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Water Safety for Pets

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A small tan and white dog stands in shallow water

As summer approaches and you open your pool for the season, it’s important to consider water safety for pets. Whether you have a natural swimmer or a pup that’s never been in the water before, there are many steps you can take to ensure that their time in the pool is equally fun and safe.

Can All Dogs Swim?

Although the ability to swim seems like a skill all dogs have, some breeds cannot swim as well as others. Some dogs can’t even tread water well, depending on their body structure. Characteristics to be aware of include:

  • Scrunched noses and flat faces

    Also known as a brachycephalic breed, dogs like Pugs and Bulldogs have short snouts that can put them at a much higher risk of getting water in their nose and increasing their chances of drowning. For dogs with this type of facial structure to keep their face out of the water, they have to tilt their head so far upward that their back end dips too far into the water.

  • Short legs

    Unfortunately, short legs on dogs are not conducive to being able to swim well. Although some pups may be able to tread water and move around for a short while, the problem is that their legs can tire out much faster than dogs with longer legs. Breeds such as Corgis, Dachshunds, and Basset Hounds are prime examples.

  • Barrel-shaped body

    Dogs with long bodies and deep chests may also have more difficulty keeping afloat. In addition, dogs with this type of body may also have a combination of larger heads and denser bones, increasing their drowning risk even more. Bull Terriers, Bulldogs, and Basset Hounds all have this body type.

It’s also possible for your dog’s breed to have more than one of these physical traits that decrease their ability to swim. However, while your canine friend may not be aquatically inclined, that may not deter their love for playing in the water. In that case, it’s essential that you take the proper steps to ensure their safety around any body of water.

For instance, getting your pup a doggy life vest is highly recommended. You will want one that’s snug enough, so they won’t slip out, while also not being so tight that it’s uncomfortable. Remember to check the weight limit and consider getting one with a handle on top, making it easier to grab or move your dog in an emergency. Handles also allow you to attach a long leash so that your dog can enjoy swimming without being able to swim too far away.

If you take your dog to the beach or lake, stick to the shallow water and be mindful of rough waves. Keeping the experience positive is important, so make a point to reward your pup with positive reactions and some treats. In the instance that you have a pool at home, never leave your dog outside, unattended near the water. However, if your pup seems interested in going for a dip, consider buying a shallow kiddie pool instead. This option lets your dog cool off and have fun while keeping them safe in only a few inches of water.

What Is Dry Drowning?

Although most people are familiar with the dangers of drowning, the term “dry drowning” is not nearly as well known. Dry drowning can occur when a large amount of water is aspirated—goes down the airway into the lungs. Even if your pet is an expert swimmer, they can unintentionally get a gulp of water during a quick submersion. Dry drowning will not have any immediate symptoms, and your dog could act entirely normal for a few hours or even days.

With unwanted water in their lungs, symptoms of dry drowning can begin. These can include:

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Wheezing

  • Crackling sound from the chest

  • Coughing

  • Lethargy

  • Drooling

  • Bluish-colored gums

If your pet begins showing any of these symptoms, and they were recently around water, it’s crucial that you immediately take them to the veterinarian. This condition can become emergent if your pet does not receive treatment in a timely manner.

A golden retriever swims in a pool

Pool Safety for Pets

Although you need to take a few extra precautions with your short-legged and scrunch-nosed dogs, it’s crucial that you still follow general pool safety with all dogs. For instance, setting up a fence around your pool can be a good idea until you know your dog is a confident swimmer. You may also want to consider installing a small ramp in your pool to offer a much more accessible option for panicked pets (or even wildlife) that have accidentally fallen into the water and can’t find the steps to get out.

When it comes to pet safety around pools, it’s natural for pet parents to have a long list of questions. Common ones include:

Should You Let Your Dog Swim in a Pool?

Whether you let your dog swim in a pool will be entirely your decision, but before you let your four-legged friend go for a swim, you should also consider the effects your dog will have on your pool. Dogs typically shed, sometimes a lot, and all that hair could come out in your pool and go through the filter. Plus, dogs can carry a lot of dirt, pollen, and sand in their coats, so you may have to clean your pool out more often or test your chemicals more frequently. Dogs also have sharp nails that could accidentally rip your pool liner, so it’s best to keep up with nail trimmings.

If you let your dog go for a dip, it’s important that you supervise them at all times, never force them into the water, and make the experience a positive one. Dogs should be introduced to swimming gradually, at a pace they are comfortable with. Try getting in the pool with your dog, allowing them to get in step by step. You can even have them sit on the steps or lay down there, rewarding them with treats or a toy. And don't forget to repeatedly show your pup how to get out of the pool, too.

When your dog seems more confident in the water and is ready to go swimming, encourage them with praise. Using a dog life vest, putting your hand on the underside of their belly, or just staying close can help ensure your dog's head stays above water and that they don't feel panicked. It can also help if you let them swim just a short distance in the shallow end before guiding them back to the steps and showing them how to get out of the pool.

Is It Safe for Dogs To Swim in Chlorinated Pools?

It is perfectly safe for dogs to swim in chlorinated pools, and saltwater pools, for that matter. However, if your aquatic canine goes swimming every day, the pool chemicals may begin to dry out their skin—this can also happen to people. You can help prevent skin irritation in a few ways, including rinsing your dog off with fresh water after swimming or using a dog shampoo formulated to help with dry skin. Mats and hot spots could form by leaving moisture trapped in their fur (especially if your dog has a double coat), so always be sure to dry your dog’s coat thoroughly when they’re done swimming.

