With the dog days of summer upon us, many pet parents will be planning a few days by the sea. If your dog enjoys a day at the shore or lakeside as much as you do, here are a few tips to make it a fun outing for all involved (with no-one getting out of their depth!)

Swimming dangers

It is a misconception that all dogs can swim. Some don’t even know the doggy paddle! In fact, certain breeds of dog aren’t built for swimming at all; particularly those breeds that have chunky bodies and short legs (that includes you, Bulldogs!). While it’s not an absolute rule that any dog of such a breed can’t swim, it’s just more difficult for them and they are more likely to run into trouble.

Another population of dogs are those who are afraid of the water and won’t swim at all. Don’t assume that your dog will naturally take to the water, even if he is a retriever or water dog. If he wants to go into water, great otherwise don’t force the issue.

Even if your dog enjoys the water and can swim, never leave him unattended. Just like people, a dog can be pulled under by strong tides and currents. You may even want to consider a pet life jacket if your dog will be swimming in the ocean or deep water.

Finally, don’t let your dog go out too far or let them become overly tired in the water. If they are an older dog, they may lack the endurance they once had, but even younger dogs can struggle with the unfamiliar exercise that swimming may present.

Don't let them drink the water

If your dog is a sea-lover, he will no doubt ingest salt water. It goes with the territory. Small amounts won’t do any lasting harm; the most common side effect to a little salt water drinking is loose stools for a day or two. However, if your dog shows a taste for salt water and ingests large amounts, he could get into trouble. Drinking large amounts of salt water can throw off a dog’s electrolyte balance, which can lead to dehydration, brain damage, kidney failure and even death.

Make sure that you have plenty of fresh water for your dog before you head to the beach, that way he won’t get the chance to develop a taste for salt water. There are many portable dog bowls and water carriers that you can use. I am a big fan of the Gulpy water dispenser as it is easy to use one-handed, and it serves as both a water bottle and dog bowl in one.

Sand is not food

Whether your dogs swims or not, sand will still be a staple of beach days. We’re all familiar with finding sand absolutely everywhere after a visit to the coast but somewhere we definitely don’t want to find it is in the dog! If you have a dog that will eat anything you need to be extra vigilant at the beach. As with sea water, a little sand will do no harm, but in larger quantities it can be harmful. Large quantities of sand could collect in the dog’s intestines or bowels and cause a blockage. Signs to look for include straining to defecate with no result; lack of appetite; repeated vomiting; or any signs of abdominal discomfort such as heavy panting, pacing, whining or a distended belly.

If you do notice any of these signs following a trip to the beach, take your dog to your veterinarian right away.

dalmation dog playing in ocean water

Pets need sunscreen too!

Most pet parents are unaware of the fact that skin tumors in dogs occur much more commonly than they do in people. Those dogs with short, white coats, light-colored skin and sparse tummy fur are particularly prone to sun-induced skin disease and cancer. Breeds like Dalmatians, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Whippets, Italian Greyhounds and Greyhounds are particularly at risk. Also if you shave your dog’s coat for the summer this can leave his skin exposed to the sun.

So, when you’re headed for a day at the beach with your dogs, don’t forget the sunscreen! Remember that just like humans, sunscreen can wear off on your dog (or rub off, especially if he rolls around in the sand!), so you will need to reapply it frequently, every other hour or so.

While some human sunscreen products are safe for dogs (please check with your veterinarian before applying any!), I usually recommend a pet sunscreen formulated specifically for dogs, such as Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen or Doggies Pet Sunscreen.

Apply sunscreen to the bridge of the nose, ear tips, the skin surrounding the lips, and any area where pigmentation is low. Don’t forget to include areas where your dog's skin is more exposed, such as the groin, abdomen and inner leg areas.

Watch out for heat stroke

A long day at the beach can be exhausting for us; imagine how the heat and activity will affect your dog when you take into consideration the fact that he can’t really sweat and has a fur coat to boot! One of the greatest dangers that he is exposed to in the summer is heatstroke. At Petplan pet insurance, this is one condition we see an increasing number of claims for over the summer months. This can be an extremely serious condition and the worst thing about it is that it’s totally preventable. Dogs do not have an efficient method of handling excess heat and few dogs have the sense to head for shade or realize that they shouldn't get too excited or work hard in the heat.

Signs of heat exhaustion can include:

  • Changes in breathing: heavy panting and/or hyperventilation (fast breathing).
  • Changes to the gums and mouth: healthy gums are pink and moist; heatstroke-affected pets will initially salivate more as they try to lose heat through evaporation. Then, as the condition progresses, the gums become gray and dry as dehydration sets in.
  • Gastrointestinal signs: vomiting or diarrhea, sometimes with blood. Eventually slowed or absent breathing efforts, finally seizures or coma can result.

Many pet parents assume that if a dog is in the water, he won't overheat. Unfortunately, this just isn't true, especially when the water temperature gets much above 75 degrees and if the dog is working hard in the water.

If a dog shows signs of serious distress from the heat it is best to cool him immediately with cool or tepid water rather than really cold water. Most dogs will not drink water at this stage of heat stroke and it is not a good idea to spend time trying to get them to. Just get to the vet's as quickly as possible.

Before heading home

Finally, before heading back home, rinse your pooch down thoroughly to remove all salt water and sand from his coat. Not only will it avoid finding sand in the car for the rest of the year but it will also help protect your dog’s skin; salt and sand can be drying and irritating.

Congratulations! You now know how to easily avoid subjecting your four-legged friend to riptides, salt water ingestion, sand impaction, sunburn and heat stroke! Now you can make sure you concentrate on the really important things ... like making sure you’ve packed a camera to capture all of those priceless summer moments!

Jul 10, 2009
Pet Care

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