Risks at the beach for dogs
Summer is a season for adventure, and for making magical memories with our canine companions.
The beach is a fantastic environment for our dogs to enjoy, provided we know how to keep them safe. We’ve partnered with veterinary experts at Joii Pet Care, to offer advice about some of the risks to avoid while taking your dog to the beach.
Swimming can be wonderful exercise for your dog. As well as being gentle on their joints, swimming can be a lot of fun! However, there are risks we need to consider when allowing our four-legged friends to swim in the sea.
Some dog breeds are not built for swimming:
- Flat-nosed dogs (e.g. bulldogs, pugs, etc.) – tend to struggle most as it can be difficult for them to keep water from getting into their airways.
- Dogs with short legs (e.g. Dachshunds) – struggle to stay afloat and get tired quickly.
- Barrel-chested dogs (e.g. Staffordshire bull terriers) – can sometimes find it challenging to swim as well.
- Dogs with dense coats that are not waterproof (e.g. the St. Bernard) – can become very heavy when they get wet and can find it difficult to float or swim.
Even if your dog is a breed that’s known to be at home in the water (e.g. a retriever), remember that every dog is different.
It’s highly recommended your dog wears a suitable, correctly fitted swimming vest while they learn to swim, as well as for any open-water adventures.
If your dog hasn’t been in water before, let them take things at their own pace and don’t force them in if they are uncomfortable. Then, providing your dog is happy to go into the water, ease them in gradually.
While sadly many dogs drown every year in the UK, the RNLI was able to save 164 in 2022. If your pet gets into difficulty in the sea, you should call the coastguard for help on 999.
In most reported cases, dogs have drowned due to exhaustion.
To lower the risk of drowning:
- Whether your dog is swimming in a lake or the sea, find out if there are any local dangers, like strong currents or sudden changes in water depth.
- Do not let your dog go too far from you.
- Make sure your dog has an easy path out of the water.
- Be especially careful if your dog has any conditions that affect their mobility or ability to exercise (such as joint disease or heart problems).
Swimming and beach hazards to consider:
- Water may hide dangers like sharp rocks, broken glass, or slippery surfaces – check in and around the water for hazards before letting your dog swim there.
- A quick swim can sometimes help dogs to cool down, but swimming can also be intense exercise that can lead to heatstroke – make sure your dog takes frequent breaks and has a shaded area to cool down in.
- Avoid letting your dog swim during the hottest hours of the day.
- Some dogs will try to eat sand, seaweed, and other unpleasant things they find in the water (as well as on the beach) – which can lead to intestinal obstructions, constipation, or severe tummy upsets; so, try to prevent your dog from eating anything they shouldn’t be eating.
- Prevent your dog from playing with water toys that easily collect sand.
- Don’t forget that excess moisture in their ear canal could cause your dog to get an ear infection – always give your dog’s ears a good clean after they’ve been swimming, especially if they’re prone to ear infections; if you’re unsure how to safely clean your dog’s ears, please contact your vet.
Although swimming doesn’t put much strain on your dog’s joints, it can be demanding on their muscles.
Inflammation of the muscles at the base of your dog’s tail is called Swimmer’s Tail (also known as ‘Limber Tail’).
Swimmer’s Tail causes a dog’s tail to become immobile and floppy for a few days after intense exercise or excitement, and it usually happens when dogs swim in cold water. Although Swimmer’s Tail can get better after a few days of rest, it can make some dogs quite sore and will require medication from the vet to help them feel comfortable.
For some dogs (and their owners!), nothing beats a fun trip to the beach – especially if they’re allowed to swim, play, and paddle. But wherever there’s water, there are risks.
Aside from the more obvious risks of taking our dogs to the beach, such as drowning or injuries (which are major hazards to avoid), a visit to the seaside can include dangers like jellyfish stings, allergic reactions, and heatstroke.
Anywhere there’s slow moving or stagnant (still) water (e.g. lakes, ponds, and puddles), there could be blue-green algae. Even at the beach, there could be rockpools of stagnant water that might contain blue-green algae.
In 2022, at least four dogs across the UK died from blue-green algae poisoning.
So, what is this hidden killer, and what are the warning signs?
- Is a type of bacteria.
- Produces toxic chemicals that are dangerous to dogs, even in very small quantities.
- Is a big problem in lakes, rivers, and ponds – especially during the warm summer months of July and August.
