Summer, sun, swimming fun: What dog owners should pay attention to

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Düsseldorf. In the warm summer months, trips to the bathing lake offer many people a welcome way to cool off. Many dogs also love to refresh themselves in the water. Owners should make sure that their pet does not get cold or too exhausted. It is also important that the lake or stream is suitable for bathing and that dogs are allowed there.

Dogs can swim instinctively. As soon as they lose contact with the bottom in the water, they start to kick and paddle. How well they manage this varies depending on their size and breed, explains dog trainer and behavior consultant Gerrit Stephan: “First and foremost, it depends on the individual's body type. Low-legged dogs, i.e. those with shorter legs such as dachshunds, are at a disadvantage because their short legs cannot stabilize them enough and generate little propulsion. Small dogs cool down much more quickly and short-nosed breeds such as French bulldogs get short of breath more quickly. Most medium-sized to large breeds, on the other hand, are rather strong and some were originally bred specifically to work on and in the water. The group of water dogs, for example, specializes in the element that gives them their name, but retrievers have also sometimes been used for duck hunting, for example.”

Even if they have the physical requirements, not every dog ​​is an enthusiastic swimmer. Ultimately, this also depends on their character and whether they were used to swimming at a young age. The puppy should be at least 7 months old to be physically prepared for the exertion. “Getting used to water should always be done in small steps and in a quiet environment. First, you approach the water line together with the dog and only let the paws get wet. When he feels safe, you slowly accompany him further into the water,” explains the dog trainer. “Very curious, brave dogs usually get used to it very quickly, while more fearful candidates need a little more time to get used to the feeling. The key thing is that the dog sees the water and swimming as something positive.”

Finding the right body of water

Especially in places where lots of people come together to swim, dogs may not be allowed or may only be allowed in specially designated areas. At the sea and many bathing lakes, dog beaches are usually signposted or there are general house rules. Even if dogs are allowed, you should look for a quiet corner if possible. It is also important to always keep an eye on contact with children and to make sure that no dog droppings are left on the beach.

Often, a shallow stream, a small lake or a river with a low current is enough to cool off. Swimming is generally not prohibited here. In nature reserves, however, dogs must be kept on a leash and are not allowed in the water. Otherwise, they could disturb or frighten animals breeding on the banks.

Basically, owners should always make sure that the body of water is safe to reach, that the current is not too strong and that the water is not contaminated by blue-green algae, for example. Blue-green algae can often be seen with the naked eye and forms streaks on the water or turns it greenish to blue. The individual state environmental authorities regularly check the water values, publish data on water quality and issue warnings if necessary. If in doubt, a small paddling pool in the garden can also help. In autumn, some outdoor pools now also offer special dates for dog swimming before the water is drained.

Possible dangers when swimming

As much as you allow your four-legged friend to cool down, you should still always be alert to be able to react to possible sources of danger.

  • Water poisoning: Many dogs like to romp around in the water and maybe fetch a stick or ball. “Sometimes a dog simply swallows too much water. This leads to hyperhydration, also known as water poisoning, where the body becomes deficient in salt,” explains Stephan. “Loss of appetite, exhaustion and cramps are typical signs of this, and the dog may also vomit. In this case, you should immediately see a vet who can replace the missing salt with an electrolyte solution.” To prevent this, owners should pay attention to how much the dog drinks and whether its mouth gets under water. When fetching, it is advisable to take lots of breaks, but the object should also be chosen wisely: the dog has to open its mouth wider for a ball than for a flat Frisbee.
  • Watertail: The so-called water tail causes a painful temporary paralysis of the tail, which can be triggered by cold water and great exertion. To prevent this, the expert has a few tips: “Especially if you want to practice retrieving in the water, the dog should be allowed to warm up in peace beforehand and not train with full exertion straight away. When he comes out of the cooled car, he should first be able to walk on the beach or in shallow water for a few minutes. In general, you should never let him swim for too long at a time and always take breaks.”
  • Hypothermia and overheating: Dogs want to cool down, but they can also get hypothermia if they are in the water for too long or stay outside with wet fur. Likewise, strenuous swimming in high outside temperatures can also lead to overheating. The first sign of this is heavy panting.

“In its enthusiasm for the cool water, a dog may even go beyond its limits of exhaustion,” warns Stephan. Owners should be accordingly vigilant and let their animal companion take an extra break from time to time to prevent possible problems.

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