By Michael W. Fox D.Sc., Ph.D., B.Vet.Med., M.R.C.V.S.
It is difficult to find pure water almost anywhere on the planet, because of chemical contamination. This contamination stems from pesticides, heavy metals like lead and mercury, copper from pipes, arsenic compounds, radioactivity in some regions, excessive amounts of nitrates and phosphates, potentially harmful bacteria and other microorganisms, even pharmaceutical products excreted by humans and other animals given various drugs, and also industrial pollutants especially dioxins and PCBs. Pollution of the air means contaminated rain, and polluted lakes and oceans mean contaminated rain through the hydrological cycle of evaporation and poison-cloud formation.
Water treatment facilities, and most water-purification systems, (like reverse osmosis, ultraviolet and ozone disinfection, ion exchange and activated carbon filters) do not get rid of all of these contaminants that can pose serious heath problems to us and to our animal companions. The widespread chlorination of water to kill bacteria causes further problems especially when there are high levels of naturally occurring organic contaminants because byproducts like chloroform and trihalomethanes are formed that are highly carcinogenic, causing kidney, liver, and intestinal tumors, and also kidney, liver and brain damage, as well as birth and developmental defects in test animals. Alternative water disinfection with chloramines, a hoped-for safer alternative to chlorine, also results in the formation of highly toxic iodoacetic and holoacetic acids.
Fluoride and Other Problems in Water
Compounding these health-hazards of water-treatment of already contaminated water is the addition of fluoride, a byproduct of the phosphate fertilizer industry, ostensibly to strengthen peoples’ teeth and prevent cavities. But in order to do this, fluoride must be in direct contact with the teeth. That means the fluoride must be applied topically. Studies have shown no benefit from ingested fluoride.
On the contrary, fluoride can mottle the teeth and cause a host of health problems, notably osteoporosis, arthritis, kidney disease, and hypothyroidism. Fluoride has also been linked with gastrointestinal ailments, allergic skin reactions, impaired cognitive ability in children, harm to the pineal gland that helps regulate the onset of puberty, and possibly cause cancer.
Of particular concern: Where there is some already existing kidney disease, the kidneys’ ability to excrete fluoride becomes markedly impaired, leading to a build-up of fluoride in the body.
I am also very concerned about the widespread use of aluminum chlorhydrate and other aluminum compounds, various anionic and cationic emulsion and powder polymers, and especially polyacrylamide, for waste-water treatment. Used to cause flocculation and coagulation of various wastes, including the effluent from poultry slaughter/packing plants, some wastes that contain these added agents may be variously used as fertilizer and livestock feed. Acrylamides are carcinogenic and can cause genetic damage, neurological problems and birth defects, and may therefore finish up in our food-chain and drinking water. Clearly trading one or more health risks from contaminated water for others created by water treatment processes is ill advised. Safer, cost-effective, organic, microbial and ecologically-based alternative systems of water treatment, recovery, purification and waste management/disposal are most urgently called for.
It is for the above reasons that I advise all people to drink pure spring water ( that usually only requires sand-filtration to meet with US National Sanitation Standards certification), and to provide same for their animal companions, particularly those who, for various health reasons, are drinking more water, and who have impaired kidney function.
The mineral content of most spring water, and water from remote, often high altitude, glacial and other isolated sources far from industrial and agricultural activities, are generally extremely beneficial, but excesses need to be closely monitored because of possible trace-nutrient imbalances that they may cause, and also urinary calculi or stones. Purified, distilled water, lacking in these essential minerals, may actually cause osteoporosis and other health problems.
The Importance of Quality Water for Cats
Some cats have a clear aversion to drinking tap water, a possibly natural instinctual reaction to potentially harmful chlorine, fluoride, and other contaminants. Many prefer to drink from a dripping faucet or cat water dispenser, possibly because there is less aversive smell than in standing water in a bowl.
Cats' aversion to tap water is compounded by many becoming addicted to dry food, which is associated with several health problems, especially inflammation of the urinary bladder and the development of stones/sand/urinary calculi, and urethral blockage in male cats ( i.e. the so-called feline urologic syndrome). Cats, being of a desert origin and physiology, lack the normal thirst mechanism when their diet is dry and deprives them of fluids, so they may fail to properly regulate their fluid balance by drinking more to compensate for an all-dry food diet, and suffer the consequences of the feline urologic syndrome and ultimately fatal kidney failure that is now taking many cats at an early age.
Since cats drink little water at the best of times, therefore, they should always be given pure spring water, or the closest equivalent, since poor quality, contaminated water will only worsen their already compromised condition of inadequate hydration.
