DON'T ASSUME DOGS KNOW THE RULES FOR WATER SAFETY
Warm weather came early this year to much of the country, and that means lakes and rivers -- and even swimming pools -- are already being enjoyed by dogs who love to swim. But every spring, as my field-bred retrievers (who happily swim year-round) greet new dogs at the river's edge, I see dogs at risk of drowning.
Most times, some caution on the part of their owners would prevent any problems. The keys to water safety for dogs: prevention, preparedness and awareness.
No dog should be given unsupervised access to a backyard pool or a neighborhood pond or creek. Swimming pools are best fenced-off for safety. And if that's not possible, they should be equipped with alarms that sound when the surface of the water is broken by a child or pet falling in. Escape ramps are a great idea, but it's better to prevent pets from getting in unsupervised in the first place.
Prevention also includes teaching your pet what to do when he's in the pool. Dogs don't understand the idea that the steps are on one side only, and they may tire and drown trying to crawl out the other side. If your pet likes to swim, work with him in the pool to help him learn where the steps are, so he can get out easily. Tip: Put contrasting paint or tape on the fence behind the steps to give your dog a visual clue he can count on.
Finally, obedience training is extremely important. Your dog should come when called, even while swimming, so you can call him back before he heads into deeper water or stronger currents. Emergency shortcut: Always carry extra retrieving toys. A dog who's heading out into a dangerous area after a ball or stick can often be lured back to shore with a second item thrown closer in. It's no substitute for training, but it could save your dog's life.
Before letting your dog swim in any natural surroundings, survey the area for safety. Rivers and oceans can change frequently, and an area that was safe for swimming one visit can be treacherous the next. Consider currents, tides, underwater hazards and even the condition of the water. In the late summer, algae scum on the top of standing water can be toxic, producing substances that can kill a pet who swallows the tainted water. When in doubt, no swimming. Better safe than sorry.
One of the best things you can do is to take courses in first aid and CPR for your pets. Many local Red Cross chapters offer these classes, and some veterinarians may also teach them in your community. A dog who's pulled out near death from drowning may be saved by your prompt actions -- if you know what to do.
If your dog isn't much of a swimmer, or is older or debilitated, get him a personal flotation device. These are especially great for family boating trips because most have sturdy handles for rescue if a pet goes overboard.
Be aware of your dog's condition as he plays. Remember that even swimming dogs can get hot, so bring fresh water and offer it constantly. When your dog is tiring, be sure to call it a day. A tired dog is a good dog, but an exhausted dog is in danger of drowning.
Be particularly careful of young and old dogs. Both can get themselves into more trouble than a healthy adult dog with lots of swimming experience. Young dogs can panic in the water, and old dogs may not realize they aren't as strong as they used to be. Keep them close to shore, and keep swimming sessions short.
Swimming is great exercise and great fun for all, and with these few simple precautions you can keep the cool times coming, with safety in mind.
Kiddie pools perfect
for cooling hot dogs
Q: My Lab mix loves to wallow in her kiddie pool. Do I need to treat the water for her to be safe if she drinks any? -- H.R., via Facebook
A: No, it's better if you don't. Just keep the pool clean and the water fresh. And always supervise the pool's use to prevent any accidents.
Small pools made of hard plastic are perfect for dogs of all sizes, providing a tummy-cooling wallow for an overheated retriever or a safe way to wade for a swim-challenged pug.
Kept clean and stored in a covered spot for winter, a kiddie pool will last for many seasons. Be sure to choose the hard-plastic variety; the inflatable kind doesn't hold up well to dog claws.
You'll find the hard plastic pools will last much longer if you empty them and store out of the sun. While they're not that expensive to replace, why spend money you don't have to? With sensible, minimal care, I've had pools last five years before the plastic cracked. If you empty the pool between uses and store, you won't have to worry about your dog drinking anything nasty from the pool. It doesn't hurt to wipe the inside with a brush or sponge before rinsing clean.
Drinking the water isn't the only problem with a kiddie pool: Standing water is a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes and toxic algae. Rinse clean after every use and refill with fresh water every time and the pool's water will be safe for your dog, and inhospitable to unwanted bugs and toxic scum. -- Gina Spadafori
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target the underserved
-- The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates a population of more than 150 million cats and dogs in the United States. Most studies note that around eight out of 10 of these pets are altered.
The success of spay-neuter programs falls short in two areas: feral cats and the kind of large, tough-looking dogs favored by some tough-looking young men. Animal advocacy and veterinary groups have been tailoring programs to address these populations, offering free spays and even paying some owners or caretakers for bringing an animal in for surgery.
-- Dogs are not good at keeping themselves cool, and they rely on us to keep them out of trouble. Limit exercise to the coolest part of the day, no matter how happy your dog is to participate when it's warm. Even in the coolest part of the day, watch for signs of trouble: Glassy eyes and frantic panting indicate a dog who needs help. Get to a veterinarian, immediately.
Older, obese or short-nosed dogs are less heat-tolerant, and all dogs need constant access to shade and an endless supply of cool, clean water.
-- Senior dog diets are popular, with 43 percent of Americans claiming they have fed their dogs age-oriented food. However, only one-third of those pet owners have consulted with a veterinarian about which senior diet their aging pooches should eat.
The needs of senior dogs vary greatly, with some requiring a greater percentage of protein in their food, and others requiring more carbohydrates. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and also the authors of many best-selling pet care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.