BY: BRYONY VAN NIEKERK
Woohoo, spring has officially sprung! I don’t know about you, but for me winter this year was on the colder side so I am really excited for the warmer weather. I may change my tune when it’s 35 degrees plus, but for now the flowers are all in bloom, birds are chirping, and the days are longer.
And what better way is there to take advantage of the glorious weather than lounging by the pool, spending time at a dam or going to the beach. All with your trusty 4-legged friend by your side. My dogs have always hated water, so this isn’t something I have given much thought to over the years. However, with the addition of Oliver, this has changed somewhat. I would classify him as ‘water curious’- he loves a hosepipe, puddles, and shallow bodies of water, but is very cautious of anything deeper than his tummy. It has been slow going to get him to the point where he will jump into a stream or a shallow reservoir, but he is getting braver, especially when he is around his BFF Bayley, a water obsessed beagle.
Water safety is one of my major concerns (raise your hand if you are a helicopter pet parent) and while I couldn’t find any statistics for South Africa, in the USA it is estimated that about 5000 dogs drown in swimming pools alone every year. So, whether your dog makes a beeline for every water source they see, or they view water as their greatest nemesis, it is important that both you and your dog know how to be safe around water.
Know your breed
There may be a swimming stroke named after dogs, but this does not mean that all dogs know how to doggy paddle or can do it successfully. Generally speaking, brachycephalic breeds (those with flat faces or short snouts) like pugs and boxers are not strong swimmers and are at a high risk of drowning. This is because water easily gets up their noses, making it difficult to breathe and tire them easily. Other breeds who also have trouble swimming and staying afloat are ones who have deep chests and smaller hindquarters (bulldogs, bull terriers) and dogs with shorts legs (dachshund, basset hound).
So, if your dog fits any of these descriptions, you need to be vigilant around bodies of water and take extra precautions such as fitting them with a life jacket. These breeds, or mixes thereof, tend to instinctively stay away from water so do not force your dog to go into the water if they do not want to.
Never leave your dog unattended
This is the Number 1 rule. No matter if your dog is an avid swimmer or not, never ever leave them alone around any type of water. Accidents happen and things can go wrong in an instant. It is your responsibility to ensure that your dog is always safe so do not let them stray too far away from you, make sure to enforce breaks (even if they seem fine) and watch they don’t pick up and eat things they shouldn’t.
Fence your pool in
If you do have a pool at home, one of the easiest ways to keep your pets safe is to prevent access to the area altogether by fencing off the swimming pool or installing a sturdy cover that can take the weight of your pet. Just having a net is not enough – your pet could get tangled in it and end up under water with no way of freeing themselves. Additionally, provide an easy way for your pets to get out of the water by way of steps or a ramp. Be sure to show your pet where the exit points are and encourage them to use it every time they get out of the pool.
Many pet owners don’t actually know if their dog can swim or not. I didn’t know if Oliver could swim until recently when he fell into the swimming pool trying to catch his ball. If you are going to be spending lots of time in the pool/at the beach, it would be a good idea to teach your dog to swim. Some dogs have a natural affinity for water while some might be a bit nervous. It is important to start slow and build up their confidence with lots of treats and reassurance. If you want expert help, you can sign your pooch up for swimming lessons.
If you are going to the coast, don’t assume that you or your dog can swim just anywhere along the beach. Areas that are safe for swimming are marked out by red/yellow flags that can be found by the water’s edge. If you choose to swim outside of the designated areas, you and your dog run the risk of being caught up in a rip current and dragged out to sea. Also remember to check the tides. It is safer to swim at low tide when there are little to no waves. Rivers and streams can also be deceptive in Rivers and streams can also be deceptive in that they appear to be calm but can have strong currents that can easily sweep your dog downstream. Always test the current first before allowing your dog to enter.
Sunscreen and water
Just like us, your furry companion needs to be protected from the UV rays. While your dog’s fur coat does protect them from the sun to a certain degree, areas like the lips, nose, ears, and belly are particularly vulnerable to sun exposure. All dogs need sunscreen, but particularly if they have light coloured skin and fur and short coats. It is best to use a sunscreen that is specifically formulated for use on canines.
Be sure to pack plenty of fresh drinking water as well. Just because your dog is surrounded by water, it doesn’t mean they should be drinking it. Ingesting salt water can lead to vomiting and diarrhoea, while water from dams and streams can contain loads of different bacteria’s which could result in a serious infection. Never let your dog swim in or ingest water that is pea-green in colour or has slime on the surface. This could be an indication that there is blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) which is highly toxic and deadly to dogs, cats, cattle and wildlife.
After a full day of fun in the sun and water activities, don’t forget to rinse your dog off. Chlorine from the pool or salt from the ocean can irritate your dog’s sensitive skin. When drying them off afterwards, don’t skip over their ears either. The ear canal is already a warm dark place, so adding water to it creates the perfect breeding ground for bacteria and yeast to flourish causing ear infections. If your doggo plans to spend lots of time in the water, you may want to invest in an ear cleaner.