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Swimming with Dogs: Water Safety Tips

Jun 30, 2017

COVE-Swim-Safety-Tips.jpgSplish! Splash! Here in Southeast Virginia, we are fortunate to have lots of water around us, including lakes and the Atlantic Ocean. And summertime is the perfect season to be outdoors enjoying the sunshine and water. If you plan on swimming in a lake, pool, or the ocean with your dog, here are water safety tips to keep in mind.

Don’t assume that your dog knows how to swim

Just because your dog belongs to a breed known for enjoying water (e.g., Labrador Retriever) doesn’t mean that he or she automatically knows how to swim. All dogs should be introduced to the activity slowly and with caution. Start with short periods in shallow water. We want our dogs to swim because they enjoy the activity. We never want the motivation to swim to stem from fear and the desperate need to survive.

Not every dog likes to swim

Some dogs are innately fearful of water. These dogs will be uncomfortable when approaching the water, and the more you try to train them, the more anxious they might become. Not all dogs take to water. 

Never leave your dog alone near water

Just as you would never leave children unattended in or near a swimming pool, you must be the lifeguard for your dogs when they are swimming. Remember, dogs are not able to yell for help. You must be alert and notice signs of fatigue or distress in your pet. 

Furthermore, if you have a swimming pool, do not leave your dog outside unattended, as he or she can accidentally fall in. The fact that your dog knows how to swim does not automatically mean that he or she will know how to climb out or know where the stairs are located. This is especially true for older dogs, as dogs’ eyesight becomes cloudier with age. If they fall in during nighttime, it may be extremely difficult for them to see a way out. 

COVE-Swim-Safety-Life-Jacket.jpgProtect your pet with the appropriate gear

Many swimming products have been specifically designed to keep your pets safe as they swim. Depending on your dog’s size and breed, you may need to use these to ensure your dog’s safety. For example, bulldogs will always need a life vest when near water, as they are unable to swim. 

  • Life vests/jackets – These keep their bodies afloat.
  • Doggles – These specially crafted goggles protect their eyes.
  • Safety Turtles – This device attaches to the collar. If your pet enters the water, an alarm will sound to alert you. 
  • Warm, dry blankets ­– Dry your dog immediately after swimming. This will protect your pet from becoming chilled.

Monitor your dog after swimming

If your pet has been swimming for a long time in cold water, he or she might be at risk for hypothermia, a condition reached when the body temperature falls too low. Dogs may exhibit signs of shivering or paleness. Always dry your dog immediately after swimming, and if the water was particularly cold, wrap dogs with a warm, dry blanket to raise their body temperature.

While swimming, your pet might have swallowed a large amount of water. A condition called “dry drowning” can happen to both humans and dogs. It can happen soon after exiting the water or even 24 hours afterward. The irritation from ingesting too much water can cause fluid to build up in the lungs. As fluid builds, dogs have increased difficulty in breathing. Your dog may show signs such as labored breathing, persistent coughing, lethargy, dizziness, or vomiting. And if you see these signs, immediately take your dog to the veterinarian or ER.

Read more about a dry drowning case in Pet Plan’s article by Dr. Kim Smyth. Don’t worry – it has a happy ending!

Dog breeds at risk

Some breeds are not able to swim or find swimming very challenging.

  • Breeds with disproportionately large headseither unable or have difficulty with swimming. These breeds usually have a dense body with a large barrel chest, which already makes them heavy. However, their disproportionately large head causes them to tip forward in the water, making it extremely challenging for them to swim.
    • Examples: English Bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers, and Basset Hounds
  • COVE-Pug-Swim-Safety.jpgBrachycephalic dogs are either unable or have difficulty with swimming, as they need to keep their bodies afloat enough so their mouths and noses remain high above the water. This causes their bodies to almost point vertically, which hinders their ability to stay buoyant. Many brachycephalic dogs might also have disproportionately larger heads as well.
    • Examples: Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boxers, and Pekingese
  • Dogs with short legsmay find it difficult to stay afloat for long periods or in rough, choppy waters.
    • Examples: Corgis
  • Dogs with a long, dense fur coatmight struggle to swim or to get out of the water due to the weight of their wet coat. Their fur can also cover their face, making it harder for them to breathe. 
    • Examples: Chow Chows, Pekingese, and Shih Tzu
  • Small dog breedsare often more afraid of water because of their small size and are more susceptible to chills. Like the dogs with short legs, small breed dogs might not be able to swim for long periods.
    • Examples: Maltese, Yorkshire terriers, and Chihuahuas

The most notorious of the at-risk swimmers is the English bulldog. They have a disproportionately large head, barrel chest, heavy body, and short legs and are brachycephalic. English Bulldogs should always be wearing life vests when near water and supervised by their pet owners at all times.

Additional Resources

Tips on how to teach your dog to swim – Pets.WebMD: Dogs and Water Safety

Water Safety Products – VetStreet: Dr. Marty Becker’s Picks for the 6 Best Pet Water Safety Products

Dry Drowning in Dogs – Pet Plan Pet Insurance: Dr. Kim Smyth Explains “Dry Drowning” in Dogs

Hypothermia in Dogs – PetMD: Hypothermia in Dogs

Swimming Safety – Embrace Pet Insurance: Ten Swimming Safety Tips for Dogs 



Category: Pet Health Tips