If your dogs are anything like ours, they probably know that the smell of sunblock equals a trip to the beach! What they don’t know, however, is that drinking that salty surf can be hazardous to their health. Even small amounts of seawater can cause a condition called hypernatremia, also known as saltwater toxicity. Clinical signs of mild hypernatremia are often limited to vomiting and diarrhea. However if your pet ingests larger amounts of seawater, these signs can progress to lethargy, inappetance, stumbling, kidney damage, seizures, neurological damage, and even death. Hypernatremia can only be reversed with aggressive IV fluid therapy. If you suspect your dog may have ingested saltwater, call your veterinarian immediately.
Since dogs overheat far more quickly than their human companions, they feel the need to re-hydrate much sooner than we do. This leads them to attempt to quench their thirst by drinking from the ocean. The saltwater only increases the sensation of thirst, which compels them to drink even more. If you plan on taking your dog to the beach, be certain to offer fresh, cold water every 15 minutes. Pick a beach with shady spots, or bring a beach umbrella and encourage frequent breaks from the heat. Dogs who are overweight are more prone to heat exhaustion, as are the brachycephalic, a.k.a. “smushy-faced breeds. English Bulldogs, Pugs, French Bulldogs, Boxers, and Boston Terriers are just a few of the breeds that fall into this category. These pups also tend to be deep-chested, a trait that makes them top-heavy in the water. Sadly, these breeds are the most common victims of drowning, as they are notoriously bad swimmers. If your smush-faced buddy enjoys the water anyway, by all means include him in your beach plans. Just mind his sun exposure, and watch him vigilantly if he decides to go for a swim. A doggie life-jacket is a wise precaution as well.
Unlike most Dachshunds, our little dog, Grendel loves to swim and is quite good at it. That being said, she has never figured out how to budget enough energy to swim back to where she started! In a beach setting, this can quickly turn into a tragedy. This is actually not an uncommon problem, so I always recommend using a long, extendable leash for canine swimmers. Since Grendel is not quite as young as she used to be, she wears a life-jacket as well. Before allowing any dog to swim, check for warnings regarding chop, rip currents, or jellyfish.
Finally, keep in mind that South Florida’s beaches are not exactly famous for cleanliness. Chicken bones and dead sea critters can wreak havoc on a dog’s digestive tract. Cigarette butts (Grendel’s absolute favorite!) are everywhere, and can be toxic if ingested. On a recent beach visit with both of our dogs, Zohan rolled in two - that’s right - TWO separate Santeria offerings, complete with badly decomposed chickens! Remember, the more disgusting it smells to us, the more interesting it is to them. When it’s time to go home, get rid of residual sand and salt by bathing Fido with a soap-free, dog-specific shampoo. Especially if he’s decided to turn into a Santeria scent-hound!
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