Pet Water Safety

Veterinary Q&A: water safety

Tails of Seattle: A pets blog

SeattleTimes – June 29, 2011

Posted by Neena Pellegrini

Dr. Dini McGregor, an emergency-clinic veterinarian at Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital in Snohomish, answers this week's questions.

Question: With rivers high, currents fast and the weather warming up, water safety becomes an issue for some pets. Authorities say dogs are naturally strong swimmers. But not all dogs are water friendly, and undertows and strong currents seem dangerous, even for hardy swimmers. How should a dog's breed, age, coat and general health be factored in?

Answer: Some dogs are naturally built for water, and others are not. It is up to us as owners to recognize who our companions are.

In general, Labradors and the retriever breeds are better swimmers and are more naturally "built" for water. They have hair coats that tend to repel water initially, and their bodies are somewhat balanced for flotation.

Huskies, malamutes and the northern breeds also are quite resistant to cold water because of an extra layer of fat and a double-hair coat that keeps their bodies insulated and dry next to their skin.

Some of the smaller breed dogs can swim as well, while others are just not "built" to be swimmers.

Keep in mind your dog's personality. As much as we would want our four-legged friends to be swimmers, sometimes they just don't like the water.

With his life preserver on, Browser, a 12-year-old bull terrier, enjoys a day of boating and crabbing with his owner, Carl Bryant, of Kirkland. Photo by Marilyn Bailey.

Other factors to consider: If your dog has any illness, swimming is not a good idea. If she has any immune deficiencies, lakes and rivers are the last places she should be, as many infectious agents can be transmitted in water. Dogs with diarrhea can transmit Giardia and other pathogens via water as well.

Question: What are some common sense "Dos and Don'ts" to keep in mind when I take my dog to the beach, river or lake?

Answer: Don't assume your dog can swim just because he is a dog. Check out the conditions with your dog. If he has never been swimming, go with him and acclimate him to the water. Adjust him to the water slowly by playing with him in it.

Small dogs especially should be held in the water with you and slowly allowed to move out away from you to swim. If he panics, starts to sink or is unable to swim well, it is probably not worth "making" him swim.

There are great life jackets for dogs of all sizes now. If your dog is going on a boat or is around the water a lot and is not a natural swimmer, a life jacket is an invaluable investment.

Always be mindful of water currents, abilities of your dog and your surroundings. If there is a lot of garbage or debris around, it may be best to move to another site. Sharp rocks can cause cut paws and broken toes, as well as sore feet.

If there is a lot of algae or obvious pollution in the water, it is not a good place to swim either. Dogs can break out with "swimmers itch" just like people can.

It is always a good idea to rinse your dog off with clean water after a swim. Putting a good drying/cleansing agent in your dog's ears is also a good idea, as dogs can get ear infections from water in their ears.

Question: Are there any situations in which my dog should NOT be swimming?

Answer: Dogs should NEVER go swimming in strong currents. Even strong swimming Labs can get into trouble quickly with currents that can sweep them away. They should not swim if they have been recently ill, have diarrhea or are not acclimated to the water.

There are only certain breeds that can handle cold weather and extremely cold water, so be aware of that if you have your dog out in the snow or around extremely cold water. Again, knowing your dog and his abilities is vital.

If your dog is going on a boat or is around the water a lot and is not a natural swimmer, a life jacket is an invaluable investment. Photo by Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital

Question: If my dog gets in trouble in the water, what should I do?

Answer: First of all, get your dog out of the water as quickly and safely as possible. If you are swimming with him and he begins to panic, be aware that he could unwittingly get you into an unsafe situation as well.

If he goes underwater or begins to drown, you MUST try to get the water out of his airway as quickly as possible. Hold him in such a way that his head hangs downward. You may need to bounce him up and down a few times.

If you take your dog swimming, especially on a regular basis, review canine CPRprocedures and be familiar with giving mouth-to-nose resuscitation.

You want to clean anything out of his mouth, and pull his tongue forward and out as well. The goal is to have his airway as open and extended as possible. You will want to get water out of his lungs and airways, as well as getting oxygen into them.

It is important to be calm but move fast. If you have access to a car and someone with you, he or she should be driving as quickly and safely as possible to a veterinarian while you are performing CPR. Do not give up until you have your dog at the vet's office.

Swimming is a fun activity for a lot of dogs, and it can be a great way to spend time with your dog. Being aware of dangers that may exist and planning ahead will help make your time even more enjoyable.

Dr. Dini McGregor
Dr. McGregor attended college in California and veterinary school at Colorado State University. She started her veterinary career in 1995 in Laurel, Mont., with a mixed animal practice, where she also worked with the local zoo in Billings. She has practiced exclusively small animal medicine for the past 14 years in Snohomish, and has been working with Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital for the past seven years. Her special interests include emergency medicine and surgery.