The Wet Set
Water play is a favorite dog activity, but it has some risks. Here’s how to recognize and avoid problems
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Part of the fun of summer is playing in water, and that’s true for dogs, too. They run through sprinklers, splash and swim in pools, and go with us to lakes, rivers or oceans. Keep them happy and safe during summer’s dog days with these tips.
• Algal blooms. A blue-green shimmer of algae on lakes, ponds and reservoirs is a signal to stay out. Potent cyanotoxins can cause anything from skin irritation to liver failure. “Even if dogs don’t drink the water, if they come out and they’re licking themselves clean, they can take the toxin in,” says Jason Nicholas, DVM, chief medical officer of PreventiveVet.com. The toxins can have the same effects on humans.
At the ocean, algal overblooms can cause toxic red tides. Dogs who don’t go in the water can still be at risk because the toxins can become aerosolized, causing respiratory signs in animals and humans exposed to them. Check conditions before you go.
• Rip currents. Strong currents near the beach can quickly pull swimmers — dogs included — farther out than is safe. We can’t tell dogs to swim parallel to the shore if they get caught in one, so whether you’re tossing a ball into the waves for him to fetch or going paddleboarding with your pup, ask a lifeguard about conditions beforehand.
Keep a brightly colored pet life jacket on your dog. If he gets swept away, it will help keep him afloat until he’s rescued. For dogs who aren’t strong swimmers or don’t have life jacket protection, toss a ball along the beach, not into the water.
• Water intoxication. Dogs playing in water may accidentally take in large quantities while swimming, or get overheated and drink too much. Either way, the excess water can dilute the concentration of electrolytes in the blood, causing vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea or more severe signs such as seizures or coma. Keep him hydrated by frequently offering small amounts of water so he takes it in slowly. And pay attention to behavior.
“If you see your dog acting lethargic, vomiting, having diarrhea and progressing to ataxia (wobbling), get him to a vet,” Dr. Nicholas says. Treatment can require hospitalization for slow, steady normalization of electrolyte levels and close monitoring of the dog.
• Near-drowning. When dogs (or humans) go underwater, they may accidentally inhale water. It might not be enough to cause immediate drowning, but water that gets into the lungs sets up an inflammatory process. And if saltwater is inhaled, that draws more fluid from the blood into the lungs. The result is that lungs become flooded and the dog drowns hours, or days, after water exposure. Any time you notice a respiratory change or change in activity level after a dog has been in the water, get him to the veterinarian.
“Let the veterinarian know that there might have been an incident where they swallowed or inhaled water,” Dr. Nicholas says. “If they’re having respiratory issues, it’s just more indication to get X-rays.”
• Pool safety. Teach your dog how to swim (check out FearFreeHappyHomes.com for an article on canine swim lessons) and where and how to enter and exit the pool. Protect pets with a pool alarm such as Safety Turtle that goes off if they fall in. Flimsy pool covers can entrap dogs who walk on them, so choose a sturdy one that won’t submerge. Fences around the pool should not have spaces large enough for puppies or small dogs to wiggle through. A product such as a Puppy Bumper can prevent them from going through a fence or gate.
Finally, rinse and dry dogs thoroughly after playing in any water to ward off skin and ear infections. Then they’ll be ready to go out and do it all over again the next day!
PHOTO CAPTION: Bodies of water can be hazardous in ways that might not be visible to the naked eye.