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Latest health and behavior news and advice from the veterinarians at Tufts University.

Features August 2014 Issue

Your New Role: Canine Lifeguard

Swimming does not come naturally to all dogs.

Some dogs love the water, and few things look as adorable as a happy pet doing the doggie paddle in the backyard pool while the kids careen down the slide. But, contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are competent swimmers. Brachycephalic breeds, “such as English bulldogs, American bulldogs, and French bulldogs, are notoriously bad swimmers,” says James Barr, DVM, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Another way to put it: don’t leave your dog in the pool unattended, just as you wouldn’t leave a child unattended. Keep the gate locked when you’re not there, and don’t go inside the house to take a phone call for 10 minutes and expect that your dog will simply take care of herself in the deep end. She very well may not be able to.

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Not all dogs feel comfortable in the pool.

If you do let your dog in the water, teach her how to swim — stay right with her and work with her until she feels comfortable — and also show her how to exit the pool safely to prevent drowning. “Show them where the shallow end is and where to get to the stairs,” Dr. Barr says. “They can figure out how to get out, but the key is to show them when they are not panicked or when there is a crisis.”

Dr. Barr notes that the most common reason a dog drowns, or nearly drowns, in a pool is that she suffers from dementia, or is blind, or both. “She falls into the pool and is unable to make her way out,” he comments. Those dogs in particular should not be left poolside unattended.

Don’t drink the water

Another concern is the predilection some dogs might have for drinking pool water. A small amount lapped up in a tongue swipe or two isn’t going to present a problem. But, says Dr. Barr, “the typical chlorine pool could be quite irritating to the gastrointestinal tract and cause some electrolyte issues if enough is drunk. Saltwater pools,” he adds, “can also cause electrolyte problems if enough is consumed.” The chemical balance has to be right, too, no matter what type of water is in the pool. And, finally, algae can be disruptive to pets’ health.

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