Does Your Dog Love to Swim? Here's How to Keep Your Pup Safe in Every Body of Water
The dog days of summer are the perfect time to take your pup for a swim, however some of your dog's favorite watering holes may be harboring some hidden dangers. From harmful bacteria to drowning hazards, we talked to two veterinarians to find out everything you need to know before you let your dogs go swimming this summer.
According to Jo Myers, DVM, vet expert on JustAnswer, the type of water your dog swims in matters a lot. "Still, shallow water is the safest place for swimming and wading," she says, adding that each changing condition can level up your pup's risk.
Related: Summer Safety: Tips For Bringing Your Dog to The Beach
Summertime can mean trips to the lake. But before your furry friend dives into the water, Jennifer Bruns, DVM, MPVM, pet expert at PetSmart, says you should outfit them with the same water safety devices you would provide your other loved ones with—like this Arcadia Trail High Visibility Life Jacket ($49.99, petsmart.com). "Just like for humans, life jackets can help keep your pup safe while swimming in large bodies of water, and should always be used when on a boat in case of an accidental ejection," she says. "Your pet may be good at swimming in a pool, but with a large body of water, there are more variables—tides/currents, new experiences, environments, and the possibility of no nearby shore. A flotation device can keep them and you safe."
Additionally, you don't want to let your four-legged friend to ingest water while they swim. "Lake water should never be consumed by a dog as it may contain parasites, giardia, leptospirosis, and other dangerous bacteria," Dr. Bruns says. To stay safe, make sure your pup is current on their vaccinations for things like leptospirosis before hitting the lake.
A big worry for those who let their dogs swim in ponds is the additional risk that they could accidently ingest something that could make them sick. This is because bacteria and parasites are more prevalent in standing water. Swimming is hard work and can make our pets (and us) thirsty, so Dr. Bruns says it's important to remain vigilant about discouraging your pup from drinking from a pond and offer fresh water instead.
"Fleas and ticks are also commonly found near ponds, so it is important to ensure your pup is up to date on their flea, tick, and heartworm preventative before taking a trip to the local swimming hole," Dr. Bruns says. You should also keep your eyes peeled for larger wildlife like bears, snakes, and rodents that might pose a threat to your dog.
"Finally, one of the most important hazards to watch for when pond-swimming is the presence of blue-green algae, a type of bacteria called cyanobacteria, that can cause serious and potentially fatal toxicity for dogs," Dr. Bruns says. "Pups should never swim in or drink water that contains blue-green algae, so be sure to move on if you spot a growth of this dangerous bacteria."
Ocean tides, underwater currents, and water conditions are ever-changing, and should be monitored before allowing your pup to enter the water, according to Dr. Bruns. "A good rule of thumb is to never let your dog swim in ocean conditions that are not safe enough for small children," she says. "Continuously monitor your pet for signs of exhaustion that can occur when swimming for prolonged periods, especially on hot days."
If you notice your pup is tiring out, Dr. Bruns says you need to be sure to remove them from the water and take a break on land under a shade protector—like this Arcadia Trail Elevated Canopy Cot with Water-Resistant Roll-Down Sunshade ($99.99, petsmart.com). Also, be on the lookout for underwater wildlife that could pose a threat to your dog such as jellyfish, coral, or urchins. "If your pet is stung or ingests any wildlife, immediately call your veterinarian provider," she says. "You want to make sure your dog isn't drinking any sea water while you're out. Ocean water is not safe for canine consumption as its high salt concentration can lead to dehydration or diarrhea."
While swimming pools can provide an excellent reprieve from the summer heat for both us and our four-legged friends, it's important that pet owners implement safety barriers—like a fence to keep dogs out of the water—unless they're being closely supervised. "While many pups are more than happy to jump into a pool, getting out can prove difficult," Dr. Bruns says. "If your pup is unable to navigate the pool's stairs to exit the water, be sure to provide immediate assistance to avoid exhaustion or accidental drowning."
Just like humans, Dr. Bruns says that dogs may ingest some pool water while swimming. "While ingesting small amounts of chlorine might not be fatal, it can lead to stomach, skin, and eye irritation for your furry friend," she says. "Drinking pool water should be heavily discouraged. If your dog seems abnormally lethargic after swimming or is trying to vomit with nothing coming up, immediately contact your local veterinarian."
Remember: Not Every Dog Likes to Swim
Contrary to what we may believe, not all dogs like to swim. "In fact, for some breeds, swimming is actually very difficult and can prove unsafe," Dr. Bruns says, noting that dogs with flat faces may struggle with swimming as water can easily get up their nose, putting them at risk for drowning. "Additionally, breeds that genetically have barrel-shaped body, like an English Bulldog, or those that have a longer body with short legs, like a Basset Hound, may have difficulty staying afloat."
Even dog breeds that are known for their swimming prowess may not enjoy a good doggie paddle. "If your pup is exhibiting signs of stress around water, it is important to recognize their anxiety and encourage play on land," Bruns says. "Never force your dog to swim or play in water unless they want to."
How to Help Your Dog Become a Stronger Swimmer
While swimming may be somewhat instinctive for dogs, Dr. Myers says it's only at a rudimentary level. "They can get better at it with opportunities to practice," she says, adding that some dogs are naturally better swimmers than others. "This varies not only from breed to breed, but also from individual to individual." If you're hoping to make swimming a larger part of your summer experience, Dr. Myers suggests working your way up to more challenging conditions as your dog becomes a stronger swimmer.
How to Care for Your Dog After a Swim
Before adventuring with a pup in the summer months, Dr. Bruns says pet parents should consider taking a basic pet first aid and CPR course and should also gather a first aid kit specific to their dog. "Additionally, no matter what type of water your four-legged friend is swimming in, be sure to rinse them off after a swim session with clean water to remove debris and other irritants they might have picked up," she says. "Be sure to pay extra attention to cleaning and drying the inside of your pup's ears to help prevent ear infections."