With summer finally here, could there be anything better than spending time with your dog at a lake, river or the ocean? Who doesn’t enjoy watching their dogs splashing and paddling, shaking water off, and running in again; adding the benefit of a tired dog making for a happy owner? Dogs and water go well together, provided you are aware of critical information before heading to the beach. Like humans, dogs are only guests in the aquatic environment and thus prone to some preventable conditions, like exhaustion, aspiration, water intoxication, salt water edema and believe it or not, dehydration.

Aspiration. Excessive water intake during swimming and play leads to regurgitation, which in turn runs the risk of dogs aspirating fluid into their lungs. It may take only a few hours for symptoms of serious pneumonia to emerge, including lethargy, difficulty breathing, fever, and cough. Without intervention, your dog may collapse and die or end up with permanent damage to internal organs. This is a veterinary emergency. 

Water Intoxication. Dogs don’t lose electrolytes while panting like we do when we sweat, but excessive water intake can lead to electrolyte imbalances, and subsequent tissue edema will present as staggered gait, lethargy, and pale color of mucosal surfaces such as gums. Dropping blood pressure, excessive drooling and vomiting may quickly lead to irreversible damage or death if this very serious emergency situation remains unrecognized and untreated.

Dehydration. Dogs need to rehydrate frequently when active, as regulation of their body temperature is dependent on evaporation of fluid through their mucous membranes. Even swimming in cold water generates enough body heat and loss of fluid to require rehydrating. 

Salt Water Edema. Dogs that work or play in the ocean and ingest too much salt water can develop ‘salt poisoning’, i.e. serum hypernatremia. Vomiting, diarrhea, staggering and loss of coordination can quickly escalate to seizures and collapse. This is a time-sensitive veterinary emergency that requires immediate help.

Exhaustion. If your K9 partner is a high-drive working dog, their intensity will not disappear in the water, where their high drive can mask fatigue and make matters worse very quickly. Saltwater will add another dimension as fatigued muscles result in less proficient swimming and its potential complications outlined above.

So how do you keep your dog safe to swim another day? Here are a few simple tips to follow:

  • Offer drinking water often and in small amounts. Don’t give your dog access to an unlimited amount of water.
  • Dogs that retrieve in the ocean will inevitably ingest more salt water than dogs that are simply swimming. Be sure to offer fresh water even more frequently.
  • Monitor your dogs for signs of fatigue, and don’t let them overdo it.
  • Use electrolyte supplements for dogs working in lakes, rivers, and streams to help combat the effects of excessive water ingestion.
  • And most importantly, if your dog exhibits any of the symptoms described above after spending time in the water, seek immediate veterinary care.