When the temperatures rise, many pet parents think about the benefits of swimming for dogs. It’s a great way to keep dogs cool and in shape. However, there are many canine dangers lurking in the waters, including indoor pools, backyard pools, lakes, and oceans.
One minute of swimming is the same as four minutes of running in dogs1. Dogs who are out of shape, aren’t fond of water, or get scared can easily drown.
Every year, dogs die in water for a variety of reasons, including accidental drownings. However, there are many dangers lurking in water. If you are consider swimming for dogs as a seasonal, health-related, or year-round activity, read our water safety tips first.
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Is Swimming For Dogs A Safe Activity?
Yes, taking your dog swimming can be very safe if you and your dog are prepared and your dog enjoys it.
Not all dogs innately love to swim and are not natural born swimmers in the water. Though many dogs enjoy swimming, but some cannot swim, and others may hate the water.
Never force a dog to swim. If your dog is near a pool or body of water, ensure he or she has a life vests or life jackets. Never rely on the life vest so much that you leave your dog unattended.
When it comes to swimming, dogs can be categorized in one of the following three categories:
- Dogs who can swim with a natural ability;
- Dogs who are not able to stay afloat/survive in water;
- Dogs who can be taught to swim and enjoy the experience;
Never force a dog to swim if he or she shows signs of displeasure/not liking it. You can still take your pooch along on a boat, to the lake, or beach with certain precautions in place, as noted.
What Are Dangers That Dogs Who Swim Face?
Whenever you are around a body of water, even a kiddie pool, never leave your dog unattended. Here are the some of dangerous of dogs who swim and how to prevent a tragedy:
A man and his dog drowned in Canada when the dog jumped into a fast-flowing creek2. Accidental drowning causes thousands of canine deaths each year, which is why precautions can save lives. Strong currents can pull even the most skilled canine swimmers away.
Even water breeds like Spaniels, Retrievers, and Poodles can drown despite being bred to swim. I know many Cocker Spaniels, including some I’ve owned, who despised water activities.
All backyard pools should have a fence, gate, and a safety pool cover that is able to withstand 485 pounds per 5 square feet. Always cover your spa or hot tub, too.
Put a fence around your entire pool if you want your dog to stay out of it. Depending on where you live, there are local and state ordinances in place regarding the minimum pool fence height, such as 48 inches high.
Purchase a reliable pool alarm system that senses motion in the water and will alert you. This is a must have for families with dogs and kids.
A life jacket is a must-have when it comes to dog water safety. My favorite canine life jacket is the Hurtta Life Savior which is ideal for swimming, rehab, boating, or just hanging out near the water.
I’ve been to many pet-friendly beaches with my Cocker Spaniels over the past 30+ years. I cringe when I see pet parents throwing tennis balls in the ocean for their eager dogs to retrieve. The same holds true for dogs who drink from a hose, sprinklers, the family pool, or fetch balls from a lake.
While I encourage beach fun, if a dog swallows too much water, he can die from water intoxication. Too much saltwater ingestion can cause vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, dehydration, tremors, seizures, and even death.
Water intoxication robbed Jessie Weninger of her dog. Her Border Collie loved to swim3, but on this particular day, the dog consumed too much water while swimming and later died. This can happen to any dog, so it’s best if you prevent the problem.
If playing in the ocean, let your dog take breaks and be sure he or she drinks clean water from your own source.
Pool Chemicals and Water Bacteria
What you can’t see can hurt you and your dog, especially dogs who swim. Lakes with algae on the surface can be toxic, so avoid them at all costs. Giardia is another waterborne illness, so proceed with caution in letting your dog go into bodies of water.
If a body of water appears dirty, stagnant, contains debris or trash, do not let your dog swim in it. Pool bacteria and pool cleaning chemicals can cause issues, too. Keep chemicals out of your dog’s reach, including chlorine tablets and mixtures safely locked up in a shed or similar storage area.
Bacteria can be found in oceans, lakes, rivers, and can be very toxic to animals5.
Hypothermia can sneak up on a dog if he swims or jumps into cold water. Dogs who are not acclimated to cooler temperatures can easily become a victim. This can lead to muscle cramps, exhaustion, and a visit to the emergency veterinarian before conditions worsen.
Pool chemicals, bacteria, or chlorinated water can lead to itchiness, skin irritation, and dryness of your dog’s skin. Rinse your dog’s coat off after they swim just as you see people rinsing off after swimming in the ocean. Talk to your veterinarian if you see any ongoing skin issues.
Lethal Landscaping and Toxic Plants
Have you seen cocoa mulch in big box and home improvement stores? It’s downright dangerous to dogs. Used in gardens and businesses, proceed with caution even if you do not use it, as someone around you probably does.
The mulch comes from the cocoa plant, and yes that is the same plant that gives us chocolate and cocoa powder. Not only can dogs get very sick, but the caffeine and theobromine in the cocoa mulch are very toxic. In fact, cocoa mulch is potentially more dangerous than milk chocolate. Get your pet to an emergency veterinarian if any sort of ingestion occurs.
