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summer safety alert: dr. kim smyth explains “dry drowning” in dogs

  • Dr. Kim
  • Posted by Dr. Kim Smyth on
    Staff Veterinarian and Pet Health Writer of Petplan

The mercury has risen where I live, which is welcome after our harsh winter that seemed to last forever. And finally, summer is officially here.


With summer, though, comes some dangers for our pets. For the last few weeks, my Facebook feed has been sprinkled with posts warning friends about the risk of “dry drowning” in children, and this got me thinking about the same condition in pets.


I will never forget the first case of “dry drowning” or “secondary drowning” that I ever saw. I was a fourth year student in veterinary school, working my clinical rotations. A very nice young couple came in to our emergency service with their 9-month-old Golden Retriever pup. It seems their pup found his way into their pool while they were out.


Dogs love swimming, and we know that most dogs can instinctively swim. They’ll eagerly jump in the pool for some real doggy paddling, but the trouble comes in getting out. By instinct, dogs tend to approach the side of the pool to exit, only to find themselves unable to climb out.


Like most dogs, the Golden Retriever pup could not get out of the pool. His owners had not taught him how to find and use the steps yet. These owners were very lucky to get home in time to see his accident; they were able to rescue him from the pool before he became so exhausted that he could no longer swim.


But their dog wasn’t out of the woods yet. That’s because the pool water he may have aspirated (or inhaled) while struggling to keep his muzzle above sea level was acting as an irritant in his lungs. This irritation was causing pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) to occur. As fluid built up inside his lungs, his ability to breathe became hampered.


This, dear readers, is dry drowning. It can happen hours – or even days – after a near drowning accident, and it is heart breaking because even though you rescued your pet from the immediate danger of drowning, you could still lose her later due to complications.


My story has a good outcome—the pup pulled through, much to everyone’s relief. But many stories do not turn out as well.


If you have to rescue your pet from a near drowning episode, keep a very, very close eye on him or her in the hours after the accident. To be safe, you may want to think about just taking her to the vet for observation, especially if the accident happens in the evening hours and you need someone to watch her overnight.


This summer, make sure your pets know how to get out of the pool. Teach them where the steps are and how to use them. And go one step further—never let your pet have access to the pool without supervision. It’s just not worth the risk!

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Posted by Carol Brady Fonvielle
on August 08 2017 00:40

So, if you recognize "Dry Drowning" is there anything that one can do? Or just immediately take the dog to the vet?

Posted by Carole Reed
on June 19 2016 19:55

Thank you, I never knew this!

Posted by Gai Paupaw
on June 06 2016 17:30

Very good to know - it may sound silly but can it be the same for sprinklers?

Posted by RSK
on June 03 2015 12:02

our 9 mo old Golden puppy went to a swim pool had a vest on and almost the same thing happened. He had inhaled a load of water and 2 weeks later had a terrible lung infection/pneumonia. He collapsed and wouldn't move. Lucky after treatment with antibiotics he pulled through. So this can happen anytime in my mind even with a life vest on.

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