- Can be swallowed by dogs when they drink contaminated water, or when they lick their coats clean after swimming.
- Can occur anywhere in the UK.
Symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning include:
- Wobbly legs.
- Difficulty breathing.
The symptoms of blue-green algae poisoning can occur within minutes of exposure and can be fatal if not treated quickly.
If you think your dog might have been in contact with blue-green algae (whether that’s through drinking, swimming in, or stepping in contaminated water), or you think their symptoms are of blue-green algae poisoning, please rush them to the nearest vet immediately.
Signs there is a risk of blue-green algae at the place you walk your dog:
- Warning signs from a local Council or the Environment Agency.
- Greenish-blue scum on the water’s surface.
- Greenish-blue streaks in the water (might look like oil or paint).
- Foam at the edge of the pond or river (may appear to be scum or sewage).
- Dead fish.
You can also check the Bloomin’ Algae App for warnings and to report your own sightings of blue-green algae.
What is the treatment for blue-green algae poisoning in dogs?
While there isn’t currently an antidote, treatment for blue-green algae poisoning in dogs usually involves quickly minimising the amount of toxins absorbed into your dog’s system and responding to its effects.
Veterinary treatments for blue-green algae poisoning in dogs include:
- Washing your dog’s coat thoroughly, to remove traces of blue-green algae.
- An injection to make them sick and empty their stomach, then charcoal liquid in their food to absorb any remaining toxins.
- Fluids into a vein to treat dehydration from vomiting.
- Medication to treat seizures, vomiting, stomach ulcers, diarrhoea, etc.
How to prevent blue-green algae poisoning:
- Always check for warning signs before letting your dog off their lead near water.
- Keep your dog on a lead around stagnant water and where there are signs of blue-green algae.
- Be particularly careful when walking your dog during the summer and autumn months.
- Carry fresh drinking water for your dog, instead of letting them drink from ponds or rivers.
- Wash your dog in fresh water after they’ve been swimming.
- Never let your dog drink from, or swim in, water containing dead fish.
While not life-threatening, if in the UK, your dog can suffer symptoms within 2-3 hours of licking or swallowing a jellyfish.
Please note: Dead jellyfish can still sting for several weeks after their death!
Symptoms of jellyfish stings in dogs:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Muscle cramps.
If your dog gets stung by a jellyfish:
- Pull off remaining tentacles using a towel (or while wearing gloves) – avoid direct contact with the jellyfish!
- Never rub the area your dog was stung because it’ll make the situation worse.
- Clean the sting with salt water rather than fresh water.
- Call the nearest vet straight away.
Most dogs will recover from a jellyfish sting within a couple of days.
Salt water poisoning
Drinking sea water can make dogs very ill.
The bacteria and parasites in salty sea water can be harmful, so can the salt itself.
Symptoms of salt water poisoning in dogs:
- Peeing excessively.
Salt water poisoning can be fatal if not treated quickly. Contact your vet immediately if you think your dog shows symptoms of salt water poisoning.
Prevent your dog from suffering salt water poisoning by:
- Discouraging them from drinking salt water.
- Always carrying fresh drinking water and offering it to them frequently.
Risks of dogs swimming in fresh water
This summer, you may appreciate adventures beyond the beach with your canine companion – especially if they enjoy swimming!
If your dog likes to swim in fresh water, it’s important to prevent them from ingesting (taking in through their mouth) too much of it because large amounts of fresh water can be dangerous to dogs. For example, drinking a lot of fresh water can lead to electrolyte (salt) imbalances in your dog’s body.
Your dog might show the following symptoms if they’ve been drinking large amounts of fresh water:
- Staggering or unsteady gait (movement).
To prevent your dog from taking in too much fresh water, don’t let them pick up or carry toys that have been submerged in water.
Dangers of swimming pools
Many dogs love swimming at every opportunity! Taking our dogs on holiday with us can be wonderful, though if staying near a swimming pool, it’s important to find out what pool-cleaning products have been used – by asking whoever manages the swimming pool.
Products used to maintain swimming pools can cause mild irritation in dogs, including an upset tummy and eye or skin irritation.
If you’re concerned your dog has swallowed or touched potentially toxic pool products, please contact your vet immediately.
And remember, Animal Friends customers who have a dog policy with us can access free video consultations 24/7 through the Joii Pet Care app!