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While adventuring outdoors with your pup, have you ever encountered a tempting body of water and wondered, “Is this safe for my dog to swim in?” When you need an answer to that question stat (or more realistically, in 20 minutes or so), a water test kit might come in handy. Specifically, one that tests for toxic blue-green algae blooms. And if the quality of your pet’s drinking water is under question, you may consider testing that as well.
Water test kits are often marketed to active pet parents who like to hit the trails with their canine pal or are anxious about the quality of their home’s tap water for pets. But are they practical or reliable enough for the average pet parents to use? And is it ever necessary to test our pets’ drinking water?
We’ve taken a close look at what kind of technology is available to pet parents, and we also spoke with Dr. Jamie Whittenburg, director of Kingsgate Animal Hospital and veterinarian at Senior Tail Waggers. Here’s what we learned about using water test kits for our pets—and which pet parents might actually benefit from one.
How Water Test Kits for Pets Work
There are two types of water tests that pet parents might find useful: tests for safe swimming water and tests for safe drinking water.
For safe drinking water, try a pet-specific water test kit
These kits can test fresh water supplies for drinkability, including chemically-treated city water. You can go DIY with a convenient in-home test, which is affordable and lets you get quick results. However, if you want precise levels rather than ranges, you’ll need an in-lab test kit. This method will take longer and cost more, but you’ll get results for a lot more parameters.
For example, the My Pet Water Quality Test Kit is designed to test any fresh water source, including tap water, for things like chlorine, alkalinity, fluoride, lead, mercury, pesticides, and hardness level. Their DIY kit comes with 108 tests total, and tests for 20 different parameters, including metals, inorganic compounds, and bacteria. For pet parents who want the most comprehensive and precise testing available, there are also two in-lab kits that test for up 200 parameters.
While these kits can be used on any fresh water source (including lakes and reservoirs), they fail to test for one very critical threat: toxic blue-green algae. As such, they’re better suited for pet parents concerned about the quality of their home’s drinking water—not for outdoor enthusiasts looking for dog-safe swimming areas.
For safe swimming, we recommend a blue-green algae test
For the most part, lake water is safe for dogs to swim in. But one danger Dr. Whittenburg tells us to watch for is blue-green algae. “The water doesn’t necessarily need to be up to ‘human’ standards,” she says. “However, lakes and other bodies of water may contain blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) that can be deadly for dogs.”
Dr. Gary Richter, one of Rover’s resident veterinarians, explains further: “During hot stretches, when water nutrient levels are high—often times from phosphorus runoff from farms—you may notice your backyard water looks dark green, or like pea soup or spilled paint.” Since dogs tend to gulp water while swimming and retrieving toys, Dr. Richter advises pet parents to be vigilant about checking water quality.
Unfortunately, Dr. Whittenburg informs us that most water test kits out there aren’t useful for this. “Standard water testing kits, even those marketed for dogs, do not routinely test for cyanobacteria. So if you’re concerned, you would need to buy a specific test for this organism.”
For outdoor adventuring where blue-green algae is a possible threat, 5Strands Blue-Green Algae Test can keep your dog safe. It’s the first (and only, at the moment) rapid test for blue-green algae on the market. The test is easy to use: just fill the sample container with water, wait 10 minutes while it heats up, and then view your results with the analysis slide.
5Strands claims 99% accuracy (provided there’s no user error), so you can feel good about letting your dog play in the water. However, the price might give some shoppers pause: with only one test included in each kit, you’ll have to determine if that peace of mind is worth the cost. For devoted outdoor duos who can’t pass on a fortuitous body of water, it just might be—especially since you can’t always identify water with blue-green algae by sight.
What the Experts Say About Water Test Kits for Pets
Is testing your dog’s drinking water really worth the trouble? According to Dr. Whittenburg: usually not. “In most cases, it’s fine for dogs to drink tap water,” she tells us. “There are exceptions in some areas, where the water is very hard. The minerals in this water can sometimes cause issues.”
What about outdoor watering holes? Dr. Whittenburg acknowledges that a test is smart before letting Fido hydrate in an unfamiliar body of water—but it shouldn’t be your first choice. “If a pet parent finds themselves needing to have their dog drink water that is not verified as potable and safe, then a water test kit could come in handy. However, it is always preferable to have plenty of safe water, such as bottled, available for both you and your dog to drink.”
Thankfully, if you’ve already tested your home’s tap water for safe human consumption, there’s no need to conduct a second pet-specific test. “The pet-specific water testing kits that I have seen test water for the same things that ‘human’ water testing kits test for—typically chlorine, some heavy metals, and coliform bacteria,” Dr. Whittenburg tells us.
For lake-bound folks with pups who can’t get enough of the water, however, Dr. Whittenburg thinks a rapid blue-green algae test is worth considering. “These portable tests work quickly and can be carried on hiking or camping trips,” she says. And given the risks of ingesting blue-green algae (vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, weakness, shock, and even death), we think they’re a smart tool for pet parents who frequently let their dogs swim in rivers or lakes.
As far as accuracy, Dr. Whittenburg has this to say: “Sending the water into a laboratory for analysis is the most reliable way to test it. However, if you choose an EPA-certified water testing kit, the results should be fairly accurate.”
Our Final Verdict on Water Test Kits for Pets
Can pet parents really benefit from using a water test kit? We think so—but only in a few circumstances.
As for drinking water tests, Dr. Whittenburg doesn’t think they offer much to pet parents. In most cases, tap water is perfectly safe to serve your dog. And during outdoor excursions, you’re better off giving your pooch bottled water that you know is safe. To that end, a portable dog water bottle is a handy tool.
Ultimately, a water test kit makes the most sense for pet parents concerned about blue-green algae blooms. If you and your dog routinely stumble upon new swimming spots, an algae test like 5Strands makes a smart addition to your outdoor pet gear.
When in doubt, it’s best to avoid water you think could be contaminated. And if you ever wind up with a positive test for blue-green algae, consider using a dog swimming pool as a safe (and still fun!) backup for your pooch.
How We Chose
The products featured here were selected based on a comprehensive look at customer reviews across a wide variety of retail platforms, and interviews with veterinary experts. We considered cost, practicality of use for pet parents, and accuracy when making our selections. We’re also guided by the experience of living and playing alongside our own much-loved and strongly opinionated pets, who are never stingy with their feedback.