Whereas water loss in land living animals occurs continuously, water intake takes place discontinuously. At the normal operating set point of plasma osmolality, urine is more concentrated than plasma due to secretion of vasopressin. Thus animals operate around a state of mild dehydration. As water loss occurs, the severity of dehydration and thirst increase in intensity and at some point water intake occurs. Sufficient water is consumed to return plasma osmolality to the normal operating set point. Food intake and water balance are interdependent as food provides the osmoles which determine obligatory renal solute excretion. When dry food with the same osmotic content was substituted for canned food (water content 74%), dogs increased water intake from 24.2 +/- 4.3 to 62.2 +/- 8.8 ml/kg. Urine output and urine osmolality were unchanged, as under conditions of normal hydration, near maximal urine concentration is achieved. Changing water intake is the only available variable to maintain water balance. During water deprivation, the major renal mechanism appears to be natriuresis. In rehydration, satiety mechanisms ensure appropriate water intake and renal sodium conservation restores sodium balance.