Summer has officially started, but the unofficial start was back in May with Victoria Day (Canada) and Memorial Day (US)! Whether you’re a beachgoer, wilderness hiker, or a pool lounger, consider these water safety tips to keep your pets safe and cool as a cucumber this summer.
1. Beaver fever
Playing in a stream is a great way for your dog to cool down on a hot summer day. But be aware that stream water—along with lakes, springs, puddles, and ponds—contaminated with feces from animals puts your pet at risk of giardiasis. Giardiasis, also known as beaver fever and traveler’s diarrhea, is caused by microscopic protozoans called Giardia intestinalis. The signs of giardiasis include an acute onset of diarrhea and sometimes vomiting. Instead of letting your dog drink from the stream, carry water for him to drink. Check out reviews of popular dog water bottles to find the one best for you and your dog. If your pet develops symptoms of giardiasis after drinking stream, lake, or pond water, contact your veterinarian.
2. Splish splash sploosh in puddles
Puddles in your yard or on the trail can harbor a host of bacteria and parasites that can cause disease in your pets. Giardiosis and leptospirosis are diseases that can have serious health outcomes. Leptospirosis is caused by a type of bacteria, Leptospira interogans, that is shed in the urine of infected animals, including wildlife such as rats, mice, raccoons, and skunks. Kidney or liver failure can occur with infection and severe infections can cause sudden bleeding problems, shock, and death. Cases of leptospirosis occur more commonly during warm, wet weather, and during periods of high rainfall or flooding. Vaccinate your pets as recommended by your veterinarian and don’t let your pets drink from puddles. Carry a pet water bottle for long hikes and keep fresh water for your pet in your yard – some even have reservoirs and automatic re-fillers.
3. Algae, rip currents, saltwater, oh my!
Before letting Fido practice his dock-diving skills, check out the territory. Is algae floating near shore? Are there submerged rocks or logs floating around? Is the area known for rip currents?
Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) contain deadly toxins. Cyanobacteria grow in stagnant water (e.g. ponds, fountains, and bird baths), slow-moving streams, and lakes. More common in mid- to late summer or early fall, drinking this water can cause serious illness or death. Even ingesting algae when licking contaminated fur can cause illness. Check with your public health department to see if the lake in your area is prone to blue-green algae outbreaks.
Most public beaches post warning signs if rip currents (also known as riptides) are known along coastlines. Typically occurring in low spots such as sandbars or near structures such as piers or jetties, rip currents are powerful currents that run perpendicular to the beach and out into the lake. Do not allow your pet to swim within 170 feet (50m) of a pier or jetty or if signs are posted warning of rip currents.
Be sure to offer your dog plenty of fresh water while you’re at the beach to prevent him from drinking saltwater. A few mouthfuls of salt water may cause mild diarrhea, but drinking a lot of saltwater can be fatal. Consuming a lot of saltwater draws water out of the bloodstream, causing vomiting, diarrhea, and dehydration. Salt disrupts the fluid balance, leading to serious health effects including seizures, kidney damage, and severe dehydration. If you see that your dog is drinking ocean water, restrict his access, provide him with fresh water, and keep an eye on him. If he develops signs of toxicity (vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, muscle tremors, and seizures), seek veterinary care immediately.
4. Family pool fun
If you plan to spend your summer days lounging by your pool with your pets, never leave them unsupervised by the pool. Not all pets have a natural instinct to swim and can become panicked in the water if they can’t find a way to exit. Don’t force your dog or cat to swim—it will only make him/her fearful of water. If your pool doesn’t have steps or stairs, but instead has a ladder, your dog may have difficulty getting out on his own. Consider a ramp or steps designed for pets and train your pet to use them. Hot summer days demand extra water whether your pet is swimming or not. Provide fresh water all day and freshen it regularly.
5. If you’re cold, your dog is cold
Just because it’s hot outside doesn’t mean the water is warm. Dogs, like people, can suffer from hypothermia in cold water. If you don’t want to swim because the water’s too cold, your dog shouldn’t swim either. Your dog doesn’t understand that it’s the water making him cold and, if he’s having fun, he’ll just keep swimming.
Enjoy your summer, whether it be poolside or at the beach, and follow these tips to keep it a safe summer for all your furry friends!