It's important to be careful around any body of water – the sea, lakes, rivers, reservoirs and swimming pools. Here are some handy tips that can help keep your dog safe:
Can your dog swim?
Swimming can be great exercise for dogs and it can be especially good for dogs with stiff or painful joints. Taking to the water can also help dogs to cool down in hot weather.
Not every dog is a water baby. Dogs with short legs – like Corgis – or short noses – like Pugs – will find the effort of swimming really hard work. Even some dogs that are built for swimming just won’t enjoy going out of their depth.
Even if your dog seems keen, they’ll need learn how to swim. You can help them learn to love the water:
- Take it slow and stick to a shallow area at first.
- Use toys and treats to make splashing in the shallows fun for your dog.
- Once your dog is more confident, encourage them out of their depth so they start paddling.
- Use your arm to support them under their stomach until they’ve got the hang of kicking with all four legs.
- After a few minutes, encourage your dog back to the shore so they know how to get out of the water when they’re ready.
- Never leave your pet unattended around water, even if they're a strong swimmer.
Don’t push them to do anything they don’t want to and let them take to the water at their own pace. If they decide swimming isn’t for them, that’s fine – there are plenty of other ways they can get exercise and cool down!
What to do in an emergency
If your dog – or anyone else’s – gets into trouble in the water, don’t be tempted to go in after them. Ring 999 instead and get help from the professionals.
Sadly, every year people lose their lives while trying to save their dogs. Dogs can often get themselves out of dangerous situations and going after them just puts yourself in danger, too.
Picking the right swimming spot
Some places are much safer for a doggy dip than others. Pick your spot carefully so you know your dog will be safe:
Good swimming spots:
- Lakes. These are often calm and have plenty of safe, shallow areas for your dog to swim. Take care if there's anything in the water, like big tree branches, that your dog could get caught on. It's also important to be aware of other people using the water, like sail and motor boats or windsurfers. On large lakes, there might be designated swimming areas. Stick to these areas and check that dogs are welcome.
- Sea swimming. Dog-friendly beaches can be perfect swimming spots on a sunny day. Check that sea conditions are safe before letting your dog swim – look out for warning flags and signs, as well as the size of the waves and checking tide times. Find out more about sea swimming and beach safety.
- Slow moving rivers. Shallow, slow moving rivers can be a safe place for your dog to take a dip. Check for any dangers in the water, like fallen tree branches. Make sure your dog's recall is up to scratch – you don’t want them clambering out on the other bank where you can’t follow them! Reward-based training can help your dog develop top recall skills.
- Private swimming pools or paddling pools. If you're lucky enough to have your own swimming pool, let your dog join you for a dip on hot days. Setting up a paddling pool in your back garden is another great way of helping them have a safe splash. Never leave your pet unattended in a pool or paddling pool. Give them a wash afterwards to get rid of any chlorine in their fur.
Places to avoid:
- Canals. The water in canals is often stagnant which can be a health hazard for your dog. There are also often hazards lurking under the water, like rubbish and debris.
- Reservoirs. While reservoirs look like tempting places to swim, they're actually full of hidden dangers. There are strong currents in the water and there are often hidden objects under the surface. Reservoirs are also usually very deep so the water is really cold, even on a hot day. It can send your dogs's body into shock, causing them to gasp and swallow water if they dive straight in.
- Fast flowing water or flooded rivers. Any fast flowing water is a danger for your dog. Currents can cause them to quickly get into trouble and struggle to reach the shore. Flood water is especially dangerous as it's often packed with debris which can injure your dog.
- Rough seas. Big, crashing waves and strong currents put your dog in dangers. Don't let them into the sea when it's rough, stormy, or when there are warnings against swimming.
Can my dog catch any diseases from swimming?
There are some diseases and poisons that can affect your dog if they've been swimming you can help keep your dog safe by picking a good swimming spot and staying up-to-date with their vaccinations:
- Leptospirosis. This is an infection spread through rat wee and contaminated water. There's a vaccination to protect your dog against leptospirosis – keep on top of your dog’s boosters, especially if they’re a keen swimmer. You can also reduce the risk by avoiding stagnant water and canals.
- Blue-green algae. This algae grows in stagnant water and looks like a blue-green sheen on the surface. It's very toxic to dogs and just taking in a small amount can make them seriously ill. Don't let them swim or drink from anywhere you think might have blue-green algae. If you're worried they might have come into contact with the algae, don't let them lick their fur and contact your vet right away.
Wherever your dog's been for a swim, it's a good idea to give them a good wash when they get home. This will clear their fur of anything they might have picked up in the water.