Older animals, like older people, at risk from chronic heart and kidney disease, should not be given water that has been treated with salt (sodium chloride) to soften it. Hard water for domestic use is often treated with salt to soften it, and especially in apartments and condominiums treatment of the central water supply to both cold and hot water faucets is not separated, which means that soft/salt-contaminated water comes out of both faucets. Older animals with chronic kidney disease, diabetes insipidus and other health problems, and those on certain medications like prednisone, will drink copious quantities of water, and thus be more at risk from absorbing more than normal quantities of water-born chemical contaminants.
The Risk of Free-Standing Water Sources for Dogs
Dogs, when outdoors, often want to drink from puddles and ponds. They should not be allowed to do so because standing water can be heavily contaminated with the chemical cocktail of road-run-off, as well as various pathogens: giardia, cryptosporidia, botulism-toxin bacteria, harmful fungus that can cause fatal pythiosis or "swamp cancer", fecal bacteria from human, farmed animal wastes that cause periodic epidemics of flu-like food poisoning in the human population, and also lawn, garden and golf-course pesticides and other harmful chemical run-off, most especially from agriculture.
We humans have disrupted and poisoned the hydrological cycle/ system on this "Blue Water" planet Earth, at great cost to our own health and to all other life forms who, like us, need water to live, and many of whom live in the polluted surface waters of the planet from which they have no escape. Nor ultimately do we.
We are drinking the poisons that we thought nature, the ecology, could somehow assimilate, dilute and neutralize. But that is not the case, as any chemical analysis of human and whale mother's milk will affirm. But there are long-term solutions beyond the science and technology of water purification and de-salinization that alone cannot guarantee a safe and sustainable source of drinking water for the generations to come. These include not using pesticides ---herbicides, insecticides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers on our lawns, gardens, golf-courses and crops, organic and sustainable agriculture being one hope for the future, and deconstructing the waste-disposal, incineration, energy, petrochemical, paper, plastic and other consumer-driven commodity and appliance industries so that the fewer pollutants they release into the air and surface waters, (and ultimately into our food and water-chains), the more they profit, and in the process market no products or by-products that cannot be recycled without harm to the health, vitality, integrity and beauty of this living Earth, and all who dwell therein.
A Call to Action
We can no longer take water for granted as one of Nature's bountiful, pure and eternally renewable resources. Water is the fundamental life-source that sustains all beings, and to our peril and the demise of this living planet, we have thoughtlessly squandered and poisoned this basic, vital element of existence. We cannot trust that the water coming from our faucets and wells is safe to drink or to give to our animals and the science of water-safety and quality evaluation is still in its infancy. Even so, consumer-citizen tax payers have a right to have their municipal water authorities test domestic water sources regularly, and make their findings available to the public; and to have better monitoring and law enforcement to protect open waters from pollution run-off from peoples' lawns and gardens, as well as from agriculture and other human activities and various industries. And just as the organic foods market has accelerated with increased, informed consumer demand over the past decade, so in this next decade of the 21st century, a more informed public is demanding pure water, some of the purest coming from ancient springs, more remote, higher altitude, and glacial sources, and as yet uncontaminated and sustainable deep aquifers. But these sources will not last for ever, and it is the responsibility of us all to conserve water and stop polluting. And to treat this basic resource that sustains all life with respect and gratitude.
Those northern states of the US have an immediate and most urgent responsibility at this time to reduce the agricultural, industrial and municipal sewage pollution of rivers, and over-exploitation of same, through diversion and dam-construction for commodity-crop irrigation and dairy and other livestock production, notably facilitated for decades by the US Corps of Engineers, (that has put the Florida Everglades on the never-glades path to extinction for the sugar and cattle industries), and for industrial -scale orchard/plantation irrigation after natural ecosystems have been annihilated, along with the many wildlife species like the wolf, the lynx, the Florida panther, the flying squirrel and the coati-mundi. The rivers/waterways that flow south across the North American continent, harm all southern states that take what poisoned water is left, and ultimately the Texas Gulf, where an area of ocean the size of Rhode Island is void of any life according to marine biologists and the local fishing industry.
All who care about their health, the health of their families and companion animals, will see the wisdom of purchasing the best quality water that they can, and not adhere to the erroneous belief that their tap water is necessarily safe for their consumption. Water quality and safety is a wake-up call for us all, and confirms the truism that when we harm the earth, we harm ourselves. The health of the Earth, of aquatic as well as terrestrial ecosystems, like the health of the human population, are interdependent, linked by air and water quality that for the good of all we must improve and maintain.
NOTE: Some cats have developed skin problems (inflammation and small pustules) under their chins that clear up when their water bowls are switched from plastic to glass or stainless steel. So I strongly advise people with cats and dogs not to use plastic containers for the animals' water or food because of possible leaching of potentially harmful chemicals.