Is there anything better than a dip in the pool on a hot summer day? Many dogs enjoy swimming as much as people do. Also, it is a great low impact workout. However, supervision of your pets around water is extremely important, since even the strongest, most enthusiastic swimmers can get into trouble. The keys to water safety for dogs are prevention, preparedness, and awareness.
When it comes to canine athletic ability, personality determines strong swimmers rather than breed. You may think your dog has a natural inclination to the water because of an accepted stereotype. But your dog will develop a relationship with the water based on who your dog is, not what your dog is. The physical design of your dog can have a lot to do with how effectively they handle themselves in the water. Breeds with broad chests and shorter legs, and shorter faced breeds such as bulldogs or pugs often have difficulty lifting their heads above water and breathing through their noses when swimming. Heavily muscled breeds exert a lot of energy swimming due to a high body mass. Sighthounds like greyhounds and whippets are heavily muscled and have very little body fat, and since fat is what helps with buoyancy these breeds have a double disadvantage. A well-fitting life jacket can help provide an added layer of safety to any dog.
By following a few safety tips, you and your canine companion can have a fun-filled summer of swimming.
Learning to Swim Safely
If you live near a dog-friendly lake or beach or you have a backyard pool, it would be beneficial to teach your dog to swim. Your dog may be a natural swimmer but actually does not enjoy the water. Never force them to swim if they do not like water. And please never throw your dog into the water for the first time to see if they can swim. This is not only dangerous but can cause a lifelong fear of water.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to introduce your dog to swimming: How to Teach Your Dog to Swim.
Never (ever!) leave a dog unattended in the water, not even for a minute. Even the strongest swimmers can be affected by water hazards and you need to be ready to spring into action. The recent tragic case of the man who drowned while trying to rescue his dog at a local waterfall is a sad reminder that dogs should be kept on a leash at all times when they are near rivers, waterfalls, or any swift-moving water.
Be aware that your dog may get tired of playing in the water. Either way, you need to have an easy exit from the pool. If your dog does not think there is an exit they will stay in the pool until they are dangerously exhausted. Do not think dogs will “just climb” out of the pool. Have a ladder or ramp for easy exits. Spend time teaching your dog where it is and how to use it.
As a dog ages, they are more likely to suffer from arthritis, vision loss, seizures and a host of other health issues that may require your special attention around the pool or prohibit them from swimming altogether. Confirm with your veterinarian if your dog is healthy enough to swim in the pool.
Have an emergency plan in place. Be sure to know the locations and hours of operation of the closest veterinarian or emergency hospital. Learning First Aid and Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation (CPR) skills for not only your human family but your furry friends can save lives! The American Red Cross offers online training in Frist Aid and CPR. Check with your local Red Cross to see if they offer any hands-on classes.
Dangers In and Around the Water
Even though the water can help lower a dog’s external body temperature, activity can still increase internal body temperatures to dangerous and even deadly levels. This is especially a risk in warm pool or lake water in the summer. Watch for signs of exhaustion such as excessive panting, collapse, disorientation and/or diarrhea. Overly bright red gums can be a sign of dehydration and overheating.
Even the strongest swimmers can become exhausted. Take frequent breaks during play to rest and watch for signs of fatigue (watch for the dog's rear end dropping lower in the water as they swim or a wide-eyed, frantic pace of swimming).
Dogs who love to retrieve can swim to the point of danger. Be aware of strong currents and underwater hazards such as tree limbs and rocks. Dogs who fetch rocks can do damage to their teeth by wearing them down or breaking them. Some dogs will stay underwater looking for the "right" rock to pick up for long periods of time. Be aware of how long your dog stays under the water. Some retrieving dogs will exhaust themselves while trying to retrieve multiple toys. They may swim circles around the toys trying to put all of them in their mouth. Only throw one toy into the water at a time.
Dogs can be more prone to ear infections after swimming. Be sure to dry out the ears with a towel after swimming. If your dog swims often, use a product or ear cleaner designed to dry the ear canal. Talk to your veterinarian about recommended products.
Scrambling to get out of the pool, racing around the outside of the pool, launching off the side of the pool, concrete or stone decks and hot, rough rocks can cause damage to the dog's nails and paw pads. Nails can quickly wear down to the point of bleeding. Paw pads can be severely burned by hot ground temperatures or torn up on the rough surfaces. Be sure to keep an eye on the feet!
Too Much Water or Not Enough
Just like us, dogs can become dehydrated. Have fresh, clean water available at all times. Try to avoid letting your dog drink excessively from the backyard pool. Chlorine and other chemicals are part of the pool cleaning routine. Chlorine in large doses can be harmful to people and pets, but in a well-maintained pool, the chlorine level should be low due to dilution. Chlorine can slightly irritate a dog’s eyes or sensitive nose just like humans. After a day of swimming, rinse off your dog to wash away any unwanted chemicals or odors and help prevent from drying out your dog’s skin and fur.
On rare occasions, dogs can ingest too much water and suffer from water intoxication, resulting in hyponatremia. This is a potentially fatal condition that is most commonly seen in dogs who play in the water. Retrieving items thrown into the water, especially when competing with other retrieving dogs, or “catching or biting” pressurized water from a garden hose or sprinkler can increase this risk. Symptoms including loss of coordination, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, difficulty breathing, seizure, and coma. If you see any of these symptoms, please see a veterinarian right away. Click Here to read more about water intoxication.
Life Jackets and Fences
Life vests or life jackets are perfect for any dog. They provide extra buoyancy and a dash of bright colors so that your dog can stay afloat and remain highly visible.
Adding a fence or enclosure around the pool allows you to share the yard with your dog without the constant concerns of them falling into the pool or taking an unplanned swim.
Avoid Floating Pool Covers
Floating pool covers can be very dangerous for pets and kids. Even the best swimmers can have an accident and become trapped underneath or fall on top of the floating cover. They can become disoriented or tangled in the cover, which makes it impossible to find their way to the surface and leads to drowning. Invest in a safety cover which fits over the entire pool and is anchored in place to create a physical barrier between the water and the people around the pool.
There are many great benefits to encouraging your dog to swim with you in your pool! Putting your dog’s comfort and safety first should always be your primary objective. We want everyone to have a safe and happy summer!