Water Safety for Pets: Staying Safe at the Beach, Lake, or Pool

Warmer temperatures and longer days spent outside in the sun have us thinking about trips to the beach and swimming in the pool. For those of us who let our pups tag along on our summertime adventures, it’s a good time to brush up on pet water safety.

Swimming can be great exercise for dogs, and with over 50% of canines considered obese or overweight in the United States, it can be an excellent way for them to stay fit. Not all dogs are natural swimmers, though, and some don’t enjoy the water at all. In this blog, we dive deeper into how you can keep your pet safe near the water year-round.

Natural Born Swimmers?

If you consider your dog’s original purpose, you’ll have a clue about your dog’s natural swimming ability. Retrievers and water dogs were bred to work in and around water and will likely be good swimmers. However, dogs with long, heavy bodies and short legs (think a Basset Hound) are not physically designed to swim well. Because of their short necks, short snouts, short legs, and broad chests, brachiocephalic breeds have a more challenging time staying afloat and are at higher risk around water. In addition, older dogs and puppies may have less stamina while swimming. If you have a pet unfamiliar with or not fond of water, it is best to stick to shallow water and keep them leashed to prevent drowning.

If your dog does not know how to swim yet, don’t assume they can learn independently. You should never force your dog into the water. This will cause fear and water aversion. Instead, teach them to swim slowly, with a calm, positive, and patient approach. Start in shallow, tepid, or warm water, keep swimming sessions short, and always closely supervise your dog to avoid accidental drowning. Any pet not accustomed to the water should wear a life vest.

Water Safety First

In addition to supervising your pet while spending any time at the beach, lake, or pool, there are several precautions to be mindful of:

Watch weather and water conditions – Check the conditions carefully before swimming with your dog in the ocean, lake, or river. Never swim during stormy weather, especially when thunder and lightning are in the vicinity. Rip currents, undertows, powerful waves, and fast-moving currents are all hazardous and should be avoided. Check water temperatures to avoid hypothermia. The combined air and water temperature should equal at least 100 degrees. Remember, if it’s too cold for you to swim, it’s too cold for your dog.

Watch for hazards – Rocks, fishing lines and hooks, wildlife, and other dogs are all potential dangers when spending time outdoors near the water. Be aware of hidden dangers under the water as well including stumps and broken debris. If swimming in an area where you can’t see the bottom, avoid having your dog jump in.

Be aware of water toxicity – Beware of stagnant bodies of water, especially if blue-green algae is present–ingesting the cyanobacteria is highly toxic to dogs and can be fatal. Remember to bring fresh, clean water for your dog to drink, and discourage them from lapping up lake, pond, or ocean water, which can also be breeding grounds for parasites.

Prevent dry drowning – You may be aware of the dangers of dry drowning in children, but did you know that pets are also at risk? Dry drowning involves inhaling or swallowing large amounts of water, which can later impair breathing by irritating or filling the lungs with water or causing the vocal cords to swell. Keep swimming sessions short, and only use low-profile, flat toys in the water, allowing your dog to keep their mouth more closed when retrieving, so they take in less water.

Find the exits – Ensure your dog knows how to get out before swimming in deep water. For example, introduce them to the stairs or ramps in a pool, and find the gradual slope in a lake or pond to ensure they can get out quickly and safely on their own.

Use a life jacket – Dog life jackets not only keep your pet afloat, but some also come equipped with a handle or two, making it easy for you to lift your dog out of the water in an emergency. The bright colors also allow you to quickly locate your dog in the water.

Take breaks – Swimming is great exercise but can be very tiring for dogs. An exhausted dog is at risk of drowning. Additionally, dogs are also at risk of developing “cold tail”—also known as “limber tail” and “swimmers’ tail”—a condition that is a result of overexertion of the tail muscles. It can be extremely painful and can occur no matter the water temperature. Since many dogs will fetch a ball to exhaustion, it’s your responsibility as a pet owner to take frequent breaks to allow your dog to rest and recover.

Wash up – When your dog exits the water, rinse their coat and skin with fresh, clean water. Salt and pool chemicals can cause irritation. Further, if they lick their paws or coat, they can ingest salt, pool chemicals, or blue-green algae, causing illness.

Always provide access to shade and fresh drinking water whenever your dog is outside in the sun. If your dog is hairless or has light-colored ears or a light-colored nose, consider using dog-formulated sunscreen to protect from sunburns and skin cancer.

If your dog gets into trouble and needs emergency care, your team at The COVE is here for you 24/7/365. Please call us if you are on your way so we may prepare for your dog’s arrival. And don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about water safety and your dog. We are here for you!





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The COVE’s veterinarians and staff wholeheartedly embrace the core values of community, collaboration, commitment, compassion, and integrity. This focus ensures that pets, the people who love them, and their primary care veterinarians have as positive and affirming a healthcare experience as possible, regardless of the circumstances that bring us all together.