Swimming Dogs and Water Safety
The temperature is rising and as Summer approaches people and dogs are looking forward to getting wet. Water can be a great source of fun for you and your dog, but before you take your pooch out for a paddle, make sure you know how to keep things safe.
You might think canines are natural-born swimmers, but that isn’t always the case, dogs need to learn to swim just like humans do. While some breeds love to swim and seem to know what to do instinctively, others are not natural swimmers and need help to become used to the water. There are many dogs that will never feel comfortable in the water, dogs with large bodies and short legs don’t usually swim for fun but will for survival. Making your dog feel comfortable in the water is an important step that you should not skip over.
There’s no sure way to gauge your pet's swimming skills until you introduce him to water and teach him the basics. If possible, get your dog used to the water and ready to swim with sessions in a baby pool.Tossing a stick or a ball in the water, progressively further from shore or shallow steps is also an easy way to teach him to feel comfortable in the water.
Dog swimming lessons tips
- The younger your buddy is when you teach him to swim, the better. Keep the lesson positive and stress-free for him.
- Choose a quiet, shallow spot in the water.
- Get into the water with him.
- Start at the edge of the water, and stay as long as he enjoys it.
- If he doesn't want to go, don’t force him in -- especially if it’s a deep spot.
- When your dog begins to paddle with his front legs, lift his hind legs to show him how to float.
For those that have mastered the doggy paddle, you should be aware that a dog’s vision decreases dramatically at night and with advancing age.
Remember that even dogs that swim well can tire very quickly, even faster than you, because they don't understand the concept of resting or treading water – they just swim and swim, until they can't anymore. When swimming with your dog, don't let him swim too far away from you, because he could get into trouble quickly.
Have a special needs dog? He may not make the best candidate for swimming, even when supervised. For example dogs with epilepsy can have a seizure in the water. Talk to your Veterinarian about swimming if your dog has special needs.
Some General Water Safety Guidelines
- Make sure you have plenty of fresh drinking water for your pet
- Know where your pup is putting his or her paws to get wet; if you wouldn’t swim in it, think about why and if they should
- Rinse him off after he’s been in any type of water. Seawater minerals, salt, chlorine, algae, and pollution can irritate or damage his skin and fur.
- If your pet has a flea collar you should remove it before he swims. Water can wash off its active ingredients.
- Dry your dog’s ears completely to prevent an infection. Moisture in a dog's ear can set the ideal stage for an ear infection, so make sure to clean your pooch's ears thoroughly after each romp in the water. Ocean and lake water can set up nasty bacterial infections rapidly which can eat through your dog’s ear drum, giving an ear infection a whole new meaning—one you don’t want to learn firsthand. Ask your vet for an ear cleaning demonstration and about products that are safe to use.
- Dogs, just like humans, can suffer from hypothermia in cold water, but they won’t understand the water is what is making them cold. The general rule is that if you need to get out of the water because you are getting cold, your dog is at risk of getting cold as well.
- Learn canine CPR. Mouth-to-nose resuscitation and chest compressions could save a dog’s life in an emergency.
At the Beach
While you enjoy the surf with your pal, keep these tips in mind:
- Watch out for strong currents and riptides, which can take you both out to sea. Even the best swimmer can be in danger when seas are rough.
- Drinking too much seawater can cause diarrhea, vomiting and the resulting dehydration. When at the beech be sure to offer your dog fresh water regularly, so he doesn’t try to quench his thirst from the ocean.
- Keep your pal away from fish and other animals that have washed onto the shore. They may smell great to him, but they can make him ill.
- Dogs don’t know to avoid stepping on jellyfish or broken shells so keep your eye on them.
- Sand can be difficult to get out of a long coat.
- Dog beaches may also have roundworm eggs, among other parasites.
In the Pool
Got a swimming hole in your backyard? Keep it Fido-friendly with these steps:
- Put a fence around it to keep your dog out when it isn’t time to swim.Baby fences are among the simpler barriers but there are more advanced options such as pool alarms that sound when anyone falls in and everything in between.
- Keep a sturdy cover over it when you aren’t using it. It should be made of a material that lets rainwater drain through. Dogs can drown in puddles on top of pool covers.
- Teach your dog how to get in and out. Make sure there are steps or a ramp he can use to climb out. Teaching your pup where the steps or ramp are located is something that can be easily done. Provide a refresher course each swimming season.
- Check the water temperature before letting your dog take a dip. Only a few breeds can handle extra-cold water.
- The pool shouldn’t be your dog’s main source of water. Keep fresh water available and to help prevent him from taking in excess amounts of pool water.
- To prevent skin and ear infections, rinse your dog with fresh water after a swim in any body of water and make sure their ears are dried.
- Life vests for dogs are readily available and affordable.
