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Water Wags the Dog

Your water-thirsty dog is probably counting (with all paws) the days until the pool or beach is open to visitors of the four-legged persuasion, and with the official first weekend of summer closing in, a lot of tails are about to get wet while wagging. But as veterinarian Dr. Steven Kasanofsky, owner of Yorktown’s Animal Hospital points out, it's also time to think about your pet's safety in, around and near the water.

"While most dogs can swim, not all dogs are equally great swimmers,” says Dr. Kasanofsky. The main rule when it comes to keeping your pet safe is supervision, and to make sure they always have an exit. When it comes to situations where your pet is swimming in a lake, make sure the dog hasn’t gone too far out, and if in a pool, make sure there’s a way for the dog to get out easily.

“My dog used to jump in the lake all the time and swim but you still have to make sure they don’t go too far out or go into the deep end for too long where they can’t necessarily get out,” he said. “The dog won’t necessarily think that they’ve gone too far out and still have to swim all the way back, so you need to supervise them and make sure they can still get back without getting tired.”

But most dogs greet a day of water sports with unleashed enthusiasm. In fact, it's up to dogs' "humans" to be mindful of factors that could hinder four-legged fun, particularly in multi-purpose recreational water holes. The ASPCA cautions keeping dogs away from fishing lines, lures, hooks and bait. And if you're spending a day at the bay or ocean, the ASPCA also recommends rinsing a dog's paws after contact with sand or salt water, drying his or her ears after any water contact and brushing those with heavy or soft coats after a dip because wet coats can mat and trap bacteria.

Other hazards that can arise when your dog is swimming in bodies of water other than a pool are related to the water itself. Kasanofsky has seen dogs that come in with gastrointestinal problems because they drank too much water, and has also seen dogs that have had bad skin reactions to the water as well. His best advice is to supervise the dog and make sure they don’t drink too much water, and to keep your own fresh water on hand to keep them hydrated. If you’re swimming at the beach with your four-legged friend, don’t let them eat the sand either, as this can cause gastrointestinal blocks for your pet.

Don’t let these warnings keep your dog out of the water however, Kasanofsky said, as it’s still great exercise.

“I think swimming is one of the best exercises in the world for dogs, I recommend it a lot,” he said. “For some of the older [animal] patients I recommend that they are taken out for swimming since it’s a non-weight bearing exercise and it’s easier on their joints.”

If you’re interested in taking your dog out for a swim, Kasanofsky said to start slow and shallow, and stay in waters where the owner can touch the ground so they can control and help their pet. If you’re up for different adventures such as rafting or boating with your pet, Kasanofsky noted that there are dog life jackets that can keep your pet safe in the event of an emergency.

“My biggest advice is to make sure that they’re really not unattended, and don’t take the notion of the infamous doggie paddle as reassurance that your pet will be safe,” Kasanofsky said.

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