Many pet owners want to include their canine companions in all of their fun outdoor activities. Camping, fishing, hiking, and long walks on the beach can provide memorable moments with your whole family, including your pup. One activity that your land-dwelling dog may not have too much experience with—swimming. Find out the top tips to keep your dog safe in the water, from your backyard pool to the seashore.
Do: Keep etiquette in mind so that your dog will make plenty of friends at the pool, beach, or lake. Check that any swimming location you bring your pup to is pet-friendly and that you follow all guidelines posted for cleaning up after your dog and respecting others’ space.
Don’t: Leave your dog unsupervised or unattended while swimming. Don’t bring your dog to a pool or beach where animals are not welcome. Pools intended for human use typically have harsh chemicals that can be hard on canine skin and eyes, so these are best avoided. A virtual care appointment with a Vetster vet can help you with a variety of skin problems, including irritation from chlorine or other pool chemicals.
Do: Consider using a flotation device for your dog. A dog-specific life jacket provides extra buoyancy for canine swimmers. Canine flotation devices must fit properly to work, so make sure any flotation devices you use with your dog fit securely. An improperly fitted life jacket may impair natural swimming movements and do more harm than good. Bright colors can help you easily locate your dog in the water, and a sturdy handle makes it easier to lift your dog back into the boat. Even dogs who are naturally strong swimmers may benefit from using flotation devices as they can easily become overtired, especially in strong currents.
Don’t: Assume your dog can swim. Some dogs take to swimming naturally, while others may struggle. Swimming itself is instinctive, but becoming proficient is learned. Dogs can improve with practice, and some skills, like turning around or navigating the current, take time. Swimming can be more tiring than walking or running, so dogs may run out of energy in the water sooner than expected. Fatigue combined with difficult water conditions can lead to an emergency situation. Swimming isn’t for all dogs. Don’t force your dog to do it if he doesn’t like it, and avoid it entirely with brachycephalic breeds or dogs with other underlying respiratory problems or other health issues.
Do: Monitor the weather, water temperatures, flow rates, tides, and other conditions before going swimming or boating with your dog. It’s also a good idea to be aware of any wildlife you may encounter. Dogs may present an appealing target to wild animals that otherwise may avoid human contact. Keep your dog close by and supervise them whenever they are in or near the water. Have a plan in case of emergencies and be aware of the potential for rapidly changing water conditions.
Don’t: Bring your dog into stormy, rough, choppy waters, or strong currents. Use caution when allowing your dog to swim in freezing water. Be careful to avoid throwing toys too far out or into a dangerous current. Teach your dog to swim downstream with the current to get out of the water; never allow your dog to try to return upstream. Don’t allow your dog to swim in small, standing pools of water such as ponds, as these may have toxic blue algae on the surface, which poses a life-threatening hazard to dogs. When on summer vacation, familiarize yourself with common water hazards at your destination. Don’t go into the water without checking if it is safe for both of you.
Do: Bring along fresh water for your dog. Although swimming in can help your dog stay cool on a hot day, they will still get thirsty. Most dogs do just fine drinking from natural water sources, but be aware of the risks. When carrying clean water from home for your dog, keep in mind that some dogs may be reluctant to drink water in an unfamiliar environment or from an unfamiliar container. Practice ahead of time and try several methods of giving your dog clean drinking water, such as from your hand, a bowl, or a bottle.
Don’t: Allow your dog to drink water from a heavily chlorinated pool or contaminated natural water source. This is easier said than done because it’s not always easy to tell if a water source is dangerously contaminated by looking. Some types of waterborne illnesses are more common in certain conditions than others. Blue-green algae blooms, for example, are more common in still, shallow, warm water. Water sources surrounded by cropland are more likely to contain higher concentrations of agricultural runoff. Water sources contaminated with wildlife waste are a potential source for the bacteria that cause leptospirosis. Be aware of the hazards that may exist where you let your dog drink and swim and adjust accordingly.
Do: Give your dog plenty of opportunities to rest when swimming. Monitor their activity and notice when they appear to be getting tired. Your dog may try to continue swimming past the point of fatigue because they want to stay with you or are eager to keep playing. Encourage them to take regular breaks before they appear tired.
Don’t: Force your dog to overexert themselves. Signs of exhaustion include swimming lower in the water than normal, panting, and shaking. Dogs may also get strains and sprains from swimming for too long. Swimmer’s tail, also known as limber tail or cold tail, refers to a particular type of sprain that results from overuse, particularly from swimming in cold water for long periods of time. This can be painful for your dog, limiting their ability to move the tail while recovering. Swimmer’s tail is more common in larger breed dogs, but all dogs can suffer negative consequences from over-exercising. If your dog has an injured tail, book an online virtual care appointment to consult a vet.
Do: check that your dog’s current state of health allows them to comfortably participate. Swimming is primarily an activity for healthy dogs. If your dog has a pre-existing health condition, check with a vet first to see if swimming is ok. In general, swimming should be avoided for dogs with ear and skin conditions or dogs healing up from recent surgery. Confirm your dog is healthy before teaching them to swim and gradually work your way up to more difficult conditions.
Don’t: Assume your dog can swim or just throw them in the water. Don’t let an otherwise unwell dog go swimming without checking with a vet first. Swimming hazards increase if your dog starts with a prior injury or illness. If your dog typically has a low level of fitness, swimming may be an especially strenuous activity for them. Some dogs have a body structure that makes swimming more difficult for them. Don’t put yourself at risk. Coming close to a swimming dog hurts! Those paddling claws can do a lot of damage. More importantly, don't allow your dog to swim in a situation where rescuing him will put humans at risk.
Do: Flush healthy ears with a cleaning/drying agent at the end of the swim session. Keep hairy footpads trimmed short so they dry more quickly and don’t accumulate sand. Maintain a healthy, tangle-free coat.
Don’t: allow a dog with a matted coat to swim. Mats trap moisture next to the skin and infected sores can result. Don’t allow dogs with chronic ear infections to swim because the moisture encourages yeast and bacteria in the ears to grow.
No matter what your summer plans, having your canine companion at your side makes for fun in the sun. Keep these safety tips in mind the next time you take your pooch out on the open water so you can ramp up the fun without creating any stress for you or your pup.
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