- If the dog panics in deeper water use a calm voice and guide them to a location where you can get them out of the water safely. Do not try to swim next to them or help them in the deeper location because the panicking dog could put your safety at risk.
In a River, Lake, or Pond
Keep these tips in mind when you’re at Mother Nature’s water park:
- Get your dog a life jacket, especially if you take him out on a boat or a dock.
- Steer clear of bodies of water with blue-green algae. It can make your dog sick.
- Check the current of a river or a creek. Make sure it isn’t too strong to let your dog swim.
- Keep your dog away from fishing gear. Sharp hooks and barbs can hurt him.
While the vast majority of pets get through their water experience with nothing more than a wet coat, there are some organisms found in water sources than can pose a health risk for your dog. It’s important to keep in mind that serious illness resulting from swimming is very rare in dogs and the most important health risk to pups in the pool or pond is still drowning. Nonetheless, if your pet shows signs of illness after a swim, don’t forget to mention recent water exposure when you take him or her in to be looked at. Following are some common organisms to be aware of.
Leptospirosis is a common waterborne disease caused by the bacteria Leptospira. Many strains of Leptospira are found worldwide, but it is most usually found in warm areas with high rainfall. The bacteria can infect both humans and dogs, though it is more common in dogs. Dogs at highest risk are those who routinely swim in stagnant bodies of water, rivers, lakes, and streams. Infection usually occurs when a mucous membrane or cut comes into contact with contaminated urine or water.
Leptospirosis causes a wide variety of symptoms, making it a difficult disease to diagnose as the signs vary widely. Fever, muscle tenderness, shivering, vomiting, changes in urination, and jaundice are just some of the signs seen. Because these signs are seen in many canine diseases, exposure history is often the main piece of information that causes a vet to suspect Lepto.
Suspected cases must be handled carefully as dogs can infect humans. While the disease can be life threatening if untreated, many dogs respond well to early treatment with supportive care and antibiotics.
Freshwater lakes and ponds sometimes have a dense buildup of blue-green algae. Under specific environmental conditions, most often during the summer months, photosynthetic bacteria can build up—a condition known as a blue-green algae harmful algal bloom (HAB). These algae can produce toxins with severe effects on pets and people.
Algal toxins come in a variety of forms and can affect any of the following systems: skin, GI tract, liver, and central nervous system. Depending on the type of toxin a pet is exposed to, symptoms can range from rashes, nausea and vomiting, respiratory failure, seizures, and death. Dogs should be kept from swimming in lakes with visible algal blooms as it is impossible to tell just by looking if the algae are producing toxins. Any illness after swimming in a lake with an algal bloom should be immediately reported to your veterinarian, as death can occur in severe cases.
One of several microscopic parasites known to cause diarrhea in both dogs and humans, Giardia lamblia is an organism many dog owners are familiar with. Infected animals shed oocysts in their stool, which are hardy and can persist a long time in cool, moist environments, where they can then pass into water sources and back into a host.
Long known to be a cause of traveler’s diarrhea in humans, Giardia also causes a sudden onset of diarrhea in dogs. While both humans and dogs can be infected, it is not considered a major zoonotic disease as most human cases are caused by other humans, and is not normally passed from dogs to people.
One of the nastier waterborne diseases, cryptosporidiosis is caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium. Both the parasite and the disease are often referred to as “crypto” by those unfortunate enough to have encountered it.
Multiple species of Cryptosporidium exist in different animal species and some can cross-infect humans. The parasite is protected in the environment by a thick outer shell, which makes it able to survive the environment for a long time and even resist chlorine disinfectants. It is one of the most common waterborne diseases linked to recreational water. Dogs are infected by ingesting the infective oocysts in contaminated food or water.
Crypto causes watery diarrhea, which can lead to severe dehydration. Fortunately for dogs, most cases are mild or subclinical and are rarely life-threatening. Symptoms usually resolve within two weeks, with appropriate treatment.
Owners whose dogs are prone to ear infections can usually see it coming: the shaking head, the scratching at the ear canals, the stinky head. It is one of the most common reasons dogs are brought to the veterinary clinic. While otitis externa is a disease with multiple causes, such as bacteria, yeast, and underlying allergies, one of those causative agents can be found in the water.
Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most common organism associated with chronic ear infections in dogs. It causes a smelly, oozy, purulent exudate and a substantial amount of painful swelling. Pseudomonas is frequently found in pools and is thought to be a common cause of “swimmer’s ear.”
Pseudomonas is diagnosed by an exam and culture of the ear discharge by the veterinarian. If the infection is limited to the external ear canal, it is usually treated with flushes and appropriate topical treatments. Dogs with extra floppy ears that trap heat and moisture, and those who love to swim, are at highest risk.