Who doesn’t love a quick dip in the summer? During the hottest days of the season, there’s nothing more refreshing than a nice swim—especially if you’re a dog, and your summer wardrobe consists of a thick fur coat.
But before you let your pup splash in the waves, jump in the pool, or play fetch at the lake, there are some safety tips to keep in mind. With the dog days of summer just around the corner, Dr. Grace Mengel, a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, shares how to help your four-legged friend cool off safely this summer.
First things first: Make sure your dog actually wants to go in the ocean. Although many dogs can’t wait to jump in the water, others are natural landlubbers or afraid of the waves, and that’s OK. “Not every dog wants to doggie paddle,” says Mengel. “Some dogs love water, some don’t—don’t force a swim if your dog seems stressed.”
Have a sea dog on your hands? Before letting him jump in, ensure that the area is safe for swimming, and check the daily surf report for dangerous tides and currents. Additionally, be aware of any local jellyfish infestations—storm surges and unusually warm waters can cause a boom in populations, and although jellyfish rarely sting canines, it’s possible. (If your dog is stung by a jellyfish—or, more likely, eats one—an immediate trip to your veterinarian is in order.)
Once your dog is in the water, make sure he’s paddling, not drinking. Consuming salt water can cause vomiting and diarrhea, or, in extreme cases, a dangerous imbalance in electrolytes known as salt toxicity, cautions Mengel. “Some dogs naturally inhale more water than others, while others are obsessive drinkers,” she says. “Always have plenty of fresh water on hand so they’re not tempted to drink from the ocean.”
After a swim in the ocean, rinse your dog off with fresh water, advises Mengel. Salt can irritate the skin, and if your dog is a licker, he might ingest an unsafe amount from his fur.
Come summertime, there’s no better backyard amenity than an in-ground pool. However, before you relax on the deck, make sure your dog is safe. Each year, thousands of dogs drown in pools, which don’t have the natural, gradual incline of an ocean or lake and can be difficult for dogs to navigate. “Even good swimmers can panic if they fall in or jump in and can’t find a way out,” says Mengel. “If your dog likes to go for a swim, it’s important to show him how to use the steps to get out of the pool.”
If your dog is a strong swimmer, consider adding a dog-friendly ramp or modified steps to the pool to make it easier for him to exit. If your dog is more of the lounging variety, make sure he never has unsupervised access to the pool area. On occasions when the pool gate is likely to be left open, such as a backyard barbecue or party, remind your guests that your pup doesn’t swim, and invest in a specialized dog life vest as a second line of defense.
As for chlorine, if the pool is safely formulated for humans, your dog should be fine, says Mengel. But rinse him off with fresh water after swims to avoid any potential skin irritation, and make sure all pool chemicals are stored safely away from curious paws.
LAKES & PONDS
For many dogs, a good hike ends with a good swim. However, if your dog will be spending time in lakes or ponds this summer, he’s at increased risk of bacteria and parasites including giardia and leptospirosis, which inhabit standing water.
“I love to hike with my dog and be out in nature, so I never say, ‘Don’t let your dog go in the lake.’ However, you never want them to drink from standing water, whether it’s a pond, a small stream, or a puddle,” says Mengel, who recommends having plenty of fresh, clean drinking water to safely quench your dog’s thirst.
One sign you should cancel your swim? An abundance of algae on the water’s surface. Blue-green algae—which thrives in hot, humid conditions and tends to gather near the shore—can be life-threatening, says Mengel, and dogs should never be permitted to swim near or consume it.
While it’s always a good idea to make sure your dog is up-to-date with his flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives, it’s especially important if you’re spending time near lakes, where bugs tend to be plentiful. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last month that flea, tick, and mosquito bites are on the increase in the U.S., and offers some tips on prevention. If you frequent a popular fishing spot, be mindful of lines, hooks, and any other fishing “equipment” (as in, ahem, beer bottles) that might be left behind.
Now, have a good swim—and don’t forget to shake off before jumping in the car!