Are pool, lake and ocean water safe for my dog to play in?

Expert Q&A

Are pool, lake and ocean water safe for my dog to play in?

If the summer heat has your dog running toward the water to cool off, remember that it’s your job as his owner to keep him safe. Dr. Heather Loenser, DVM, emergency veterinarian at Crown Veterinary Specialists in Lebanon, NJ, explains that there are two ways to best protect your dog when it comes to water.

First, be your dog’s lifeguard/swimming teacher, then outfit him for safety with a life preserver. “Although you can’t sign up Fido for a class at your local YMCA, you can teach him how to climb out of the pool unaided by showing him where the steps are,” said Dr.  Loenser. “And never leave your dog unattended near water.”

While most dogs are excellent swimmers (with the exception of small, densely built dogs, like French Bulldogs, for example), a life preserver can still be life saving. In fact, many dogs whose trainers have taught them how to surf start out by learning with a life preserver. “It’s important to have the preserver fit properly, allowing the dog a full range of motion when paddling and providing enough buoyancy that if the doggy paddling stops, the mouth remains above water,” says Dr. Loenser. In fact, Dr. Loenser says that in most cases if a dog does drown, it’s not because she can’t swim, but because she gets too tired to do so.

Something else to keep in mind: Salt water and fresh water can both cause your dog to become ill. “The natural antibacterial properties of salt water can make it cleaner to drink,” says Dr. Loenser. However, if taken in in large amounts by a thirsty dog, the high salt content can cause severe brain swelling and death due to electrolyte imbalances.

In the case of fresh water, there may be nothing “fresh” about it. Drinking or contact with contaminated fresh water -- which can be infested with fungal pneumonia caused by Blastomycosis (commonly seen near rivers in the Midwest) or the bacterium Clostridium botulinum which breeds in warm, stagnant ponds -- can lead to diarrhea, organ failure paralysis, pneumonia, eye and skin infections, and potentially death to your dog.

If your dog is going to be around water, it doesn’t hurt to know CPR, as well. Dr. Loenser demonstrates the correct way to perform this lifesaving maneuver on dogs here.

To avoid any further disease or infections, clean your dog after he spends time in the pool, lake or ocean. Wash him with warm, soapy water and dry him thoroughly, since he may try to groom the dirty, contaminated water off his fur later himself.

Brecher is an editor at Woman’s World magazine, and a contributor to Animal Fair magazine. Stacey's blogs have previously appeared on Exceptional Canine.
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