Keeping Your Pooch Safe on or By the Water Requires Diligence and Awareness

Mar 22, 2019
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

For many dog owners, the warmer months can be a fun time with the family pet, especially near the water. Dogs of all kinds love to frolic in the ocean surf, fetch a tennis ball in the bay or hang out while their human parents drop a crab trap from the boat deck. Unfortunately, regardless of the breed or its size, many hazards pose potential threats to your beloved canine.

Consider one case last summer, in which the death of Chris Taylor’s Labrador retriever, O.G., following a day at the beach in Dunedin, Fla., became national news. The dog wasn’t zapped by a stingray, didn’t get dragged out to sea by a rip current and wasn’t strangled by a fishing line. Rather, Taylor’s canine companion of seven years died of saltwater poisoning.

In a petmd.com “The Daily Vet” blog entry, Dr. Ken Tudor advises pet parents to be aware of a dog spending too much time in the ocean.

“Dogs love to frolic in the ocean, but saltwater is toxic to dogs if they drink too much,” Tudor wrote. “Ocean soaked tennis balls or other absorbent fetch toys contain enough salt to cause problems for the dogs that are fetching them. Mild ingestion of saltwater can cause ‘beach diarrhea.’ The excess salt, or hypernatremia, in the intestines draws water from the blood into the intestines, causing the diarrhea. The diarrhea can sometimes contain blood and mucous. If your dog drinks large amounts of saltwater, hypernatremia can lead to vomiting, dehydration, incoordination, seizures, and require veterinary care.”

According to the Pet Poison Helpline website, salt poisoning can be extremely damaging to dogs, possibly resulting in “clinical signs” of a serious problem – from vomiting and diarrhea to lethargy and abnormal fluid accumulation within the brain, as well as potential injury to the kidneys, coma and even death.

To avoid the chances of your dog requiring medical care due to saltwater poisoning, veterinarians recommend carefully monitoring your dog while in the ocean – and, of course, around Long Beach Island that means monitoring while in the bay as well – and don’t allow your dog to drink the water. A dog playing in the water may ingest some saltwater anyway, but the key is to avoid larger consumption of it.

Also, don’t allow your dog to be in the ocean or bay for longer than 15 minutes at a time, and provide plenty of fresh water for drinking, Tudor advises. And if you notice your dog is expelling diarrhea or vomiting, or becoming lethargic and having a difficult time walking within a few hours after being in the ocean, contact your vet or a veterinary emergency hospital immediately.

“Water activity is great for dogs, and the exercise far outweighs the risks,” Tudor wrote. “But it is important to be mindful of the risks in the water.”

Not surprisingly, the number of risks is quite extensive – many are obvious, such as washed-up jellyfish or dead fish, large waves and strong currents, soaring temperatures and high humidity – and some take diligence and acute awareness on the part of the dog owner.

Remember, just like humans, dogs can sustain sunburn, particularly breeds with short or white hair. Veterinarians recommend never using a sunscreen made for humans on your canine pal. Instead, acquire a sunscreen specifically made for dogs and try to avoid those that contain fragrances.

To prevent scalding your pooch’s paws, avoid walking on the beach during high-sun daylight hours. Take those beach treks early in the morning or when the sun is lower in the sky toward evening. Still, if your dog accompanies you to the beach at high noon, make sure you bring a beach umbrella to provide a shaded area for your pet.

Be on the lookout for not-so-obvious hazards as well, such as fishing lines with hooks attached, crab claws left strewn about by resident gulls and left-behind trash or small beach toys – the last thing you want is to have to remove a hook from a paw pad or dig out something from your dog’s throat. Another bad thing for dogs to ingest is dried seaweed. If swallowed, if can expand when it gets wet inside the stomach and get caught in the dog’s intestinal tract.

As for boat safety, it’s as important for dogs as it is for humans. For starters, it’s best to slowly acclimate your dog to the boat. Allow your pup on board just to get familiar with the feel of the boat before pulling away from the dock. Secondly, invest in a dog-specific life vest. Don’t take the chance of your dog going overboard and having to possibly paddle against strong currents.

And while sunscreen applies as much to your dog being on a boat as on the beach, another possibility dog owners may want to consider is a pair of dog-specific sun goggles. On the doggles.com website, owners can purchase such shatterproof, anti-fog and eco-friendly eyewear for $20 to $25.

Finally, make sure to have a first-aid kit aboard, be alert for any other potential hazards to your dog, and if your fuzzy friend shows signs of motion sickness – typical symptoms include the dog smacking its lips, drooling, dry heaving or vomiting – head back to port immediately. And again, don’t forget fresh water and a bowl.

There’s no doubt LBI and the waters surrounding it provide ample opportunities for fun. Not only will being mindful of your dog’s health, remaining on constant alert for possible problems and taking proactive measures to keep your dog safe dial up the pleasure level, but doing so also may prevent costly medical bills later.

David Biggy

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