Canine Swimming Tips

By: Karin Krisher

Just because your dog looks like he’s having a great time swimming doesn’t mean there aren’t persistent hazards. We don’t want to scare you, but we do want to make you aware of canine summer swimming concerns so that your pups stay healthy and you stay sane.

Here are three summer swimming locations, their hazards, and how you can address them:

1) The Lake.

Here in land-locked Burlington, Vt., we know all about lake swimming. We teach our dogs to hop in the water when they’re just babies, and our kids often learn the doggy paddle right alongside our pets. The waterfront area in Burlington is dog friendly to the max, with families bringing all breeds and ages down to cool off in the summer. But this year, things haven’t gone as planned, and lake swimming was banned at several points in the season.

Cyanobacteria, or blue-green algae, took over the area. Blue-green algae colonize and essentially spread. They aren’t always poisonous, but the warning stands. If you don’t have the same municipal warning that Burlington had, here’s one way to tell if a lake, stream or river is clear: if blue-green algae is abundant, you’ll notice a “pea soup” or blue-green color on the surface of the water. The real issue here is that you can’t tell if algae is benign with just a glance. If your town or campsite doesn’t test water regularly and stringently, it’s definitely best to avoid the lake should you suspect the algae.

Not all toxins are the same—some cause liver issues, others neurological issues, but there are general signs of both:

  •  Diarrhea
  • Not eating
  • Black-tarry stool
  • Weakness
  • Lethargy
  • Pale gums
  • Jaundice (yellow) gums
  • Shock
  • Vomiting

2) The swimming pool.

Aside from the obvious hazards, like children playing in or near the pool and the very fact of a tight, closed space that might be difficult for older dogs to get in and out of, what deterrents to the dog crowd could a pool possibly offer? Hosing a dog off and supervising him or her so that she or he doesn’t swallow too much water should cover any issues you have with pool chlorine content. (Still, considering Derma-Strength to support health and hydration of their skin and coats can’t hurt.)

But other hazards come up, and they’re similar to pool hazards humans experience. Senior dogs and puppies will usually require supervision. It’s always beneficial to spend some time training a dog to swim if you plan for it to spend time around a pool. And finally, there’s never a downside to a cute, dog-sized life vest.

3) The ocean.

The ocean is a scary place to swim when you’re a dog. There are no true boundaries, and you’re probably not quite sure where your dog’s lie, either. To help you keep your dogs safe at the ocean, you need to be aware of the dangers and clinical signs of salt poisoning. Dogs will always drink ocean water if they aren’t provided with clean, fresh water, especially after a day in the sun. For this reason, hydration is of the utmost importance. Properly supervising a pup in the waves can go a long way; don’t allow them to wander off, as they likely won’t be able to negotiate an undertow.

In every swimming scenario, it’s important to pay attention. And it can never hurt to know about a doggy CPR.