Swimming is a fun, healthy activity that provides relief from the summer heat. Many pet owners wonder, “Is it safe to take my dog swimming?” According to Dr. Chris Cook, a board-certified veterinary dermatologist at a pet hospital in Grand Rapids, swimming is a healthy activity for dogs as long as you swim in clean water and keep the following safety information in mind:

Know the body of water. Before you take your dog swimming, it’s essential to know as much as possible about the cleanliness and activity of the body of water – whether it be saltwater, freshwater or a pool. Ask yourself the following questions –

  • Is this water clean?
  • Are there active boats or water vessels?
  • Is this water free of wildlife such as gators, snakes and dangerous fish?
  • Does this water have dangerous currents?

Dr. Cook sums up these questions into a simple golden rule – “If you don’t feel comfortable swimming in this water, don’t let your dog swim in it.”

If you are going on vacation with your dog and plan to swim, be sure to research the wildlife and water activities at your destination.

Remember important safety tips. When your dog is swimming, follow the same safety protocols you would for children. Monitor your dog and keep him close to you at all times. Use flotation devices specifically designed for dogs, which can be found online or at some local pet stores. Don’t let your dog swim for too long or venture off into deep water.

Know the facts about ear infections. It’s a common myth that swimming causes ear infections in dogs. As long as your dog is swimming in clean water, it’s highly unlikely he will develop an ear infection. However, if your dog suffers from chronic ear infections, swimming could cause further irritation. Keep in mind some dog breeds are more prone to ear infections than others, such as cocker spaniels, shar-peis, hounds with floppy ears and extra large breeds.

Clean your dog after a swim. While infection is unlikely from swimming in clean water, it’s still a good idea to keep your dog clean after swimming. Dr. Cook recommends hosing him off with clean water, and then drying him with a towel. It’s important to let your dog dry off, as warm, moist skin can help bacteria thrive. If your dog swims in dirty water or stays wet for too long, he could develop a yeast infection. Signs of yeast infection include foul smell, head shaking after swimming and brown/black debris on your dog. Yeast infections require veterinary attention.

Know your dog’s condition and abilities. Depending on age, health, size and other factors, all dogs have different levels of comfort and skill with swimming. When you first take your dog swimming, keep him very close and slowly test his abilities. Just be cautious – dogs kick when they swim and could scratch you. Also, take your dog’s current state of health into consideration. If he has open sores or cuts on his body or if he hasn’t been feeling well, it’s best not to swim. If you don’t know whether or not your dog is fit for swimming, ask your primary veterinarian.

“Swimming is a great way to provide exercise and fun for your dog. Water is wonderful for dogs,” says Dr. Cook, “As long as you follow safety tips and swim in clean water, your dog should be just fine.”