Swimming is a great exercise for dogs, and can also be the perfect relief from summer heat. Whether you’re boating with your dog or simply letting him have a dip in the pool, there are many safety precautions pet owners should take while swimming with their dogs. First and foremost, make sure that your dog can swim. Most dogs can be taught to swim, but others are not made for it or are simply too afraid.
Other dangers are less about the dog, and more about the place they’re swimming. For example, 18 dogs in Minnesota to have died from suspected blue-green algae poisoning since the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency started tracking the issue a little more than a decade ago. Health officials have known about blue-green algae for years, but until the recent past there has been little documentation regarding pets. Owners may not see the animal ingest the material, so they may not make the connection. However, now there is more attention about the harmful effects of algae blooms in people, so it’s beginning to transfer to dogs. The best rule to follow is, when in doubt stay out of the water.
Swimming is great exercise for dogs but each body of water where pets can cavort – ponds, lakes or pools – has its own dangers. Pet owners can minimize risk by knowing what they are and how to prevent or avoid them.
Ponds and Lakes
Other than the blue-green algae, ponds and lakes can be good places for dogs to swim because they don’t have tides or currents, but owners should watch the water carefully, no matter how clean it looks. For example, many parks, golf courses or subdivisions that have lakes or ponds treat them with chemicals to prevent algae. The chemicals can cause skin irritation or worse issues such as liver damage.
Also, ponds and lakes in the country may contain materials toxic to dogs such as fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides that are “run-off” from area farms. Larger lakes where motor-boating is allowed might have higher concentrations of motor oil. If you are on a boat and your dog jumps from it, make sure there is a logical way to get the dog back in.
Never let a dog drink from a pond or lake, so take fresh water for drinking as well as for bathing the dog after a swim. If you fear that your dog has ingested bad water or has swam in water that may be toxic, call for help immediately
Swimming Pool Safety
The most important thing about pools, says Paula Patton, professional dog trainer at The Gray Dog Lodge in Lenoir City, Tenn., is that they have steps and dogs should know where they are. “Dogs should never be allowed to swim alone,” she said. “When pools are not in use, they should be covered. But most importantly, your pet should know how to get out of the pool without struggle.”
She also recommends the following:
• Make sure your pet is wearing a pet flotation device while swimming.
• Monitor your pet to make sure the chlorinated water in the pool is not irritating. Watch especially your pet’s eyes for irritation.
• Don’t let your pet drink the chlorinated water.
• After a dip in the pool, most pets should be hosed or bathed to remove chlorine that can dry the coat and be ingested when the pet is grooming.
Safe and Fun Options
An easy way to skirt a lot of the danger of swimming is to purchase a “kiddie pool” for pets. Sprinklers and kiddie pools are effective and safer for dogs that are older or impaired, or for breeds that don’t swim. Water from the hose is sufficient, and chlorine isn’t necessary. Wading or splashing is fun for dogs, and has the same cooling effect as a large body of water.