Pet owners enjoy taking their dogs to the beach, swimming and even boating.      Precautions should be taken to ensure an enjoyable and secure experience for both dogs and owners.

Make Sure Your Dog Can Swim

Not all dogs are natural swimmers or can swim well enough to be completely safe in or around water.  Many dogs love water and can swim without a problem. Others do not like water or are afraid of it. Any dog can drown, and hypothermia is always a risk.

Breeds with short legs may find it difficult to stay afloat. Dogs with flat noses may have a harder time breathing when in the water. Older dogs and those that are overweight may tire easily.

Introduce your dog to water gradually in a controlled situation. To ensure your canine is comfortable in water, assess your dog’s skills in a swimming pool or just off  shore of the lake.   Never force your dog into the water. Introduce your pet to swimming slowly without encouraging a negative reaction. Keep the first outing brief.

Life Jackets for Dogs

Dogs have a natural instinct to swim but sometimes the waves or other water dangers cause a dog to go under.  Young children wear life jackets in the water due to not having the strength to swim well or for a long time. A dog needs to be treated the same way because when around water, a dog will get very excited and want to swim all day. Swimming is very tiring.  This is one of reasons to purchase and use a dog life jacket.

When purchasing a life jacket, your pet needs to come along. The life jacket shouldn't fit too tight or too loose. A life jacket that fits too loosely could cause the dog to slide out of it.  A life jacket that fits too tightly can cause pain and might not be enough to support the dog's weight to keep your pet afloat.

Getting a Dog Comfortable in a Life Jacket

1. Have the dog wear the life jacket on dry land. This will get the dog comfortable and used to wearing the life jacket.

2. Once the dog is comfortable wearing the life jacket, take your pet to a place of calm water such as a stream, river or lake. A dog will feel more at ease in water where its feet can touch the bottom.

3. Always supervise your pet near any body of water. Be prepared to intervene if your pet needs help.

Canine life jackets often come equipped with a handle on the back of the vest that allows the owner to lift the dog out of the water if necessary.

Consider the Temperature

Cold water can quickly lower your pet’s body temperature and lead to hypothermia. If it is too cold for you, it is too cold for your pet. Remember, extreme summer heat can lead to heat stroke.

The sun’s rays and heat are as harmful to dogs as to humans.  Dogs get sunburned (especially those with short fur and/or pink skin) or suffer heatstroke. Early heatstroke symptoms include heavy panting, rapid breathing, excessive drooling, bright red gums and tongue, and standing four-square in an attempt to maintain balance. White or blue gums, lethargy or unwillingness to move, uncontrollable urination or defecation, labored, noisy breathing, and shock are all signs of advanced stages of heatstroke. Cool your dog down by applying ice packs to the groin area, hosing your pet down with water, and allowing the dog to lick ice chips or drink a small amount of water.  If your dog is not cooling down, immediately take your pet to a veterinarian.

If it’s Not Safe for People, It’s Not Safe for Pets

Always obey warning signs such as “Do Not Swim,” “Beach Closed,” or “Thin Ice.” Such warnings represent as much danger for your pet as for you.

Keep Fresh Drinking Water Available

Lakes, ponds and rivers may contain chemical contaminants, algae and bacteria  that may threaten your pet’s health through skin exposure or ingestion. Avoid any water that is discolored or smells bad, or is known to receive runoff from industry, farm activity or municipal sewage.  Natural bodies of water can contain chemical poisons and infectious organisms. Pool water contains chlorine and other chemicals that may cause gastrointestinal upset. 

Encourage your pet to drink from your fresh water supply and your pet will be less likely to drink water that may be harmful.

Consider Your Pet’s Health Conditions

Dogs that are prone to skin and ear infections should not be exposed to frequent swimming since chronic moisture can encourage such infections. While swimming is excellent exercise for the arthritic pet, don’t let your pet overdo it.   Your pet may be in pain afterward.

First Aid Kit

Sharp objects such as stones, sea shells, fishhooks, glass or metal can lie unseen beneath the water, and cut your pet’s feet and legs. Keep a first aid kit on hand with a disinfectant such as iodine, an antibiotic ointment for superficial wounds, and sterile bandage material. Deep wounds should receive immediate medical attention.

Pool Safety

1.  Chemicals in properly balanced pool water are generally safe for pets, although drinking a large amount of the water may cause gastrointestinal upset.

2.  Lead your pet to the stairs or steps and show him how to get out of the water.  An untrained animal will probably head for the nearest edge of the pool to get out, but slippery pool walls do not offer an easy exit. 

3.  Panic can quickly ensue and lead to exhaustion. Barking may be difficult for a dog in the water, making it tough for them to cry for help.

4.  Pools with a vinyl liner offer no grip for the animal, and vertical ladders are nearly impossible for pets to climb. 

5. Never leave pets unattended around a pool.

6. Fence your pool with a secure gate, and never leave your pet inside the fenced pool area unsupervised.

7. Make sure pets can get out of the pool. If a dog jumps or falls in and doesn't know how to get out without help, it may panic and drown.

8. Not all pets are excellent swimmers, so if water is a big part of your family life, introduce pets to water gradually.

Boating Safety

Your pet may look cute perched on the bow of your boat, but dogs can fall off as easily as they fall out of pickup trucks.  Make sure your pet is wearing a life vest, and is secured by a leash or crate when the boat is moving. This will prevent drowning or injury by the boat propellers.

Unrestrained pets are as prone to falls overboard as children. Ropes and handrails do not restrain or secure them.  Pets on a boat require close supervision.

End with a Good Bath

After a day of swimming, bathe your pet with a mild pet shampoo to remove chlorine, sea salt and any other potential contaminants. Use an ear cleaner to rinse and dry the ears, and flush his/her eyes with sterile saline solution to prevent irritation.

Sleep Well!

Don’t be surprised if your pet is unusually tired after a day in the sun and the water. If your pet doesn’t swim often, he/she may seem stiff and sore.

Stay Safe - Think Ahead and Enjoy  Summer --

References and Resources used:   AAHA / Animal Behavior College /  Dog training expert Amy Ammen / Water Safety for Dogs


Be responsible.   Have your pets spayed or neutered.

"Shirley Taggart is an animal advocate.    She is committed to helping animals and the people who care about them."      

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