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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Safety tips for Fido's summer splashing

By Dr. Marty Becker
Knight Ridder Newspapers

These days, we're more likely than ever to include our pets in family activities, not only on land but in water, too. From a day at the lake, to a spin on the boat, to a dip in the pool, many of our canine friends will be joining us for some wet and wild fun this year. Here are five steps you can take to ensure that you and your pet enjoy the water safely.

1. Know your dog's limitations.

Contrary to popular belief, all dogs are not "natural swimmers." Some breeds, like Labrador retrievers and Newfoundlands, have webbed feet showing that nature intended them to swim. These naturally equipped and inclined dogs instinctively leap into the pool and take to a lake like a duck. But many other breeds are far less eager to take the plunge. This is especially true of small dogs. So, never assume that your dog can doggie-paddle.

For the first time in the water, choose a quiet, peaceful spot where the dog won't be frightened by splashes or sudden noises and go with him into the water. Hold or support the dog until he gains confidence. Never force the issue if the dog seems reluctant. Remember that happy doggie-paddlers need supervision, too. Even the strongest can easily tire and get into trouble, such as being swept away by currents or tangled in reeds.

Be safe. Keep your pooch in a life jacket whether swimming in a lake or just riding in a boat. "Dog life vests are readily available in so many sizes now that there's really no excuse not to have your dog wear one," said Joe Fucini, spokesperson for the Pet Supplies "Plus" chain of stores. "Look for one with a handle to help you lift your dog (easily) out of the water, preferably in a bright color for added visibility."

Even in a swimming pool, be sure to keep a close eye on your pooch-paddler. Since dogs don't have strong shoulder muscles like ours, they can't pull themselves over the edge of a pool. Lead your dog to the steps and out of the pool several times until you are sure he will go on his own. For added safety, there are special canine ladders such as the Paws Aboard, Doggy Boat Ladder (www.PawsAboard.com) to help dogs climb out. Paws Aboard also offers reflective life jackets with top loop handles.

2. Play with toys designed for the water.

It can be fun to vary the game of fetch with dogs by tossing toys or other objects in the water. However, some dogs will get into trouble diving for a toy that sinks. Toys that become heavy and waterlogged may also injure the dog's mouth if he catches them in mid-air. So, choose toys specifically designed for water use like the Cool Kong or the Groovy Stick.

3. Don't go in the water right after eating.

Wait at least half an hour before allowing Fido to swim off that picnic lunch. This same rule we learned as kids holds true for pets, and for dogs, on dry land as well as in the water. Many dogs vomit if they leap into "Spl-action" right after a meal. Larger deep-chested breeds like Akita, bloodhound, collie, Great Dane, Irish setter, Irish wolfhound, Newfoundland, rottweiler, Saint Bernard, standard poodle and Weimaraner that eat and run (or swim) can be prone to a life-threatening rotation of the stomach called torsion or bloat.

4. Bring your own water.

Though most owners understand the importance of keeping their pets well-hydrated, some people make the mistake of letting their dogs drink out of a lake. Parasites and bacterial organisms found in most streams and lakes can cause intestinal infections, so bring your own drinking water along. The Speed-E-Drink from OurPet's Company is an inexpensive holster that accommodates most standard 16 ounce water bottles and comes with its own attached doggie dish.

5. Rinse off after a swim.

Those same organisms that gave Titan a tummy ache can also cause skin infections, especially if he has any cuts or open sores. The chemicals in swimming pools and the salt in ocean water can also irritate the skin, so rinse him well or bathe him after swimming. Beach sand and salt can irritate the paw pads, so rinse and dry them, making sure to remove all traces of sand grit from between the toes.

While we're on the subject of your dog's skin, don't forget that he can get sunburned too. Apply a little human sunscreen to any hairless areas such as the muzzle and tips of the ears. Some thin-coated white dogs may need a light application all over. Remember to reapply after swimming. By the way, if your dog has a flea or tick collar, remove it before he goes in the water to avoid diluting and voiding the active ingredients.

Follow these simple safety rules, and you and your four-footed frolicsome friend can have a splashing good time this summer.