Swimming pools provide endless fun for both pets and their humans, and taking a dip is a great way to beat the summer heat. Just as you would supervise a child, it’s important for pet parents to keep an extra-close eye on your fur babies when they’re having fun in the backyard pool!
We talked to two expert veterinarians to help us break down the best ways to ensure your dog stays safe while living their best summer swimming life. So, if your pup loves splashing and swimming in the pool, keep these six dog pool safety tips in mind.
1A Pool Fence Is the Best Defense
“One of the most important things is a secure fence so the pet cannot enter the area unattended,” says Dr. Laurie Coger, DVM, CVCP, and owner of The Healthy Dog Workshop.
If you’re unable to fence your pool, it’s imperative you don’t leave your dog outside unattended. An unsupervised dog can fall into the pool, find himself unable to get out and ultimately drown, says Dr. Monica Sterk, Area Medical Director at Veterinary Emergency Group, a practice with many locations across the country.
This holds true even if your dog is an excellent swimmer and knows how to enter and exit the pool on their own. Dr. Coger says that even strong swimmers can overdo it because of their excitement over being in the water. This can lead to them becoming dangerously fatigued and put them at risk for drowning.
As a backup to a pool fence, or if you aren’t able to fence your pool, you may want to consider a pool alarm. The device detects unwanted access to the pool or pool area, whether it’s a perimeter breach or water contact. A few different designs exist, but they accomplish the same goal of emitting a sound when there’s movement in the swimming pool. Pool alarms can not only save kids’ lives but also your dog’s.
2Don’t Assume Your Dog Is a Strong Swimmer
“Not all dogs know how to swim, but when put in water they often go into survival mode and paddle as best as they can,” Dr. Sterk explains. “Some breeds are more natural swimmers than others.”
So, seeing your dog furiously paddle away the first time you introduce them to water doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a super swimmer. Plus, some individual dogs simply don’t enjoy the water and therefore don’t like to swim.
She also points out that there are dog breeds that aren’t really meant for pool life.
“Brachycephalic—or short-muzzled breeds—such as pugs and bulldogs, should avoid swimming because they are at higher risk of aspirating pool water,” she says. “If this happens, it’s considered an emergency.”
In fact, some dogs may downright refuse to go near a pool. If it turns out your pup is one of those, it’s best for you to respect their choice and not push the issue. They’ll have to sit out the summer pool party scene.
If your dog is interested but cautious about swimming, it’s important to gently introduce them to the idea of dog swimming. Don’t just toss them in, though. Doing so can injure your dog as well as cause water to enter their airways, Dr. Sterk says.
Instead, follow these steps:
- Take it slow by playing in a specifically designed dog pool (similar to a kiddie pool), like the Frisco Outdoor Dog Swimming Pool.
- Once your dog is accustomed to playing in water, introduce him to the real pool by playing nearby.
- Next, place your dog on the pool steps and spend some time there.
- Once your dog is comfortable on the steps, strap them into a life jacket and enter the shallow end as you hold them.
Expert tip: Give your dog lots of praise throughout the process. You can reinforce good behavior with small treats.
When it comes to life jackets for dogs, remember that a dog life jacket is never a substitute for proper supervision. You’ll also want to choose a life vest that suits you and your pup’s needs. Learn how to choose the best life jacket for your dog.
Here are some of our favorite dog life jackets:
Frisco Ripstop Dog Life Jacket
- Outfitted with a top handle so you can quickly grab your dog in an emergency
- Has three adjustable straps with easy access side-release buckles
- Available in five sizes, from $17.99
Outward Hound Dog Life Jacket
- Features a front under-the-neck float to comfortably keep your dog’s head above water
- Contains foam neoprene side panels for maximum buoyancy
- Available in five sizes, from $22.99
4Teach Your Dog to Enter—and Exit—the Pool
Part of keeping your dog safe is ensuring they know how to get in—and especially how to get out.
“Stairs are the best for pet entry and exit,” says Dr. Coger, who points out that pool ladders can be much harder to navigate than pool steps. Dogs who cannot exit a pool will begin to panic and are at risk for drowning.
Dr. Sterk notes that it can be a little difficult to teach your dog to exit the pool, but just keep repeating the process of walking them out at the steps.
You can even get a special dog pool ramp that can be used so your dog is always able to get in and out of the pool safely. Many have ridges that allow your dog’s paws to grip onto them.
As you know, pool water doesn’t stay clean on its own. Chlorine is used to keep the water clear and free of microorganisms. And while chlorinated pools are generally safe for dogs for short periods of time, chlorine can have negative impacts on your dog if ingested or exposed to concentrated chlorine tablets used to maintain non-saltwater pools. (So, always keep pool supplies safe from your dog’s reach!)
Here’s how chlorine can affect your dog:
It can aggravate and irritate their ears, eyes and skin.
Chlorine can aggravate a dog’s ears and eyes and can also cause skin irritation. Like humans, some dogs are more sensitive than others to chlorine. Therefore, it’s important to rinse your dog off with fresh water when she’s done playing in the pool.
When your dog’s ears remain wet for an extended period of time, they can develop an ear infection. Once pool time is over, be sure to provide proper dog ear care. Give the inside of their ears a gentle rub with a dry towel to make sure you get rid of potential trapped water and moisture.
It can lead to GI upset.
Drinking too much chlorinated pool water can make a dog sick.
“A couple licks may be harmless, but more than that can cause some gastrointestinal upset, leading to vomiting and diarrhea,” Dr. Sterk says.
“This happens more when dogs are extremely excited about swimming, are retrieving toys or are overly fatigued,” adds Dr. Coger.
Do your best to discourage your dog from drinking the pool water. This is another reason close supervision during pooltime is important.
It can cause bloat.
Bloat is a condition where the dog’s stomach becomes excessively inflated with gas. In severe cases, the dog’s stomach can twist. Bloat is always a medical emergency and it can be deadly.
“Excessive water swallowing is associated with bloat,” Dr. Coger says.
Bloat can also occur from consuming too much water in a saltwater pool, as the issue is the volume of water consumed, not what the water contains.
“Should a dog’s abdomen look distended, he seems uncomfortable, or he’s trying to vomit with nothing coming up, seek vet care immediately,” Dr. Coger cautions.
It’s the most basic of dog pool safety tips, but it’s the most important part of swimming pool safety.
“Always keep an eye on your dogs when around a pool, especially if the area around the pool is wet and slippery, as they can easily fall in when walking around the pool area,” Dr. Sterk says.
Never leave your dog in the pool unsupervised. Dogs who love swimming will play in the pool until they’re close to exhaustion. Always stay with your dog as they swim, and be sure they take regular breaks on land.
More summer safety tips for dogs: