There’s no better way to spend a summer day than lounging poolside with the fam, including your dog. But that idyllic summer day holds potential dangers to your pet’s health. While there are no confirmed statistics on just how many dogs drown in pools each year, Dr. Patty Khuly of PetMD estimates the number to be around 400,000.
Drowning aside, swimming pools pose additional dangers to dogs. These vet-recommended tips can help keep your dog safe this summer.
Carefully introduce your dog to swimming
Before you introduce your dog to the water, do a safety check to make sure it’s safe to teach him to swim. Integrative veterinarian Dr. Carol Osborne, DVM, of Chagrin Falls Pet Clinicin Chagrin Falls, Ohio, states that it’s important to use common sense and make sure that a dog is healthy and able to swim. “Not all dogs can or should be swimming,” says Osborne. “If your dog is very young or very old, geriatric, pregnant, or suffering from certain health issues like a heart or lung condition, kidney disease, or epilepsy, your dog should not swim.”
Swimming is challenging for certain breeds. Sighthounds, like Whippets and Greyhounds, have heavily muscled rear ends and very little body fat, so they’re not buoyant. Brachiocephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and French Bulldogs, have flat faces and short legs that aren’t ideal for swimming. Dr. Osborne recommends that you have your vet evaluate your dog and clear him to go swimming.
Once your pet is approved to swim, you can gradually introduce him to the pool. Holistic veterinarian Dr. Gary Richter, MS, DVM, founder of Ultimate Pet Nutrition, recommends that you approach teaching your dog to swim in the same way that you’d teach a child to swim: “It’s easiest to acclimate your dog to water and swimming when they’re puppies, because they’re not as afraid as adult dogs. Just like kids who learned to swim when they were young, it becomes second-nature with dogs.”
Dr. Richter recommends that dog owners invest in a life vest for their dogs. “You want your dog to become comfortable in the water. It’s a little disconcerting to them to find that there’s nothing under their feet, but once they figure out that they can just float and be okay, they’re fine.” Be patient, hold short “swimming lessons” daily, and focus on keeping your dog comfortable and relaxed, rather than quickly getting him into the water.
Watch for fatigue and heat stroke
Hot weather can quickly take a toll on any dog, even one just lying by the pool. Dr. Jay Hreiz, VMD, is co-owner and medical director of Ebenezer Animal Hospital in Rock Hill, South Carolina, as well as owner of Queen City Animal Hospitalin Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Hreiz explains that a dog’s heat tolerance isn’t nearly what a human’s heat tolerance is. “A dog’s resting body temperature is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s higher than a human’s body temperature, and dogs can get hot very quickly being outside for just a short period of time. Black dogs also heat up faster than lighter-colored dogs.”
It might seem that as long as your dog’s in the water, he’ll be able to cope with the heat, but swimming too much can prompt dogs to overheat. It’s important to catch symptoms of overheating quickly. Dr. Hreiz states, “If a dog is panting excessively, their gums look muddy and dark red rather than pink, and they’re extremely hot to the touch, they’re overheating.” It’s time to get your dog out of the pool, dry him off, and get him indoors in the air conditioning with some cool drinking water.
Dr. Richter adds that dogs need to be supervised just like children. “Dogs’ greatest asset is that they’re completely in the moment at all times. The downside to being is the moment is they tend not to think about the consequences of their actions.” Dogs will happily swim for hours, ignoring how tired or hot they are, so it’s important for you to monitor your dog and restrict his activity as needed.
Provide plenty of fresh drinking water
Drinking pool water can lead to digestive upset in dogs. “When dogs are thirsty, they’ll drink water without realizing that the pool water is bad,” explains Dr. Hreiz. “Saltwater pools can cause saltwater toxicity in dogs, with symptoms like diarrhea, vomiting, and even seizures. Chlorine can also make dogs very sick, causing vomiting and diarrhea.” Always offer your dog plenty of cool, clean drinking water, and when you shock your pool, keep your dog away from it for at least 24 hours.
Monitor your dog's paws for irritation
Hot pool decks can burn and irritate your dog’s feet, especially if he runs around the pool. Dr. Richter recommends that you avoid encouraging your dog to run around. Provide a place for your dog to stand where he can get off of the hot pool deck, like a towel, or have your dog wear boots to help protect his paws.
Care for your dog's coat and ears
Chlorine has drying properties and it can irritate your dog’s skin and coat. Dr. Osborne recommends that you rinse your dog off well after he’s been swimming.
Your dog’s ears will also need care to prevent swimmer’s ear, a painful ear infection. “After rinsing off your dog, dry off his ears,” states Dr. Osborne. “You can make an ear cleaning solution by combining 50 percent white vinegar and 50 percent distilled water. Use a cotton swab and the solution, and swab out the ears until they’re clean and dry.”
With some precautions, your dog can enjoy time around and in the pool with your family this summer. Dr. Osborne recommends that you learn pet CPR and avoid the peak heat during each day. Always keep a close eye on your dog, and have a great time around the pool this summer.