on the faucet can be an irresistible temptation for the cat to saunter over and have a sip. Similarly, many dogs love to drink water running from the hose when you’re washing your car or watering the lawn. Even knowing this, pet owners still scratch their heads when, after they go to the trouble of providing fresh water—perhaps even water of a trendy and imported nature—their fur kids still line up for a crack at the toilet when they’re feeling parched.

Coates has another hypothesis. “It could be that some pets prefer the relative solitude of the bathroom. If their water bowl is in the middle of a chaotic home, they might not feel comfortable settling down to drink at that location,” she says.

So, are the dangers of drinking out of the toilet real, or are we worrying ourselves over something that is harmless for our pets?

Is Toilet Water Dirty?

“I think [the dangers] are real,” says Dr. Patrick Mahaney, a holistic vet who practices in Los Angeles, California. “I’m not a fan of letting your pet drink out of the toilet.”

Mahaney says, “if you were to swab your average toilet there would be an issue. If you don’t clean your toilet very often, you are going to put your dog or cat at risk for coming down with coliform bacterial contamination, such as E. coli—because our feces can contain that—as well as other bacteria.”

The risk of infection increases greatly when we ourselves are sick. According to Mahaney, humans can pass diseases like Giardia to their animals, and the consumption of toilet water can put your pet on the road to infection. And intestinal bacteria and parasites aren’t the only risks. Humans who are undergoing medical treatments such as chemotherapy can also shed toxic chemical substances in their stool. While the chances of such exposures may be low for pets, there remains a potential for it to happen.

Toxic Toilet Cleaning Products

Perhaps the most serious dangers that come from consuming toilet water are from the litany of chemicals that we use for cleaning our toilets—with chlorine bleach products being one of the main offenders. The components of such cleaners are typically sodium hypochlorite, hypochlorite salts, sodium peroxide, sodium perborate, and other chemicals that can be downright lethal when directly consumed.

While detergents and cleaning products would most likely be highly diluted by the time you are done cleaning, restricting your pet’s access to the bathroom for a few hours (and a few flushes) after you’ve cleaned is a good rule of thumb. Of course, it is also a good rule to be vigilant for symptoms of any sort of poisoning.

Depending upon the concentration of cleaner in the toilet bowl, the tainted water can cause chemical burns in the mouth and throat while going down, as well as other serious complications once fully ingested. Symptoms of bleach ingestion in pets can include vomiting, drooling, redness in and around the mouth, abdominal pain, and a sore throat.

“Any toxin is not good for a pet to ingest,” says Dr. Katie Grzyb of One Love Animal Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. “Bleach usually causes mild to moderate gastrointestinal signs and/or respiratory signs if inhaled.  Most household cleaners which color the toilet water contain a diluted amount of bleach, so most healthy animals will have no reaction if the water is ingested.”

How to Stop Your Pet Drinking from the Toilet

“I think the best way to curb drinking from the toilet is to keep the lid down and the door closed. Also, offering several bowls of clean, cool, fresh water around the house can help to deter toilet-water drinking,” says Grzyb.

Mahaney also advises owners to keep the lid closed, but realizes that is not possible for everyone. “If you can’t [keep the toilet closed] because you have children, then just try to keep the toilet as clean as possible,” he says.

For pet owners who want to offer all of the excitement of drinking from the toilet without the risk, a pet water fountain can provide that experience. Coates recommends them, “particularly for cats who may not drink enough water from bowls to stay well hydrated.” 

Of course, you’ll need to keep your pet’s fountain filled with fresh water, as well as thoroughly cleaning the interior once a week and periodically changing the filters. Coates cautions, “if you don’t clean and maintain your pet’s water fountain, the water in it just may be dirtier than what’s available in your toilet.”

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