Water Dangers For Dogs

Summer is a favorite time of year for many of us.  And it’s such a wonderful time to enjoy our dogs in active pursuits like hiking, picnicking and swimming.

But as responsible pet owners, we need to know the risks we’re exposing our fur kids to when we embark on these activities.

I’ve written in the last few weeks about keeping our doggies’ paws and skin safe from the hazards of summer.

This week I’ll talk about the water.

I most definitely do not want to deter anyone from swimming with their pooch.  It’s great exercise for your dog… and you.  But it’s important to understand how to keep your dog safe around water.

I’m always amazed how much I learn when I research my blog posts.  And I consider myself a pretty knowledgeable pet owner.

This tells me we probably could all use to educate ourselves more to keep our pets happy and healthy.

Whether you swim with your dog in a pool, the ocean or a lake, there are real dangers out there… some you may never have heard of.

What do you know about water intoxication? 

This is a new one for me… and my pups are water dogs!

Water intoxication, or hyponatremia, is a rare but often fatal condition.  It happens when the dog drinks so much water that their sodium levels get excessively low.

When dogs ingest large amounts of water by lapping or biting at the water while swimming for long periods, they’re in danger of suffering from this condition.

If your dog likes to stay in the lake or pool all day, they’re at risk.  Does your dog dive for a ball or toy at the bottom of a pool over and over again?  They too are consuming large amounts of water.

My dog loves when I throw her ball into the pool over and over again.  And every time she grabs it and swims to the steps with the ball in her mouth, she takes in a ton of water.  She usually comes out choking.  If your dog does too, be aware of how much water they’re consuming.

And how about garden hoses and sprinklers?  Does your dog enjoy catching the water that comes out of them?  This can be dangerous. Because the water is pressurized, your dog is swallowing more water than you think.

No one’s saying you shouldn’t do these things with your dog.  Just be sure not to over due it.

Take frequent short breaks from fetching a toy in the water.  Minimize chasing water from a hose.  Don’t let your dog dive to the bottom of the pool over and over.

And give your dog regular breaks from swimming.

Also watch how much water your dog drinks after exercise.  If they drain a whole bowl, wait a while before filling the bowl again.  Over hydrating can lead to water intoxication as well.

Most dog owners think a lot about dehydration but rarely give thought to the dangers of over hydration.  Now you see how both can be problematic.

Learn the signs of water intoxication and act quicklyto get help.  If your dog has been swimming, playing in the water or drinking large amounts of water, the following signs mean trouble:

Vomiting

Lethargy

Bloating

Glazed eyes

Excessive salivation

Loss of coordination

Difficulty breathing

Seizures

Get to the emergency vet clinic immediately.  This is a condition that progresses very quickly and can reach the point of no return fast.

Any breed or size dog can become a victim of water intoxication.  But small dogs will show signs much faster.

Did you know swimming in the ocean could cause salt poisoning?

This is the opposite of water intoxication.

Hypernatremia is the buildup of too much sodium in the blood stream from drinking salt water.  This causes similar symptoms as hyponatremia and is also life threatening.

Swimming in the ocean is not the only thing to bring this on.  Retrieving—over and over again—an ocean water–soaked tennis ball is another way dogs swallow lots of salt water.

When you’re at the beach, be sure you give your dog lots of breaks from water play.  And offer a lot of fresh water so your dog isn’t tempted to drink the ocean water.

If you’re dog isn’t willing to drink from the water bowl every 15 minutes or so, use a squirt cap and squirt it into their mouth.

How about those jellyfish sunning themselves on the shoreline?

If you like strolling on the beach with your dog, be sure they avoid these guys.  Whether the jellyfish are in the water or on the sand, they’re a potential danger to your dog.

Their tentacles contain a stinging toxin that can cause a reaction anywhere from mild to anaphylactic.  Make sure your dog not only avoids stepping on it, but they don’t eat it.

Even the dried tentacles baking in the sand for hours or days can cause a reaction.

The most toxic of the jellyfish to both humans and dogs is the Portuguese Man O’war.  These suckers can be as big as 12 inches long and 5 inches wide… with tentacles as long as 165 feet!

They are purplish blue and aren’t even considered jellyfish.  But they are jellylike.  Avoid them at all costs.

If a jellyfish stings your dog, remove the tentacle without touching it directly and see your vet immediately.

