Water play is a favorite dog activity, but it has some risks. Here’s how to recognize and avoid problems
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Part of the fun of summer is playing in water, and that’s true for dogs, too. They run through sprinklers, splash and swim in pools, and go with us to lakes, rivers or oceans. Keep them happy and safe during summer’s dog days with these tips.
-- Algal blooms. A blue-green shimmer of algae on lakes, ponds and reservoirs is a signal to stay out. Potent cyanotoxins can cause anything from skin irritation to liver failure. “Even if dogs don’t drink the water, if they come out and they’re licking themselves clean, they can take the toxin in,” says Jason Nicholas, DVM, chief medical officer of PreventiveVet.com. The toxins can have the same effects on humans.
At the ocean, algal overblooms can cause toxic red tides. Dogs who don’t go in the water can still be at risk because the toxins can become aerosolized, causing respiratory signs in animals and humans exposed to them. Check conditions before you go.
-- Rip currents. Strong currents near the beach can quickly pull swimmers -- dogs included -- farther out than is safe. We can’t tell dogs to swim parallel to the shore if they get caught in one, so whether you’re tossing a ball into the waves for him to fetch or going paddleboarding with your pup, ask a lifeguard about conditions beforehand.
Keep a brightly colored pet life jacket on your dog. If he gets swept away, it will help keep him afloat until he’s rescued. For dogs who aren’t strong swimmers or don’t have life jacket protection, toss a ball along the beach, not into the water.
-- Water intoxication. Dogs playing in water may accidentally take in large quantities while swimming, or get overheated and drink too much. Either way, the excess water can dilute the concentration of electrolytes in the blood, causing vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea or more severe signs such as seizures or coma. Keep him hydrated by frequently offering small amounts of water so he takes it in slowly. And pay attention to behavior.
“If you see your dog acting lethargic, vomiting, having diarrhea and progressing to ataxia (wobbling), get him to a vet,” Dr. Nicholas says. Treatment can require hospitalization for slow, steady normalization of electrolyte levels and close monitoring of the dog.
-- Near-drowning. When dogs (or humans) go underwater, they may accidentally inhale water. It might not be enough to cause immediate drowning, but water that gets into the lungs sets up an inflammatory process. And if saltwater is inhaled, that draws more fluid from the blood into the lungs. The result is that lungs become flooded and the dog drowns hours, or days, after water exposure. Any time you notice a respiratory change or change in activity level after a dog has been in the water, get him to the veterinarian.
“Let the veterinarian know that there might have been an incident where they swallowed or inhaled water,” Dr. Nicholas says. “If they’re having respiratory issues, it’s just more indication to get X-rays.”
-- Pool safety. Teach your dog how to swim (check out FearFreeHappyHomes.com for an article on canine swim lessons) and where and how to enter and exit the pool. Protect pets with a pool alarm such as Safety Turtle that goes off if they fall in. Flimsy pool covers can entrap dogs who walk on them, so choose a sturdy one that won’t submerge. Fences around the pool should not have spaces large enough for puppies or small dogs to wiggle through. A product such as a Puppy Bumper can prevent them from going through a fence or gate.
Finally, rinse and dry dogs thoroughly after playing in any water to ward off skin and ear infections. Then they’ll be ready to go out and do it all over again the next day!
Turn down pets’
Q: What are some ways to keep pets from being scared during fireworks and thunderstorms?
A: Loud or unexpected noises trigger what’s called the orienting response, the brain’s mechanism for processing unexpected noises to determine if they signal danger. Pets who are unsure run and hide. Heart and respiratory rates increase, and blood pressure goes up. Those are normal physiological responses, but some animals exhibit more severe signs of fright, such as drooling, trembling, hiding for hours or trying to escape by jumping out a window or destroying a door.
Providing a hiding place is a good start. This may be a covered crate in a room with the curtains drawn to dampen sound or a closet or a bathroom with no windows. Be sure to leave the crate door open so your pet doesn’t feel trapped. That can intensify fear. Some pets feel safe in the bathtub. Put a favorite toy in the room to provide comfort and distraction. Keep this safe room set up all the time.
Pets may respond to synthetic canine or feline pheromone sprays or diffusers. The calming chemicals are odor-free to humans but signal security to dogs and cats. Close-fitting garments such as Thundershirts help to calm some animals.
Certain types of music can have calming effects as well. Try playing harp or classical music, soft jazz or music specifically composed for dogs or cats. A white-noise machine may also help.
Consider sending your pet to stay in a place where fireworks are uncommon. That could be a friend or relative’s home, a boarding kennel or petsitter.
Other ways to help pets cope include desensitization and counterconditioning or medication such as Sileo (FDA-approved for noise aversion in dogs) or alprazolam. In severe cases, consider seeking help from a Fear Free-certified veterinary behaviorist. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
safety for cats
-- It’s flea season. If you treat your pets with any kind of topical or oral preventive, be sure you don’t share products between cats and dogs. Products made for dogs can be toxic and even deadly to cats. For instance, cats are highly sensitive to permethrin products and can be affected even if they just come in contact with a dog treated with a permethrin-based preventive. Read the label carefully to make sure you’re using the appropriate product for each pet, and check with your veterinarian if you’re not sure. Signs of toxicity in cats include drooling, vomiting, muscle tremors, dilated pupils and seizures. Take any pet to the veterinarian right away if these signs occur after administering a flea preventive product.
-- On a job hunt? Many employers are making efforts to accommodate people with furry family members. Benefits offered by pet-friendly companies include coverage of petsitting expenses for employees traveling for business, providing or subsidizing pet health insurance, letting people bring pets to the office and giving time off when people acquire a new pet or when a pet dies. Among the top pet-friendly companies are Amazon at number one, followed by Procore Technologies, Trupanion (itself a pet health insurance company), Petsmart, Airbnb, Nestle Purina Petcare, Petco, Zogics, Ceros, Uber, Salesforce, and Chewy.com.
-- We all want to save money, but penny-pinching on pet care can cost big bucks in the long run if health problems aren’t dealt with early. The American Veterinary Medical Association has some tips on saving money without compromising care. An important one is to prevent joint problems, ruptured disks and other conditions by ensuring that pets don’t become overweight. Avoid leaving food out all the time, and provide daily walks and playtime to help them stay active. Find more at AVMA.org. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.