Don’t expose your dog to seemingly innocuous spring pet poisons like:
- Lily of the Valley
One of the pet insurance health agencies states that these are some plants are reported to be toxic to dogs, cats, or rabbits:
- Day Lily
- Death Camas
- Easter Lily
- Lily of the Valley
- Morning Glory
- Tiger Lily
There are many other poisonous plants…many of which may be in your household or garden right now. Proceed with caution.
Hot Car Dangers For Dogs
Never leave your dog in a closed vehicle on a hot day. The temperature inside a car can rise to over 100 degrees in a matter of minutes. Not only is he/she susceptible to heatstroke and/or death but also theft. UV rays are as harmful to pets as they are to humans, even in an air-conditioned car.
Seasonal Dog Joint Dangers
Dogs are generally less active or even become couch potatoes (don’t we all) in the colder months. It takes time to go from very little exercise to let’s play outdoor mode!
One of the most common tears in a dog’s leg is that of the cranial cruciate ligament, CCL, sometimes called ACL. We know this because we have dealt with two ACL tears and surgical repairs in our dog.
Many times, a veterinarian will perform an in-office “drawer test” on the dog suspected of an ACL tear. It is a manual manipulation of the knee joint by a veterinarian.
Here’s our Everything Guide to ACL Injuries that will help guide you and your dog if an ACL tear is suspected.
Other Dog Water Dangers and Summer Safety Tips
“I have friends that took a trip to the beach last year,” dog mom Nanette Roberts, says. “Unfortunately, during a morning stroll, their fur baby stepped on a jellyfish that had washed up on shore. Never even considering the possibility, they were unprepared and had to make an emergency run to the store. Now, they are prepared and always have the “Jellyfish Kit” on hand, when going to the beach.”
Jellyfish present a real and present danger if you take your dog to the beach. Knowing what to do in an emergency situation is important. Here’s what to do if your dog is stung by a jellyfish.
If you’ve never heard of it or tried pronouncing it, I beg you to be aware of this condition that nearly stole the life of my friend’s dog.
This nasty, often fatal disease is a fungal infection that develops when a dog breathes in spores from moist soil, rotted wood, mold, or damp places like sandy areas.
I am seeing more and more dogs being diagnosed with blastomycosis, including two dogs in Wisconsin, a state known for its moist soil. Both dogs have been battling the condition for over a year.
Signs of blastomycosis in dogs include:
- Enlarged lymph nodes
- Poor appetite
- Difficulty breathing
- Skin lesions
The Merck Veterinary Manual reports that about 85 percent of dogs have respiratory involvement with blastomycosis.
My friend Lon Hodge, wants all dog parents to be aware of blastomycosis as it nearly took his beloved service dog, Gander, twice.
“Watch your dogs closely when they are near a beach, especially in the Midwest and Northwest,” Lon shared. “Keep a close eye on them after they have been in the woods and anywhere near decaying wood. It is a horrible ailment. It destroys lungs, eyes and creates all manner of organ damage in humans, and in pets.
Because of Gander, and the fact that they missed the diagnosis several times before he became dramatically ill, veterinarians in the Wisconsin area routinely ask their patients if they can check for blastomycosis, if other things have been ruled out.”
Never ever ever let your dog drink standing water, as this can cause Leptospirosis (Lepto) disease. Left untreated, your dog can die.
Lepto is transmissible when your dog comes into contact with infected water or soil or comes in contact with urine from a domestic or wild animal carrying the disease.
A common scenario is your dog is out for a walk, sniffs or places his snout near vegetation or grass where an infected animal urinated. If your dog drinks from a body of water that is contaminated with Lepto, he will contract it.
Signs of Lepto infection include loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, sluggishness, and either a decrease or increase in the amount of urine produced.
Although it is often treatable if caught early, a large percentage of dogs will have permanent kidney or liver issues. Don’t let your dog drink from puddles, lakes, rivers, etc and be cautious about walking on moist soil or in areas where wild animals may relieve themselves.
Fact: Periods of heavy rainfall can make Lepto easier to spread4.
Ice Cubes and Dogs
Ah, the great Internet urban myth. I’ve seen headlines like:
“Ice Cubes Can Kill Your Dog!”
Um, no, not really.
In a report for ABC News, Dr. Tina Wismer, medical director at the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center, reports this is totally false.
“This is not true,” says Dr. Wismer. “Dogs do not bloat from drinking ice water on hot days… They can be given as treats or put in the water bowl. Some behaviorists even recommend freezing toys or treats in ice for dogs to chew on.”
Why the rumors about dogs and ice cubes then? Everything you read online is not true: Surprise surprise! There are dangers with ice cubes and dogs that include:
- Allowing dogs to chew ice cubes and the possibility of the cube(s) getting lodged in the dog’s throat;
- Dental damage to teeth due to chomping on ice;
Note: Eating or drinking too fast can cause bloat in dogs, and that is with or without ice.
