Beach Bound With Your Dog? Eight Tips for Safe Water Excursions

dog in sun on beach
dalmation dog on beach
There are a few things to bring with you and be aware of if you plan to take your dog to the beach or aboard a boat.

If your plans for summer fun include a romp in the water with your dog, a few precautions can help keep the experience safe and relaxing for everyone. Corinne Lawson, clinical assistant professor in emergency and critical care at the UW School of Veterinary Medicine, shares the following advice for beach-bound pups and their people. (Editor’s note: Lawson has since departed UW Veterinary Care and the School of Veterinary Medicine.)

Refreshment: Most important, Lawson says, bring along drinking water and a bowl for your dog. If visiting saltwater, dogs shouldn’t drink the water; excess salt can cause diarrhea, vomiting and dehydration, and can even be fatal in large amounts. In lakes and other fresh bodies of water, bacteria, algae or parasites may be present that are harmful if consumed. In general, avoid contact with water containing visible algal blooms. Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, in particular, can produce toxins that are poisonous to dogs, people and other species. In Dane County, beach water quality is tested throughout the summer, with results posted online.

dog running in water
If you’re in the sun or heat for an extended period, monitor your dog for heat-related illness and enforce rest periods to prevent them from getting too warm.

Sun smarts: Just like people, dogs can get sunburn. A dog’s nose is particularly predisposed, as well as exposed, hairless areas of skin like the abdomen and groin. Lawson suggests providing shade with a beach umbrella or pop-up enclosure, or using sunscreen. “If you are going to apply sunscreen to yourself or your children because of how long you expect to be in the sun, it is wise to also apply sunscreen to your dog,” she says. Dog-specific sunscreens are available, but human products can also be used. Lawson recommends fragrance-free sunscreens with UVA and UVB protection that do not contain zinc, which is toxic to dogs if ingested.

Hot feet: If the sand feels too hot for your feet, it could also be too warm for your dog’s paws, so be mindful of how your dog is walking. “If they are uncomfortable, please don’t force them to continue to walk on the hot sand,” Lawson says. Booties can be a helpful protective measure if your pet is used to the footwear, “but the beach is not the right place to try booties if your dog has never worn them before.”

Swim buddy: If this is your dog’s first time in the water, Lawson advises entering the water with them to ensure they are able to swim. “Don’t ever force your dog into water that they can’t stand in without a life jacket or without you next to them to support them at the surface,” she says. And even if you believe your dog can swim, “always keep a close eye on them in the water.”

Lifesaver: If your dog will be on a boat, Lawson advises that they wear a life jacket. “Your dog may be able to swim, but if they fall off the boat, they may be knocked unconscious, or become exhausted, and the life jacket could save their life,” she says. Before venturing out, place the jacket on your dog to test the fit and help them get used to wearing it.

dog in sun on beach
A dog’s nose is particularly predisposed to sunburn, as well as exposed, hairless areas of skin like the abdomen and groin. Provide shade with a beach umbrella or pop-up enclosure, or apply sunscreen.

Overheated: If your dog will be in the sun or hot temperatures for an extended period, it‘s important to monitor for heat-related illness. “Try to control your dog’s activity and enforce rest periods to prevent them from overheating,” Lawson advises. Signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke include excessive panting, which is especially dangerous for brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds like bulldogs, pugs or Shih Tzus; difficulty breathing or a change in breathing sounds; sudden lethargy; trouble walking; or abnormal behavior.

Cool down: If you think your dog is becoming overheated, move them to a cool, shaded place and encourage them to drink water. If you’re near a body of water or a children’s pool, you can allow the dog to enter standing water, but only to a depth up to the lower portion of their chest (so if they grow weak and fall over, they don’t become submerged). Pouring cool water over the dog’s body can also help. If after five to 10 minutes of intervention your dog is still panting heavily and hasn’t returned to their normal behavior, Lawson says to get them to a veterinarian.

In control: Unless you’re visiting an off-leash dog beach or park, Lawson advises keeping your dog on a leash. “There may be other dogs there that may not be friendly and you don’t want your dog getting into an altercation,” she says. This will also help keep you aware of your dog’s activity and how they are behaving, “to let you know if it is time to go home.” And be sure your dog is wearing a collar with ID. Finally, beware of trash on the beach that dogs might eat or broken glass that could cut their feet.

We also recently shared a variety of tips to protect pets from heat-related harms. From using caution if exercising with your dog to being mindful of hydration, view advice for keeping your pet safe in warm weather.

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