Written for Everyday Health.
Every fun-loving, adventure-seeking pup loves to make a splash in the endless vacation of summertime. But keep a few hidden dangers in mind as your pet stays refreshed and enjoys the long warm days. Many pet risks lurk in the same waterways that your pet needs to stay hydrated and cool — and wants to play in.
Every water source has its own inherent dangers, including toxins, bacteria, and other pathogens (bugs). Exposure to these bugs — the most basic, prolific forms of life — is inescapable given the high-density areas many of us share with wildlife, farms, and other people (bugs thrive in all of these). But even with the ubiquitous nature of dangerous bugs out there, the good news is that the majority of pets are built to thwart most of them without incident or injury.
Most bugs will pass through your pet without ever providing a clue they were even there.
Nature has built all of us to live fairly well together. For the few bugs and toxins we do need to worry about, here are tips to keeping your pet safe through frolics in outdoor waters.
5 Tips to Keep Water Safe for Your Pets
How about a little trip through the dangers of outside waters, starting from your front door and heading all the way to the ocean shores of your summer beach trip.
1. The rain bucket. Outside your front door, the first potential water toxin is the galvanized bucket holding rain water. Galvanized containers leak zinc, which is toxic to most animal species in high-enough concentrations. When providing water for pets, choose stainless steel, ceramic, or glass.
2. The pool. As far as more modern water sources like pools go, as long as they’re maintained and monitored to meet human health standards, they will pose little threat to most healthy dogs. I don’t recommend pool water for drinking, but small amounts swallowed while playing or swimming are unlikely to harm your pet.
3. Puddles. Microscopic bugs like Giardia, Campylobacter, cryptosporidium, E.coli, andLeptospira all primarily find our pets through still water reservoirs like puddles and ponds. Your driveway might be pocketed with them, and dogs — just like kids — love to play in them. For whatever reason (it’s still unexplained by modern advances in medicine), the more foul-looking and -smelling something may be, the more our dogs want to roll, eat, and play in it.
Dogs find it nearly impossible to resist the occasional lap of dirty water. The vet’s answer to this: If your dog has any bouts of vomiting or diarrhea, see your vet and check your dog’s fecal sample. This costs about $30 to $50, and most veterinarians recommend it be done at least annually, or more often if your pups love gross stuff as much as mine do. It’s important to mention that some of these bugs, like Leptospirosis, are also transmissible to us, so careful clean-up is always required.
Keeping your pets vaccinated will help protect your family.
4. Ponds and lakes. In ponds, lakes, bogs, or brackish waters, blue-green algae has been prominent in the recent news for sickening, and even causing death, to dogs in some areas. In fact any shade of algae, from red, brown, green, to purple, is also a potential toxin. This sudden algae growth is most severe in hot weather, but can also be found through the warmer spring into fall.
It’s best to prohibit your dog from swimming in water with floating plant-like material that resembles pea-soup.
If your dog swims in anything resembling pond scum, then rinse her well and go to the vet at the first sign of any abnormality. Ponds treated with heavy metals like copper sulfate, which is used to prevent algae overgrowth, should also be avoided for four to seven days after treatment. These treatments can be extremely irritating to your dog’s skin. If your dog encounters treated water, bathe her immediately to remove any residues, and call your vet.
5. The ocean. The lure of the sea is a magnet to many a dog. Don’t let your pet drink saltwater, since it can cause salt intoxication. Too much salt in a pet’s diet can cause a dangerous shift in the delicate balance of internal electrolytes. A dog with salt intoxication typically experiences vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and depression.
Ingesting too much salt can lead to fatal consequences. Hard as it is to imagine, a saltwater-soaked toy, or a few gulps — whether because of thirst or accidental swallowing — is all it takes to start this intoxication.
If your dog is playing in or around the ocean:
- Offer lots of fresh water.
- Force rest periods.
- Try to avoid the overexertion and excitement that leads to saltwater poisoning.
Jellyfish can cause painful stings and toxins if touched. If your dog encounters a jellyfish and has a tentacle embedded, remove it immediately with a gloved hand or tools, and seek veterinary care.
When to Go to the Vet After Water Play
Any dog that has been playing, drinking, or living around potentially dangerous water sources and experiencing any signs of gastrointestinal distress like vomiting or diarrhea, or who is reluctant to eat or play, should go to the veterinarian immediately.
In many cases, the sooner your pet is diagnosed, the more effective the treatment plan, and the better the prognosis.
Most importantly, remember to have safe fun this summer!
Krista Magnifico, DVM, is the founder and chief creative officer of Pawbly.com, overseeing creative vision and user experience for the site. She earned her veterinary degree from the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine in 2005, and has her own practice in northern Maryland. She has a strong interest in animal welfare, educating and inspiring people to take better care of their companions. Follow her on Twitter @FreePetAdvice.