It’s officially summer, and that means NoVA residents are taking to their backyard pools, nearby streams and any other body of water they can find to escape the high heat and humidity. For many, a day trip to the water is a family affair, including Fido, of course.
While bringing your furry friend out for a day in the sun and a couple of laps around the pool, lake or ocean is great exercise for your dog, it can also be dangerous if you’re not properly prepared.
Lucky for you, we chatted with three local experts—Dr. Virginia Vincent of Clocktower Animal Hospital, Dr. Rocky Deutsch of Manassas-based Signal Hill Animal Clinic and Caroline Murphy of NoVA pet care franchise Woofie’s—about everything there is to know about taking your pet for a swim.
Understand Your Dog’s Breed
While dogs of all breeds can enjoy water with proper supervision, according to all three experts, there are many breeds that are poorer swimmers than others and vice versa.
According to Dr. Deutsch, brachycephalic dogs, which are those with flat faces like pugs and bulldogs, are much poorer swimmers, as their respiratory tracts are compromised, often leading to heat stroke. Plus, Murphy echoes, senior dogs or those with hearing loss or vision loss should avoid the water, unless supervised.
“If your dog really doesn’t like the water, I would not recommend forcing them to swim,” says Murphy. “It can cause unnecessary stress and actually make their fear of water worse.”
On the other side, there are some breeds—such as the American water spaniel—that are well-known as water dogs and can swim far distances without tiring out. So, before bringing your pooch to the nearby waterway, do a little research to see how well his or her breed is suited to swimming.
Practice Makes Perfect
While the idea of your pet swimming alongside you and the kids is a great one, not all dogs are born with an instinct to swim.
“Families should gradually introduce their pet to swimming with lots of praise and rewards,” Dr. Vincent suggests. “Do not assume that your dog can swim or will want to swim on their first visit.”
Plus, Murphy adds, a dog’s first experience swimming should never be in a deep, open body of water. Instead, families should start slow and learn to wade, easing themselves into the experience.
And, if it turns out your pooch loves the water but isn’t quite ready to swim in the great outdoors, Dr. Deutsch recommends another alternative. “Many dog training facilities have indoor swimming pools, which are ideal for pets to swim in both for therapy and for the pure fun of it,” Dr. Deutsch says.
Always Keep Your Eyes on Fido
“Dogs are just like kids—supervision is key,” says Dr. Vincent. “In open water, be aware of your surroundings including the depth of water, current and the dog’s level of fitness.”
Oftentimes, pets can overdo it in the water because they are unaware of their limits. So, when your furry friend is swimming nearby, it’s essential to keep an eye on him, ensuring he doesn’t exhaust himself, according to Murphy.
While every body of water has its dangers and risks associated with it, ocean water tends to be of most concern to experts in the pet care industry due to its currents, changing conditions and other hazards like rocks and fish hooks.
“If you’ve ever swam in the ocean, you know it can be tiring to fight the waves,” says Murphy. “Swimming in the ocean will not only exhaust them faster but also puts them at greater risk of drowning. Some dogs do great in the ocean, though, but I’d recommend consulting your veterinarian and making sure your dog is a very strong swimmer before taking them swimming in the ocean.”
Don’t Let Your Pup Drink the Water He Swims In
Your furry friend may accidentally take in a few sips while swimming this summer, but it’s important to ensure the intake stays extremely low, according to all three experts.
“Ocean water is extremely dangerous to dogs when consumed,” says Murphy. “A few gulps can cause some diarrhea and an upset tummy, but an excessive amount can be fatal to dogs.”
Plus, according to Dr. Deutsch, blue-green algae and parasites can be found in lakes and ponds, which will cause all dogs harm if ingested. When bringing your pooch to the water, all three experts recommend bringing clean drinking water along with you for your pet to sip while on land.
Consider Purchasing the Latest Water-Friendly Pet Products
If your pet is in extra need of support either during his first few strokes in the water or in his later years, there are many pet products you can consider purchasing to make the experience better for them, and in turn, you.
In addition to a life vest for smaller breeds (especially while on a boat!), Dr. Vincent recommends purchasing a safety turtle water alarm to attach to your dog’s collar. If Fido falls into the pool unattended, an alarm will sound, enabling you to assist quickly.
No matter where you end up swimming as a family this summer, be sure to consult with your pet’s veterinarian, educate yourself and understand the risks involved before diving into the deep end with your pet by your side.
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