Water Safety Tips

By Dr. Amanda Zetwo, Medical Director of Clinic & Community Services

The dog days of summer may be over, but there are still plenty of warm and sunny days left to enjoy some water activities with your pup. Whether you’re taking a dip in the pool or heading out on a boat, keep these important safety tips in mind when enjoying time in or around the water. Having a well-trained dog can save their life both on land and in water. Make sure you and your pup understand each other clearly before trying any new activity. A CPR class and pet first aid are also important to know in case of emergency.

Before you head out for a water adventure, it is crucial you know whether your dog can swim and that they enjoy the activity! Build their confidence slowly by introducing them to a shallow water source, like a creek, while on a short leash that is less than six feet long and with a life jacket on. Creeks are a nice spot where they can splash around and get a few swimming strokes in but also be able to stand again so it’s not too overwhelming. Then, introduce them to a larger body of water like a lake that slowly and gradually increases in depth so they can go at their own pace. Be alert for changing currents and tides and never let go of that leash! It is also best to avoid swimming where people are fishing. Inground swimming pools that have gradual entrances can be good for practice, but above ground or one-depth pools should only be used when you already know your dog can swim. Make sure to teach your dog how to enter and exit the pool safely if using this method.

No matter the size of the water source, always have direct supervision on your pup and never let your guard down. If you are taking your pet to an area with water, be sure to have these items with you:

  • A properly fitted life jacket
  • A leash
  • Fresh water and a bowl for drinking – You should never let your dog drink the water regardless of where you are swimming. Concerns for parasites, algae blooms, chlorinated or salted water are high so make sure you bring plenty of fresh water along!
  • Poop bags – Swimming is a highly physical activity and can stimulate the urge to go!

Swimming is a physically demanding activity and your dog can quickly run out of energy. Excitement can override good decision making for them! Always have eyes on your dog and look for signs of slowing down despite their adrenaline high. Signs of overstimulation can include not focusing, not responding to commands, wild gaze, seeing the whites of their eyes, lots of splashing, having a bowel movement and rapid or very slow movements can all mean that it’s time to get their feet on dry land for a break. Once out of the water, be sure to wash off your dog with a soapy bath to remove any chlorine, salt water, pond and creek silt, sand or debris that can be irritating to their coat and paw pads. And, be sure to clean and dry their ears after swimming or bathing to prevent ear infection.

Some breeds, especially those with short faces like Pugs, Boston Terriers, Pekinese and others are at a higher risk for over-exerting themselves while swimming and not being able to cool down despite being in water. These dogs may prefer to wait at home in the air conditioning for you to return! If your pet has an underlying medical condition – especially seizures – it is best to talk with your primary care veterinarian before doing any of these activities.

We would love for our dogs to join us on all kinds of adventures, but not all activities are suited for our four-legged friends. By keeping these tips in mind, you can safely and proactively manage your pup’s water activities.

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