Water Safety For Dogs

Letting your dog cool down by going for a swim seems like the ideal way to keep them cool, but it is important to be aware of the dangers water brings.

Created: 28/07/2021 Updated: 02/08/2021 - Vicky Payne

dogs, health, Health & Wellbeing, summer advice

On hot days swimming seems like an ideal activity for the water loving dog, but in recent years vets have seen an increase in summer dangers associated with water.

Water intoxication in dogs

On a hot summer day what could be better than playing with your dog and the water hose in the back garden? Social media will be full of funny pictures of dogs trying to catch the water or biting at fountains and sprinklers. Unfortunately, these games can cause trouble.

Dogs can accidentally inhale water while playing – although thankfully, this usually triggers a cough reflex and isn’t too serious. If dogs swallow large amounts of fresh water during play, they can suffer from water intoxication. Excess water disturbs the electrolyte balance in the cells and can cause vomiting, incoordination, brain swelling, seizures, and death. If your dog ingests an unusually large amount of fresh water and is showing signs of water intoxication, contact the closest vet immediately.

Please remember to supervise your dog around water and try to avoid prolonged swimming or fetch games which increase the risk of swallowing water.

Choking, water intoxication, and drowning can sadly occur in garden ponds, swimming pools, canals, and lakes.

Wet dog shaking dry on grass

A dog friendly beach can be the perfect destination on a summer’s day, but there are several dangers to be aware of.

Sand and rocks can become hot and may damage your dog’s feet; a good rule of thumb is that if you can’t walk barefoot then your dog can’t either! Sand can remain hot for some time after a beach barbecue even if the metal tray has been safely discarded. If planning to stay for a while make sure you bring plenty of fresh water, a bowl, and can provide shade for your pet.

Swimming in the sea is a good way for your dog to cool off but ingesting large amounts of saltwater causes the opposite imbalance of electrolytes to freshwater intoxication. The symptoms are similar, and salt poisoning can be fatal.

If your dog ingests large amounts of saltwater contact the closest vet immediately.

The sea can also present a danger if you are not aware of the tides and currents. Waves, rip tides, and strong currents may sweep your dog away. If your dog gets into trouble in the sea call for professional help. Do not try to save your dog yourself unless you are an experienced sea lifesaver.

In some areas, weaver fish may be present under the sand, and jellyfish and Portuguese man-o-war may be swimming in shallow water or wash up on the beach. Stings are rarely fatal but can be very painful. If your dog is stung seek advice from the lifeguard station on a manned beach and then from a local vet.

Dog stood on beach

Dehydration in dogs

Dehydration can happen quickly in hot weather. Make sure your dog has access to fresh drinking water at all times. Remember to take water with your if heading out away from home for a walk or daytrip.

Puppies, old dogs, and those with health problems may be at higher risk of dehydration. Vomiting and diarrhoea can lead to dehydration faster in hot weather. Dogs cool down by panting and will also lose body water this way.

Monitor how much your dog is drinking and take note of the colour of their urine. Dark coloured urine is an early sign of dehydration. Dehydrated dogs will become lethargic, pant with a dry tongue, and have dry gums. As dehydration gets worse dogs can have sunken eyes and skin which doesn’t spring back when pinched.

Dehydration can be fatal and veterinary advice should be sought if your dog will not drink water or has vomiting or diarrhoea in hot weather.

Encouraging your dogs to drink more water

Dogs don’t always do what is good for them! Dogs may need help to drink enough water on hot days.

In multi-dog households some dogs may guard the water bowl and prevent others from drinking. To avoid this risk have at least one more bowl than the number of dogs using them. Position bowls so that dogs can see people and dogs approaching as they drink.

Some dogs do not like the chlorine taste of tap water or do not like the local water when you go on holiday. Offer bottled water, filtered water, or rainwater as alternatives. Some dogs like fresh water more than once a day, whereas others prefer water that has been standing for a day.

Wet dog foods are around 80% water, and adding water to dry foods can increase how much water a dog takes in. Flavouring water with a salt free stock or dog treat milk can also increase water intake. Some dogs enjoy ‘ice lollies’ made from frozen water with treats in.

When going away try to take a bowl with you that your dog is familiar with drinking from. Dogs may have a preference for the shape, size, or material of bowl they like to drink from.

Thirsty dog drinking water

Heatstroke in dogs

Heatstroke is a constant danger for dogs on hot days. Responsible dog owners know not to leave their pets in cars, caravans, conservatories, or gardens without shade, but heatstroke can happen on summer walks too. Most fit dogs can be walked safely at temperatures of up to 23°c but take plenty of water, seek the shade, and rest often. Brachycephalic (flat faced dogs) can overheat at temperatures as low as 16-19°c as they have less nasal space to cool incoming air.

Early signs of heatstroke in dogs include frantic panting with a large tongue and looking drunk and confused. Heat stroke can progress to cause vomiting, collapse, seizures, and death.

Cool an affected dog with tepid water and offer tepid water to drink if the dog can swallow. Always seek veterinary help as the effects of heat stroke on the organs may not be seen for several days.

Dangers of swimming in rivers and lakes for dogs

Dogs are less likely than people to be affected by cold water shock due to their fur, but be aware that water can be very cold, even on a hot day. It is safer for your dog to walk into the water than to jump off a ledge or rocks. Hypothermia is also a less likely summer danger for the swimming dog than for humans but try to break up swim sessions with time to dry out and warm up.

Watch out for fast flowing rivers which could sweep your dog away surprisingly quickly. Never jump in after a dog who is in trouble in the water without safety equipment and a knowledge of water rescue. Dogs will often be swept back in to shore, or onto a riverbank.

Puppy sat by water

Wildlife can be frightened or killed by dogs so please avoid letting your dog swim in areas where birds are nesting or feeding. Dogs may also be attacked by large waterfowl such as geese or swans – especially if they are protecting eggs or chicks. It’s safer for all to keep your dog away.

Don’t forget water can hide dangers such as submerged logs and rubbish which dogs can be injured on, especially if they jump in enthusiastically! Waterlilies and reeds can become tangled around a dog’s legs and cause panic. Choose safe wild swimming spots in clear water with shallow banks so that dogs can get in and out easily.

Warm, still weather can lead to blooms of cyanobacteria, often called blue-green algae. The blooms can be blue-green, red or brown, but are sometimes not visible at all. The bacteria produce toxins which can damage the liver, nervous system, kidneys, and cause skin rashes. Symptoms can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after exposure or may not appear for several days. Signs of cyanobacteria toxicity vary depending on the amount that has been ingested and the type of toxin but can include vomiting, diarrhoea, muscle tremors, lethargy, collapse, seizures, and death. Lakes and reservoirs may have notices warning of blue-green algae. Exposed dogs, or those with symptoms, should be treated by a vet as an emergency.

Do you need further advice?

If you need any further advice, please contact the OSCAR Helpline Team on our freephone number 0800 195 8000 or email helpline@oscars.co.uk.