As temperatures in South Florida continue to soar, clients often ask me if their dogs instinctively know how to swim. While dogs will naturally revert to “dog paddling” when they find themselves in water, this should not be mistaken for proficiency, or even an ability to stay out of trouble. Sadly, I have lost about a dozen canine patients to drowning throughout the course of my career. Here are some tips on keeping your pet from becoming a heartbreaking statistic.
Put up a pool fence.
My wife and I do not have children, but we do have a pool fence designed for child safety. While the intention was to protect young visitors to our home, it has the added benefit of protecting our dogs, as well as the local wildlife. If you are installing a pool, bear in mind that child safety fences are required in order to pass inspection in Dade County. While many homeowners rent them, then return them after the inspection is complete, we chose to keep ours and are grateful for the peace of mind it provides.
Consider your dog’s anatomy.
While all dogs default to the doggie paddle, certain breeds and body types are notoriously poor swimmers. Others still can barely manage to stay afloat. These include breeds such as Bulldogs and Boxers, whose wide heavy chests and comparatively small hindquarters make them naturally top heavy.
Dogs with short, stubby legs such as Dachshunds and Basset Hounds tire quickly in the water. Perhaps the most common victims of drowning are the brachycephalic or smush-faced breeds, such as Pugs, Shih-tzus, and again, Bulldogs. The short muzzles and flat airways of these particular types of dogs make it difficult for them to properly oxygenate, even on dry land. Any such dog who enjoys being near a pool should be closely supervised at all times, and placed in a life vest, just in case. Which brings us to the next suggestion:
Invest In a vest.
While both our dogs love to swim, our little Grendel, at fifteen years young, is not as conditioned as she once was. She spends her energy quickly, and we suspect she has forgotten how to budget her reserves for a safe return to the pool stairs. She wears a life vest whenever she is in or around the pool.
This is an ideal situation for dogs who are older, fearful, or who represent one of the breeds mentioned above. It is also recommended for dogs who may not see well, or suffer from seizure disorders. And if you’re taking your dog on a boating trip, a life vest is a must.
Teach your pet how to get out of the pool.
Do not assume your pet will instinctively know how to find the exit to the pool. Under close supervision, show her how to swim towards the stairs and climb out. Do this many times and praise her lavishly every time she gets out. For an extra measure of caution, you can install a ramp or staircase at the opposite end of the pool.
Buy a pool alarm.
A pool alarm consists of a sensor which is worn on the dog’s collar, and a base which is located inside the house. Should the dog fall into the pool, an alarm sounds from the base, letting everyone inside know that the dog needs help. Two of my patients were saved using one of these systems. The model I like can be used by both pets and children.
Learn how to administer CPR to your pet.
If you don’t know the basics of pet CPR, now is a great time to learn. If you already know them, brush up. You never know when you will need to use this crucial tool. The following article and video will show you how.
Supervise pool activities at all times.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the article, I have lost several patients to drowning. The anguish and guilt endured by their owners is as heartbreaking as the loss of the pet. It takes seconds for accidents to happen, and drowning can occur in a matter of minutes. By following a few precautions and practicing a little due diligence, poolside activities can be safe and fun for every member of the family.
Dr. Kupkee is the lead practitioner at Sabal Chase Animal Clinic.
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