Water Safety for Dogs

Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
– Samuel Coleridge

Unlike the ancient mariner of Coleridge's famous poem, your dog may not see the ocean or any body of water as dangerous or undrinkable. And he doesn't realize the price he could pay from drinking or swimming in a body of stagnant water.

In the summer, water safety for your dog extends beyond the prevention of drowning accidents. Dogs are susceptible to diseases and injuries you may not have considered, even if they do not go into the water at all. You both can have a lot of fun, but you should be aware of the following potential dangers.

Always bring extra water and a bowl for your dog, so he won't be tempted to slake his thirst from a questionable water source.

Poisoning and Parasites

One danger is drinking from a body of water contaminated by parasites or bacteria, such as Giardia. Both are common in stagnant bodies of water, such as ponds, bogs and small lakes. You should be concerned if your dog shows the following symptoms after drinking from a stagnant water source:

A specific type of algae – called blue-green algae – is extremely dangerous to your pet. It is found primarily in stagnant water with the algae concentrated on the downwind side. Blue-green algae is mostly present in late summer/early fall, but it can occur any time conditions are ripe. Even a small amount ingested can kill your dog within an hour.

Then there's your pool. Blue, beautiful, without a trace of algae, so it must be safe, right? Think again. If he drinks from the pool, he's absorbing all that chlorine, algaecides and baking soda you dumped in to turn your pool from swamp green to sparkling blue. Too much can make him ill. For more information on pool-related hazards, see Your Pet and Pool Safety.

At the beach, your dog may swallow too much saltwater while romping in the surf. Excessive saltwater can make him quite sick. Sea lice and jellyfish are other concerns to watch out for at the beach.

During summer the water warms up as well, spurring the growth of "sea lice," which are microscopic organisms that can cause severe itching. Warnings are usually posted when lice are present in great numbers. However, after swimming in the ocean, you and your dog should rinse thoroughly with fresh water immediately. If you see red bumps, and your dog is scratching furiously, take him to a veterinarian for treatment.

Jellyfish can sting your pet, causing extreme pain and swelling. See a veterinarian as soon as possible if your pet has been stung.


The scene of the faithful dog and owner, sitting together on a dock at sunrise, is something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. For many, taking along the dog during a fishing trip is as close to nirvana as possible.

But this idyllic scene can come to an end with a common accident: swallowing the fishhook. There are two types of fishhooks – the treble and single. Treble hooks have three hooks attached together, while a single hook is just what the name implies; just one hook. Bait is placed on the hook to attract fish. Unfortunately, the bait may also attract your pet, especially if you use hot dogs, worms or (believe it or not) stink bait.

If your pet has ingested a fishhook, transport him to your veterinarian immediately. Removing fishhooks can be risky, especially if stuck in the intestinal tract. DO NOT pull the fishing line in an attempt to pull the hook out of the throat. Just as in a fish, the hook will grab onto a piece of the stomach or esophagus and become imbedded, making surgery the only option for treatment. See Fishing With Your Dog


Your dog may be an excellent swimmer, but age, his physical condition, tides and other factors can make the exercise a delight or a danger. Never throw your dog into the pool, assuming he can swim. He could panic and drown before you have the chance to rescue him. If he falls in, he may not be able to climb out by himself, so you should observe pool safety as you would a child.

Swimming in lakes and ponds may not be a good idea for either one of you, unless your local municipality or state government has approved the area for general use. The body of water could contain harmful bacteria or algae. In addition, lakes and ponds may be deeper than they appear, and many have sudden drop-offs that could endanger the both of you.

In the ocean, and in larger bodies of water, be aware of rip currents and undercurrents. Both can carry your dog away from shore, in spite of his best efforts to swim. These currents can quickly tire him out. If you take your dog boating, always put a canine-approved life jacket on him, in case he falls out.