For many German Shepherd Dogs, swimming tops the list as their favorite activity. Not only is swimming an excellent exercise for the dog, but it also keeps them cool, fit, and toned. And with the hot summer days of August and September ahead, no doubt many of us will be making trips to our favorite swimming spots with our dogs.
While swimming may be fun, it can also be a potentially dangerous activity. Hazards such as underwater debris and toxic algae blooms should make handlers think twice about taking their dogs to just any spot to swim. Before you pack up your dog and head out to the lake, river, or beach, check out some of our tips below for ensuring a safe swimming session with your dog.
Salt or freshwater? Freshwater is recommended, particularly since dogs do swallow quite a bit of water as they swim. Ingesting salt water can cause vomiting and dehydration, and excessive ingestion of salt water can cause severe neurological problems, including seizures and brain swelling. Additionally, ocean waves and currents can also make swimming difficult and dangerous for a dog, so if you are headed to the ocean, it may be wise to keep your dog on the beach and not out in the surf.
Look before you let your dog leap! Take a brief scan of the entry and exit points of the water, and keep an eye out for hazards such as broken glass bottles, torn aluminum cans (very sharp!), fishing hooks and lures, and debris just under the water that can catch a paw or impale a leaping dog. Many dogs love to charge into the water, and if you plan on throwing sticks or toys out into the water for your dog to retrieve, you want to ensure there is nothing hiding under the surface that can hurt your dog as he blasts through.
Excess Water Ingestion
Most dogs ingest some water while they swim, but dogs who bite at the water or are retrieving objects in the water will swallow a great deal more than a dog who swims with their mouth closed. If the dog ingests too much freshwater within a period of time, a dangerous and potentially deadly condition known as water intoxication can occur. This causes excessively low sodium levels in the dog’s body; sodium is necessary for proper nerve impulse transmission, blood pressure regulation, and muscle function, and low sodium levels will create problems in all three areas. The excess water also causes cells to swell, including cells in the brain.
Signs of water intoxication in dogs include a loss of coordination, staggering, lethargy, vomiting, bloating, glazed eyes, and excessive salivation during or after a trip to the water. In severe cases, the dog can collapse, lose consciousness, fall into a coma, have seizures and breathing difficulties, and can even die.
Water intoxication can be prevented through careful monitoring of your dog’s swimming activities. Take periodic breaks to rest your dog during water play and to allow his body to process the ingested water before it reaches a dangerous level. Encourage him to urinate in a safe and out-of-the-way area to help flush the water out of his system. Consider bringing along a canine electrolyte solution that can be offered periodically to help maintain electrolyte balance (do not use zero calorie human “electrolyte” drinks made for humans, as some of these artificial sweeteners are toxic to dogs! Use a supplement specifically for dogs if an electrolyte solution is needed.).
Remaining mindful and conscientious about swimming your dogs–even if they are just swimming at home in the pool–will help ensure that this activity remains safe and enjoyable for all.