Is It Safe for Pets To Drink Pool Water?

You should always discourage your dog or cat from drinking pool water. Of course, between swimming and playing in the pool, it will accidentally happen that they may swallow a little bit of water—the same happens with kids. What you want to keep an eye out for is if your pet is purposefully on the stairs or edge of the pool, trying to drink the water. If they drink too much, it could cause a variety of health issues, some becoming relatively serious.

To help keep this from becoming an issue, always have a bowl of fresh drinking water outside, available anytime your pet is swimming. If you catch them trying to drink the pool water, gently redirect them to their water bowl.

What To Do if Your Cat Falls in the Pool

Even if your feline friend normally stays indoors, it’s still possible that they may end up outside, whether from sneaking out with the dog or hopping through a doggy door. Not to mention, if your pool is in a fully screened-in area, your cat can even safely roam around in what is basically a giant catio. That said, it’s essential to take some safety measures, such as putting a cover on the pool or a fence around the edge, to help reduce the chances of your cat accidentally going for an unwanted swim.

Of course, accidents can still happen, and if your cat were to fall in your pool, it could be helpful to have a small ramp already in place. Some cats are natural swimmers and don’t mind the water, but providing them with an accessible way to exit the pool can help reduce panic. Unfortunately, not all felines are fans of the aquatics and may immediately become frightful if they fall in the pool, or even a bathtub, for that matter. When your cat feels scared in the water, they will claw for anything they can get ahold of, including your arms.

To protect yourself from unwanted scratches, use a pool skimmer, towel, or flotation device to give your best pal something to grab onto so you can pull them out of the pool. You will immediately want to rinse your cat with clean water and dry them off thoroughly. Then, take them back inside to a room with their litterbox and some fresh water—you don’t want them hiding away where you can’t keep an eye on them. Allow them to calm down and rest while you observe them for any behaviors that are out of the ordinary. If you are worried that your cat swallowed too much pool water or is acting differently than normal, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian.

On the other hand, some cats do enjoy the water and going for a swim. Plus, if you slowly introduce your cat to the pool, just like you would a dog, your feline friend may find a new, fun way to stay active, helping them feel more confident if they ever accidentally fall into the water. Before teaching your cat how to swim, however, it’s smart to consider purchasing a kitty life vest for added safety. You may also want to get a leash, which you can attach to the life vest and allow you to more easily guide and help your cat from outside the pool.

Infographic titled 'Safety Tips for Swimming with Pets'. It features essential items for safe swimming with dogs, such as a life jacket, towels, floats and rafts, non-slip ramps, kiddie pool, and water-friendly toys. Safety recommendations include using fences to prevent drowning, introducing dogs gradually to water in a kiddie pool, ensuring fresh drinking water is available, and showing dogs how to exit the pool safely.

Pool Accessories for Pets

For your pet's next pool day, there are many fun and functional accessories that can elevate your best pal's swimming experience.

  • Kiddie pool

    If you don’t have a pool or don’t want your dog in yours, you can always purchase a kiddie pool. The hard-shelled ones are often lightweight, nail-resistant, and budget-friendly and can usually be found at many stores during spring and summer. A kiddie pool can also be a fantastic option for dogs that aren’t great swimmers, older dogs that want to lounge in the water, and puppies or cats that don’t feel comfortable in deep water.

  • Life vest

    Life vests provide extra safety to your best pal, especially in water that's not as calm as a pool. Although not all dogs need a life vest in the pool, some pups may feel safer and more confident in them while swimming where they can’t reach the bottom.

  • Ramps or steps

    Installing a doggy pool ramp in the deep end can be helpful for in-ground pools. If your pet gets confused and can’t find the steps, they are too tired to swim more, or something scares them, they may immediately want out of the pool, and providing a second exit option can be beneficial. With above-ground pools, if you only have a ladder for people to get in and out, consider adding dog-friendly stairs.

  • Floaties and rafts

    Your dog may be less of a swimmer and more of a lounger. In this case, you can look into the dozens of options for dog-safe pool rafts and floaties. Remember to keep your dog’s size in mind when shopping or if you’ll need more than one if you have a pack of pups at home. You may be pleasantly surprised to see how cool some dog rafts are. Remember to always supervise your dogs when they are playing or lounging with rafts.

  • Water-friendly toys

    This can include anything from balls and flying disks and everything in between. When shopping for different toys, make sure you purchase ones that are size-appropriate for your pup and will do well in water—this information can usually be found on the packaging. If you have a dog that’s a natural in the water and loves diving, you can also look into diving toy options. Just steer clear of items like stuffed animal toys that won’t dry out properly.

  • Microfiber towel

    After your pet’s all done in the pool and you give them a quick rinse off with clean water, it’s important to dry them off completely. Not only will this help eliminate the wet dog smell and keep your furniture and floors dry, but it can also prevent matting and skin irritation.

Although your pet may go swimming in pools the most, it’s essential to keep many of these safety measures in mind whenever they’re in any body of water, including rivers, lakes, or the ocean. In these bigger bodies of water, it’s highly recommended that your pet always has a life vest on and that you stick close to them, as strong currents could tire your pal out quickly or carry them away. Even if your pal loves the water, remember never to force them to go for a swim if they don’t want to. Playing in the water should always be a positive and fun experience.

An ASPCA® Pet Health Insurance plan can help you with eligible costs for covered conditions like surgery expenses for accidents and help provide peace of mind that your pet can receive the care they need. Check out our online resources to learn more about your insurance options and get a free quote today. The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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