How to Keep Your Dog Safe Around Water

There are ways you can help your pup enjoy playing in the water without worry.
Photo by David, New York

On the river, by the ocean, at the lakehouse, or on the boat: Dogs love to join us everywhere we go. How can you ensure your dog’s safety while swimming or boating? Not every dog is a natural swimmer. And there are hazards for dogs who swim or spend time near the water. Protect your dog with these water safety tips.

Water Safety for Dogs

While many dogs love to swim and most seem to have an instinctual skill, not all dogs can swim—or enjoy swimming. Introduce him to the water gradually and let him acclimate. Never force a dog into the water, as so doing may create a dangerous situation for you and the dog.

Some breeds are better off relaxing beside the water rather than in it. Brachycephalic, or flat-nosed, and barrel-chested dogs may have difficulty staying afloat or may tire easily while swimming. A wade in shallow, gentle water is a better option for these dogs.

How Do I Keep My Dog Safe at the Lake?

Always supervise your dog, even if he’s a strong swimmer. Keep an eye on his activity level, too. If your fetch fiend doesn’t want to take a break from diving after that tennis ball, you may have to make the call for him. Playing to the point of exhaustion puts your dog at an increased risk for drowning. Too much activity can cause stiffness, sore muscles, and limping. A day or two of rest should have him back to normal; contact a veterinarian if he doesn’t show improvement.

Don’t forget your dog’s collar. A quick-dry, odor-resistant nylon collar is a good choice for dogs who love to swim. Don’t remove your dog’s collar while at the water. If your dog gets lost, his identification tags are his ticket home. If you’re concerned he may get snagged or caught on branches, opt for a quick-release side buckle collar.

Check the water conditions. Blue-green algae blooms (cyanobacteria) and red tides harbor toxic bacteria that can be harmful or fatal to dogs and humans. Algae blooms don’t always produce toxins, but it’s not possible to tell if a bloom is toxic just by looking at it. To prevent harm, keep your dog out of the water if blooms are present.

Beware of dangerous rip currents. Rip currents, also called rip tides, are often associated with ocean beaches but can happen anywhere breaking waves occur, including large lakes, piers, and breakwaters. Experts warn pet owners not to go into a rip current after an animal, and instead to seek help from a lifeguard on duty. Similarly, strong river currents can sweep dogs away.

After swimming, rinse your dog’s fur with fresh water to wash away harmful bacteria and irritating salt or chlorine. There’s no need to shampoo after every swim. Make sure his ears are dry, too. Floppy ears trap moisture, which can become a breeding ground for yeast and bacteria and cause ear infections.

Watch for other waterborne hazards, as well. Broken bottles, rusty cans, fish hooks, sinkers, or line can injure your companion’s paws, or block or rupture his intestines if swallowed. Keep a canine first aid kit with your beach gear, just in case. Dead fish can be toxic, so keep him away from any that have washed ashore.

Can Dogs Swim in Chlorinated Pools?

A dip in the pool on a steamy day is one of summer’s greatest pleasures. Chlorinated pools are okay for your dog to swim in, but take precautions to ensure his safety.

Watch for skin, eye, or GI irritation. Chlorine may cause itchiness or red eyes. Dogs who drink pool water may have minor stomach upset. Discourage your dog from lapping up pool water by providing a bowl of fresh, cool water.

Train him to get in and out of the pool. If your dog falls into the pool but doesn’t know how to get out, he may panic. Make sure your friend knows how to exit the pool; consider a safety ramp since ladders aren’t dog friendly. Fence the pool area to keep your dog and other animals from taking an unauthorized dip.

Keep extra chlorine tabs out of reach. Dogs aren’t likely to eat chlorine tablets or powder—they smell bad and taste worse—but remove the temptation for safety’s sake. Concentrated chlorine tabs are dangerous if ingested. If you suspect your dog has eaten chlorine tablets, contact the vet for treatment. Drinking a little pool water isn’t a problem; chlorine dilutes in water.

Boating Safety for Dogs

Dogs can make wonderful boating companions, but it may take time for yours to adjust to a day on deck. Before taking your dog boating, make sure you—and your dog—are prepared. Get him used to wearing a dog life jacket before attempting an outing, and have a rescue plan in case he goes overboard. A dog may panic during a rescue attempt, potentially pulling the rescuer underwater. A life jacket with a handle can aid in getting a dog back into the boat.

Evaluate your dog’s readiness before setting out. Skittish dogs aren’t ideal boating companions, and even the most easygoing canines may feel anxious when faced with the unfamiliar sound of a motor or the rocking of a boat. Signs of anxiety include whining, lip-licking, drooling, the “shake off,” yawning, or a tucked tail. If your dog shows these signs, he may prefer solid ground.

Can Dogs Swim in Cold Water?

How do you know if it’s too cold for your dog to swim? Dogs often tolerate lower temperatures better than humans do, but they’re still susceptible to the cold. If your canine companion gets cold while swimming, he may tire faster and have difficulty reaching the shore. Seasonally appropriate bird dog gear can keep your hunting companion from getting chilled.

Dogs can suffer from hypothermia, a condition marked by dangerously low body temperature. Old or young dogs are at greater risk for hypothermia.

Signs of hypothermia include:

  • Shivering
  • Lethargy
  • Stiffness
  • Low heart rate
  • Pale gums
  • Shallow or slow breathing
  • Stumbling, loss of coordination, collapse
  • Loss of consciousness or coma in severe cases

If your dog shows minor signs of hypothermia, such as shivering, cover him with dry blankets and offer warm broth or water to drink. Encourage him to stay still to prevent further heat loss. If he does not improve, or if the symptoms are severe, get him to the veterinarian for treatment.

Make the most of your days on the water by bringing your best friend along. But observe these safety guidelines to protect your beloved canine on your trips to the beach or pool.

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