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Ask the Vet: Take care in surf

Dr. Amanda Bruce

 Summertime and fun time around water is a natural combination for people as well as dogs.

Swimming can provide great exercise for dogs that enjoy it. But dogs that don’t like spending time in the water shouldn’t be forgotten or eliminated from beach, boating or poolside plans. With a little planning, they also can enjoy safe fun on or around the water.

One of the most important facts to know about dogs and water is that swimming does not come easily to all breeds or even to all individual animals within breeds typically associated with swimming. While some dogs jump right in, other need time playing games of fetch close to shore to gradually work up to going into the water and eventually swimming.

Still other dogs never show a desire to swim. For these dogs, forcing them to swim or even throwing them into the water to swim is likely to increase their fear around water.

At the other end of the spectrum, owners of dogs that are strong, natural swimmers may need to enforce limits to keep their pets from over-exertion or exhaustion. Pay attention to your dog’s breathing as he or she is swimming. It’s normal to hear heavier breathing sounds in swimming dogs, particularly those that are playing fetch.

But if you notice your dog inhaling water, or if breathing becomes dramatically louder, it may be time to take a break.

Regardless of whether your dog can swim, think about purchasing him or her a life jacket if you plan on spending time in a boat. Yes, I said a dog life jacket. They can be found in most outdoors or sporting goods stores or aisles, as well as online.

Most dog life jackets have a handle that can be used to help lift a dog that falls or jumps into the water back into a boat. And if the boat were to capsize, a panicked dog could be quite dangerous. The extra flotation provided by a life jacket can help the dog get back to shore without endangering humans. In a non-panicked dog, the handle can even be used to help people get back to shore.

It’s good practice to get into the habit of rinsing your dog with clean water following time in the lake, river or pool. Water-borne chemicals, algae and bacteria can cause skin irritation. Some of these irritants can cause illness when ingested via licking.

Routine ear maintenance following a day in the water also is important to help prevent infections. Flushing the ears of dogs prone to ear infections can help replace dirty water with something less irritating to the linings of the ears. Many over-the-counter ear flushes also contain a drying agent that helps decrease moisture in the ear.

Water time is usually a wonderful time for people as well as dogs in the summer. Beach, boating or pool activities can be enjoyable for all dogs, swimmers or not. But all of these activities require a little planning and a few extra steps for pet owners to keep their animals healthy and ensure that water fun always remains safe fun.

Dr. Amanda Bruce of Superior is owner of PetCare of Duluth, 2701 W. Superior St., Suite 102, Duluth. You can reach her or ask questions for future columns at or 218-461-4400. For more information about this subject go to