Swimming and playing in the water, whether the backyard pool, a lake, river, or ocean, is an excellent way for dogs to burn off energy while simultaneously beating the summer heat. Swimming is a highly effective exercise and can be therapeutic, but also carries some risks for your pet. The Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team shares tips to keep your pet safe while participating in summer water activities.

#1: Introduce your pet slowly to water and swimming

While most dogs do have the natural dog-paddle instinct in water, they may not fully understand how swimming works until you teach them. Start in shallow water and assist your pet by helping hold their hind end during their first swim. Keep the experience positive with treat rewards for a job well done, and never force your pet to swim. 

Like any other athletic endeavor, building endurance and mastering the sport will take your dog some time. Swimming is exhausting, so avoid deep water or water with strong undercurrents or rip tides, and gradually increase your pet’s time in the water. Some pets may need a long leash to prevent them from swimming too far away.

#2: Buy your pet a high-quality life jacket and waterproof gear

Pets who swim frequently need some specialized gear, including waterproof collars, leashes, and up-to-date identification tags. Consider reflective gear made from polyurethane (i.e., biothane), which provides strength and water resistance. Dogs who spend time on boats or docks or who swim in open water will need a life vest, not only to protect them from drowning, but also to increase their visibility if they fall or jump into the water unexpectedly.

#3: Discourage pets from drinking natural or chlorinated water sources

Always ensure your dog has fresh, clean drinking water to discourage drinking from lakes, ponds, rivers, or the backyard pool. Natural water sources can be contaminated with parasites and bacteria (e.g., giardia or leptospirosis), chlorinated pool water is tough on their system, and salt water can lead to life-threatening dehydration and salt poisoning. 

#4: Avoid water sources contaminated with blue-green algae

Blue-green algae bloom in stagnant water during warm, dry spells, and can quickly endanger your pet’s life. The blooms may appear as blue-green, red, or brown algae, foam, or scum, and may cause the water to smell foul. The algae is a collection of bacteria (i.e., cyanobacteria) that produce toxins that harm pets up to 15 minutes after exposure and can be deadly. You cannot tell a toxic algae from the appearance, so you should avoid all visible algae. You can also consult your local environmental agency to check for known toxic algal blooms.

#5: Always supervise pets while swimming

Pets aren’t good at setting boundaries or listening to their bodies, and may continue to swim until they are exhausted and at risk of drowning, so never let your pet swim without direct supervision. Fence off backyard pools, use covers that properly drain rainwater that is kept out of your pet’s reach, and keep them on a leash when you know a water source is nearby.

#6: Protect your pet’s skin, fur, and ear health

Frequent swimming can lead to moist dermatitis (i.e., hot spots), dry, flaky skin, bacterial skin infections (i.e., pyoderma), or ear infections. Protect your pet’s skin and ear health by rinsing or bathing them thoroughly after each swim, and using a veterinary-approved ear cleanser to remove dirty water and promote ear canal drying. Pets with a history of ear problems may benefit from a swim snood, which wraps around their head to protect the ears like a swim cap.

#7: Provide routine preventive veterinary care

Because pets who swim frequently are at greater risk for contracting water-borne diseases, consider vaccinating them for leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread through infected wildlife urine. You should also frequently check your pet’s stool for intestinal parasites and provide routine parasite and deworming medication. Pets who swim or are frequently wet should switch to an oral flea and tick preventive, as topicals will lose their effectiveness.

Enjoy the sun and exercise with your pet by providing safe, supervised swim time. Call us to schedule a routine checkup with our Neighborhood Veterinary Centers of Waller team to evaluate your pet’s health before you start a summer swim regimen, or for more safety tips and recommendations for Southeast Texas summer fun.