Beware the blue-green algae!

If you prefer to give your dog the pleasure of a pond instead of the ocean, risks lurk there too.

Blue-green algae can be very harmful.  If your dog swims in it, they may get a rash.  If they drink it, the toxins in the algae can cause damage to their organs.

You should always wash your dog after swimming but particularly if they were swimming in algae-laden water.

These algae live in standing bodies of fresh water or the slightly salty water found in a pond near the ocean.

The smell of the algae will often attract your dog so keep them away if the water has a bluish green tint.

If after a romp in a pond you notice the following, see the vet ASAP:

Vomiting

Diarrhea

Weakness

Difficulty walking

Bloody urine

Giardia, crypto, lepto… oh my!

The standing fresh water in small lakes, ponds and puddles are a breeding ground for all kinds of parasites and bacteria.

Giardia and crypto sporidium are the most common.  They cause gastrointestinal distress.  But most dogs, fortunately, will recover quickly from these parasites.

But leptospirosis, which I wrote about recently, can be deadly if not caught early.

What about swimming in a pool?

My dogs have always loved the pool.  And who could blame them?  When you walk out the door and it’s 115 degrees, the pool is very refreshing.

But I find the chlorine dries out my dog’s skin.  Just as it does mine.  Hose your dog thoroughly after they swim in the pool to get the chlorine off.

The chlorine in pool water isn’t particularly dangerous because it’s highly diluted.  But you wouldn’t want your dog drinking a lot of it.

On the other hand if they get a hold of a chlorine tablet or the liquid form you pour in the pool… that’s trouble.  Luckily, the odor is so unpleasant, it usually keeps them away.

If you’re going to introduce your dog to the pool, be sure they know how to get out.  The biggest pool danger for dogs is drowning.

If they can’t find the exit, or haven’t learned how to negotiate the steps or ladder, they may panic or scramble trying to get out.  This can cause them to tire and drown without help.  Just because paddling is instinctive doesn’t mean a dog won’t panic or get tired.

The body composition of some breeds like bulldogs and greyhounds doesn’t lend itself to swimming.  They will drown.  So know your breed!

If you have a pool but you’re not sure how to acclimate your dog to it, hire a trainer to help you.

For dogs that don’t swim but are interested in the pool, buy a life vest to keep them safe.  But always supervise your dog in the pool—just as you would a child—even if they’re wearing a life vest.  That’s the only way you’ll see if they get into trouble and if they’re consuming too much water.

Floppy-eared dogs run the risk of ear infections.  Be sure to dry the ears after your dog swims to avoid infections.  This can become a chronic problem if your  dog’s a regular swimmer and their ears stay wet.

Maybe you don’t want your dog in the pool.  Or your dog can’t swim.  Consider fencing the pool to keep your pet safe.

But whatever you do… go out and enjoy the weather and the water with your dog.  Just keep a cautious eye on them to be sure they’re not going overboard.

Is your dog a swimmer?  Do you take them to the lake, the beach or the pool?  Share your water experiences in the comment section at the top of the page.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Benefits of Doggy Sun Protection

I have owned dogs my whole life.  With each one, I try to be a better pet parent. I try to learn more and do more with each dog that comes into my life.

This week, I have to confess I have been remiss about protecting my dogs from the harmful effects of the sun.

Frankly, I hadn’t thought the sun was much of a problem for a dog.  After all, our dogs don’t have to worry about wrinkles.  And I thought they’re pretty well protected from sunburn by their fur.

It turns out I couldn’t be more wrong.

Wrinkles may not be a dog problem but skin cancer is.  In fact, skin tumors are the most common tumors in dogs.  And some breeds are more susceptible than others.

The three most common skin cancers in dogs are malignant melanoma, squamous cell carcinoma and mast cell tumors.

Malignant melanoma

Most malignant melanomas occur on the mucous membranes like the mouth.   But dogs can get them on body parts covered with hair about 10% of the time.

If untreated, they are fatal because they grow quickly and will spread to other organs.

Melanomas in dogs are caused by genetic factors.   There are breeds at greater risk for this form of cancer.  Schnauzers, Scottish terriers and other black dogs are prone to melanomas on their toes or on the toenail bed.

There seems to be a connection between a trauma or incessant licking and melanoma.  This causes the cells to multiply and in some cases mutate into cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This is the one form of skin cancer in dogs linked to sun exposure.  It’s aggressive and can destroy a lot of the tissue surrounding the tumor.

