The weather is warming up here in Vermont, and with summer well on its way, we are eager to spend time around the water. Of course, cooling off with our pets is always a highlight of summer, but it comes with certain risks pet parents should be aware of. With proper safety precautions, you can avoid all-too-common water emergencies we regularly see here at BEVS.
In The Swim of Things
Many dogs are great swimmers, but not all dogs naturally love the water—some simply detest it! So, don’t assume your dog can swim or will enjoy it. Instead, spend some time getting them acquainted with the water before taking the plunge.
Dogs who are non-swimmers should always wear a properly fitted life vest with a handle on the back, especially when learning how to swim. Start in shallow water, and stay calm, positive, and patient as you gradually lead your dog into deeper water. Swimming should be introduced slowly, and you getting in with your dog can build their courage. Never throw your dog into deep water, as this can permanently damage their willingness to swim and cause aversion to the water.
Be aware that some breeds and types of dogs will have difficulty swimming confidently due to their conformation. For example, breeds with short legs, long bodies, and deep chests will find it harder to stay afloat and are at increased risk of drowning. Puppies, older dogs, and brachiocephalic breeds (like Pugs, French Bulldogs, and Boxers) also need extra supervision since they may find themselves in trouble more readily than dogs bred to be around water.
Drowning is the most common hazard of spending time with your pets near water. And since drowning is nearly always preventable, knowing the basics for keeping your pet safe is essential:
Never leave your pet unattended. Even strong swimmers can get into trouble in an emergency, or if they get exhausted or get into something they shouldn’t. Watch pets as closely as you would young children around any body of water.
Invest in a life vest. A pet-safe life vest is designed to help keep dogs afloat in an emergency or when they’re learning or too tired to swim. In addition, most vests are brightly colored and have a handle (or two), making it easy to locate your pet in the water and lift them to safety easier.
Install a safety fence and alarm around pools. The best way to protect pets and children around a pool is to install a fence with a pet-safe gate. Also, consider a pool alarm alerting you if your pet (or anyone else) accidentally falls in unsupervised.
Train your pet to find the exit. Pets who are good swimmers can nevertheless drown from exhaustion if they don’t know how to get out of the pool or go to the shore. So, before swimming, teach your pet how to exit and give them lots of practice using it to ensure they can get out safely on their own.
Take swimming breaks. Swimming is an excellent exercise for pets, but just like us, animals can become tired, making them more susceptible to accidents. In addition, many pets cannot stop themselves from playing fetch to exhaustion, so it’s our responsibility to know our pet’s athletic ability and fitness levels and take breaks as necessary.
Be careful of entanglements. Remove covers, cleaning machines, and floats from the pool before swimming to prevent your pet from getting tangled or trapped underneath. Also, watch for fishing lines (and hooks!) at the beach or lake that can catch your pet unaware.
A Word About Dry Drowning
Secondary, or dry drowning, can occur when your pet inhales large amounts of water, either by playing fetch in the water and inhaling a lot of water or as a result of near drowning. Even after you notice water draining from the nose or mouth, residual water could remain in the lungs. This can cause difficulty breathing or pneumonia. Additionally, your pet’s vocal cords may become irritated due to swallowing or inhaling water, causing them to constrict and making breathing difficult for your pet.
If you notice your pet coughing, anxious, or lethargic after swimming, or if they have any difficulty breathing, seek veterinary care immediately. Be aware that dry drowning can occur up to three days after a near-drowning event.
Pet Water Safety Tips
Drowning is not the only hazard when considering pet water safety. Whether you’re at the lake, at the beach, a neighborhood pond, or a backyard pool, keep the following in mind:
Watch weather and water conditions. Currents, rip tides, and large waves can pose a safety hazard for both people and pets in the water. Cold temperatures can cause hypothermia or impair tail function, impeding your pet’s ability to stay afloat. Never swim in stormy conditions.
Avoid blue-green algae blooms. Our Vermont lakes are notorious for the cyanobacteria blooms known as blue-green algae, which are highly toxic to dogs (and people). Avoid swimming and playing at the shoreline in lakes with a scummy, pea soup-like appearance, and be aware that blooms can also be white, purple, or brown. Pay attention to signs posted along the shoreline about blooms and check the Vermont Department of Public Health website, which posts information on lake conditions and algae blooms. Contact us immediately if you suspect your pet has come in contact with blue-green algae.
Rinse your pet after water play. Pool chemicals, salt water, and other toxins can collect on your pet’s skin and cause irritation or make them sick if they lick themselves clean. Rinse your pet or bathe them with fresh, clean water after any water play or swimming.
Be aware of sun exposure and heat stroke signs. Being outdoors and near water can pose the risk of sunburn (yes, pets can get sunburned!) and overexposure, leading to heat stroke. Take breaks from the sun, always provide fresh, cool drinking water, apply pet-formulated sunscreen, and avoid water play during hot midday hours.
Learn pet CPR. No matter how careful you are, accidents can happen. Learning to perform pet CPR could save your pet’s life.
If you are having a pet emergency, whether water-related or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to contact BEVS at (802) 863-2387. We are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to assist you and your pet.