Water Bowl Slime
Did you ever rub your fingers around the inside rim of your dog’s water bowl? If you feel a slimy substance there, you’ve got a problem. Clean your dog’s water bowl daily with warm water and dish liquid.
A stainless steel or ceramic bowl are best for your dog. Either way, a clean bowl makes for a healthy dog. That slimy substance you feel is a biofilm that basically holds bacteria together so that it clings to the inside of your dog’s water bowl.
Just keep the bowl clean with daily scrubbing. Hot water doesn’t cut it: You need to actually clean the bowl with a pet-friendly cleaner: You know, like dish liquid.
Ah, the dreaded porcelain castle. Keep the lid down. Dogs should not be drinking from a toilet. It’s an age old joke and fodder for Internet memes, but toilet water can harm or kill a dog. Why?
Well we defecate and urinate into it, so there’s that. Toilet water is dirty and any cleaning chemicals in the bowl or tank get into the water and make it worse.
Did you know some people put antifreeze in their toilet during the colder months so the water does not freeze? Antifreeze and dogs are a lethal combination.
Public Water Bowls
You might think it’s awesome to see pet-friendly businesses, hotels, or neighbors leaving out bowls of water for passing dogs. Think again.
The National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) reports pet bowls are the fourth germiest place in a home.
Dogs should never drink from a community water bowl. Dogs can contract diseases like Giardia, lepto, coccidia, E. coli, salmonella, and even intestinal worms from shared water bowls.
Just say no to communal water bowls and carry your own bowl and water supply for your dog. Here are some of our favorite water bowls for dogs.
Shaving Your Dog’s Coat Too Close
It is helpful to keep your dog’s fur and nails trimmed during the summer months, but shaving dogs too short for the summer can actually predispose them to sunburn and make them more prevalent to heatstroke. I
Instead keep on with regular grooming of your dog and manage the coat. Coats that are kept well-brushed and mat-free allow for good air circulation through the hair, which in itself can actually have a cooling effect.
Think about a dog whose hair is matted and unkempt. The hair prohibits air circulation and does little to help cool the body. Brush your dog daily.
Hot Pavement On Paws
It is a myth that a dog’s pads protect them from all elements of weather. Though a dog’s pads contain much fatty tissue that does not freeze as easily as other tissues, protection against scuffing, burning, scraping, cutting, and hot damage is crucial in summer months
Here’s everything you need to know about dog paw care including the best paw products to use.
Pro Tip: Musher’s Secret is a barrier, food-grade wax for dog paws/pads that acts as an invisible boot. Developed in Canada for sledding dogs, apply a thin coat on pads and between toes, weekly. It dries in seconds and does not stain, is nontoxic, non-allergenic and priced starting at $12, depending on size. Good on hot pavement, sand and sand burn, snow and ice, salt and chemicals.
Whether outside of sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle in the sun, dogs can get sunburn.
Vet-recommended sunblock and in-car sun shades will keep your dog safeguarded en route and during your stay. A dog’s coat protects them in the summer and provides warmth in the winter, so use caution in grooming. short hair, white fur, and pink skin, can sunburn.
Read our article on dog sun protection and products to help.
Dogs need year-round exercise but be cautious about how and when you exercise a dog in the warmer months. Dogs are people pleasers, so they will not generally let their pet parent know when they have had enough.
Early morning or after sunset are general times to use when exercising a dog, but be cognizant of the humidity, temperature, and other environmental factors before proceeding.
Signs of heatstroke in dogs include rapid and heavy panting, excessive drooling, rapid heart rate, bright red gums and tongue, dry mucous members, and progressing to vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of coordination. It’s best to prevent heatstroke, slowly cool your dog down, and proceed to an emergency veterinarian if your dog is affected.
Fluoride in Water
This is a growing concern in the water supply. Fluoride added to our water supply is a neurotoxin to dogs that affects brain development, bone strength and might disrupt hormones. They say that osteosarcoma, which can be caused by fluoride, is the most common primary bone tumor in dogs, occurring in over 8,000 dogs each year in the United States.
So what can diligent pet parents do?
Dogs Naturally Magazine recommends pet parents consider distilled water or installing a reverse osmosis system. Avoid toothpaste with fluoride, and if feeding your dog fruits and vegetables, try to obtain organic produce that is organic.
PRO TIP: Keep your dog’s teeth clean by brushing them regularly. We love CET Vanilla-Mint toothpaste. Here’s what to do if your dog hates his teeth being brushed.
Giving your dog access to clean, filtered water is key. We all want our dogs to live longer, healthier lives. I raise my sparkling water bowl to you and your dogs!
Did we miss any water dangers? Let us know how you keep your dog healthy year round in the comments below. We love and encourage our readers to bark back!
Dog Summer Bonus Tips