It’s commonly found in dogs that spend time in the sun and dogs that live at high altitudes.  They’re closer to the sun.

You’re likely to find this cancer on your dog’s nose, ears, or belly… areas where there’s no fur for protection from the sun.

Squamous cell carcinoma appears between 6 and 10 years old and generally affects dogs with short coats, especially if they have light skin and/or light fur.

Large breed black dogs are prone to squamous cell on their toes.

Keeshonds, Basset Hounds, Standard Schnauzers, Collies, Dalmations, Bull Terriers and Beagles are prone to this cancer.

Mast cell tumors

Another fatal cancer, mast cell tumors are the most common skin tumor in dogs.  And no one knows for sure what causes them.  There is a link to inflammation or irritants on the skin.  Hormones may also affect mast cell tumor growth.

Sadly, I lost a dog to this.  Her diagnosis occurred when she was 8 which seems to be the mean age for this cancer.  Our vet surgically removed the tumors which gave her a few good years.  But the cancer ultimately spread to her lungs.

These tumors affect the mast cells, which play a role in the allergic response.  The cells cause the itching, swelling and redness on your pet’s skin that results from contact with an allergen.

But you need not worry that your dog is more susceptible to this form of cancer if they suffer from allergies.  There’s no connection.

Once again, though, genetics play a role.

Certain breeds are prone to mast cell tumors.  Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Labrador Retrievers, Beagles, Schnauzers and Golden Retrievers are more likely to get these tumors.  My girl was a yellow Lab.

So if you notice sores that don’t heal or keep coming back, or masses on your dog’s body, see your vet immediately.

Not all masses and sores are cancer.  One of my dogs is covered in fatty tumors.  But the vet has biopsied all of them and none are malignant… thank goodness.  Get them checked.  Early diagnosis is key to successful treatment.

Skin cancer prevention

Mast cell tumors and malignant melanomas have a genetic component.  There is no way to prevent them.  Early intervention is your best option.

But sun exposure is a risk factor for squamous cell carcinoma.  Limit your dog’s time in the sun, especially between 10 am and 2 pm.

Apply sunscreen to your pup’s ears, nose and other lightly furred/lightly colored areas of the body.

Be careful which sunscreen you choose for your dog.  Avoid zinc oxide, which is toxic to dogs if they swallow it.  Stay away from sunscreens that contain para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA) and fragrance.  Both can cause adverse reactions.

Look for a waterproof sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 that blocks both UVA and UVB rays—broad-spectrum coverage.

There are many dog specific sunscreens on the market.  But the FDA doesn’t test sunscreens for dogs.  So there will be no claims on the label.  As a result, you won’t know how effective it is at protecting your dog.

Ask your vet for a recommendation.  They may just recommend a sunscreen made for kids.

I probably don’t need to say this but you should never use tanning lotion or tanning oil on your dog.  This isn’t sun protection.

Try a little sunscreen on a small area first to be sure your dog doesn’t react.

When you’re certain your dog isn’t allergic to the sunscreen and they’re not licking it, rub it on all body parts that aren’t well covered with fur.  And don’t forget the tummy between the hind legs.  Rub it in so it gets through the fur and into the skin.

Allow it to soak in for a few minutes before going outside.

Avoid contact with the eyes.  And just like you do, reapply your dog’s sunscreen after swimming.

What if your dog has a sensitivity to sunscreen or licks it off?

There are alternatives to sunscreen.  You can try sun-friendly apparel.  There are rash guards and sun shirts with built in sun protection factors of 50.  Doggy goggles and visors are an option for tolerant dogs.

If you have a dog that spends a lot of time outside, you can keep them out of the sun by using an exercise pen with a sunscreen cover… almost like a beach umbrella.

How do you know if your sun protection is working?

You’ll know when your dog is sunburned if their skin is red and tender to the touch.  Or if there’s hair loss, itchiness, dry or cracked skin.  These are all signs of too much sun.

See your vet if any of these symptoms persist.

This is the time of year to enjoy the outdoors with your dog.  Whether it’s a day at the beach or a romp in the backyard, be sure both you and your best buddy are wearing protection from the harmful effects of the sun.

Do you use sunscreen on your dog? Tell us which one you like in the comment section at the top of the page.