How to Protect Your Dog from the Beach Hazards
With the right amount of cautious planning, the beach, with its velvety sand, the playful surfs, and the ampleness of it all, is the perfect playground for dogs to unpack their dogness.
Photo by Mert Kahveci
First things first, here is a friendly reminder of some general advice:
- Keep your dog’s records at hand at all times. In case of control, it is required.
- Make sure your dog has good social skills and comes on command. Your dog should be trained to respond successfully to your recall commands at all times, but especially while off-leash and crazy. (Read how dogs learn with positive reinforcement.)
- Know the nearest vet or pet clinic in advance. Have their phones and addresses at hand in case of an emergency. Especially useful when engaging in new activities, like going to the beach for the first time.
Taking your dog to the beach for the first time
Dogs that visit the sea for the first time need a special approach. My dog loves the beach, and she is now fearless of the water, but that is not how it looked like the first time we went there. The sea is vast, nothing like they have seen before. It is ok if your dog is hesitant to approach the water at first. Handle it with tact.
Aria got her foot in the water motivated by, what else, food. Every step closer to the water was rewarded with a treat. Soon she felt confident enough (or hungry enough) to touch the water, and she loves it ever since.
Treat your dog’s first encounter with the sea with sensitivity. You don’t want their first experience of the water to be anything else than positive. Rough seas will not help. Pick a day with mild weather conditions. It’s difficult to turn around a traumatic first experience with the ocean. Many dogs miss out on the joys that come with the beach because of a bad first experience. And that’s a pity.
In addition, you should monitor your dog’s activities closely. With time you will know how your dog reacts to heat, what are their signs of exhaustion, or whether they engage in harmful behaviors, like consuming sand, that you need to stop.
The following apply to every dog but more so to first timers.
Beware of the heat
You choose to visit the beach on a hot day, that’s more than understandable, but there is a hazard lurking around: hyperthermia (a.k.a. heat exhaustion). Excessive and vigorous exercise during hot temperatures is a red flag for dogs. Like us, dogs can suffer from hyperthermia, which leads to heat strokes when left untreated for long.
Early signs of hyperthermia in dogs are:
- Quick and shallow breathing
- Increased heart rate
- Dry nose
- Mucous on the mouth
- Warm to touch
A quick clarification: Panting is a dog’s way to cool off. Stretching their mouths to the ears and causing a quick breath causes the exchange of heat with the cooler air, helping to remove heat from the blood. Do not be alarmed if your dog breathes heavily as you would not worry if your kid sweats. Vigorous exercise will cause them to breathe faster, as it will cause their heart to beat faster. Just keep it down for a while until they breathe normally again. Look for other signs too.
What to do in case of hyperthermia
Stop your dog from doing anything when the first signs of exhaustion (excessive panting and rapid heartbeat) appear. Encourage them to take a dip in the sea, let them drink freshwater, pour some on their muzzles and necks, and rest in the shade. This will bring them back to normal. The signs will subside. Most healthy pets recover fast from heat exhaustion if they are treated immediately. If not, use those phone numbers and addresses from the nearest vet or clinic you saved.
Heat exhaustion can lead to heat strokes. Heat strokes are an emergency. See here what to do.
Most likely, your dog will take breaks before exhaustion, take a dip in the water, and rest or slow down. The problem lies with some dogs that lose touch with their bodies when excitement takes over their minds. They could be at a critical point without realizing it. Their inability to voice their discomfort leaves us with the responsibility to monitor their activity at all times, especially during hot temperatures.
Relevant facts to keep in mind
- Flat-faced dogs like Rottweilers, Bulldogs, and Punts are at disadvantage. The reason is that their airway is restricted, which makes it harder for them to cool off, and therefore they are less tolerant of heat.
- The hottest hours of the day are 2-5 pm. Avoid exposition to the sun or vigorous activity during those hours.
- The most vulnerable to sunlight body parts are those with the least melanin: the muzzle, the nose, the ears and mouth, the inside legs, the abdomen, and groin. Dogs with the least protection from the sun are the white ones.
The color of their hair is related to the amount of melanin in their skin. This means that white dogs are sun-sensitive as opposed to black dogs who are melanated. Even though most of the skin is protected by their coat, the exposed to the sun parts can be burnt. Consider using pet-formulated sunscreen.
- The darker, the hotter. Black dogs are more vulnerable to hot temperatures for the reason that dark colors absorb light and heat, as opposed to light colors that reflect light and heat away.
A reminder: Special caution is required for dogs that are not familiar with the conditions of the beach. Once you know your dog’s stamina, caring for him/her will become a routine. Exhaustion from swimming should also be monitored even though most dogs will know when to stop. I have seen dogs overestimating their stamina, so don’t let your dog swim unattended, and do not let them swim alone in the open sea. Tides are not swimmable. Consider using a life vest.
Sand eating and/or sea water drinking
Playing at the beach, digging in the sand, fetching in the water, it’s inevitable your dog will consume small amounts of sand or seawater. Do not obsess over it. It is rather expected. However, be alarmed if large amounts of sand or seawater go down their thought, whether this is intentional or not.
One or two sips of seawater won’t do any harm, some more will cause them diarrhea, and a lot of it will cause them salt toxicity. Salt toxicity is a major issue that needs medical attention immediately.
According to Pet Poison Helpline: ”Salt poisoning in dogs and cats results in signs of vomiting, diarrhea, decreased appetite, lethargy, incoordination, excessive thirst or urination. In severe cases, tremors, seizures, coma, and even death are possible.”
Ensure your dog gets plenty of water regularly while at the beach. If you think your dog has been poisoned by salt, talk to your vet immediately.
Large quantities of sand cause complications as the sand compacts and sits in the intestine. The sand prevents normal gut movement, causing severe constipation and nausea. Look for signs of depression, lethargy, repeated vomiting, and diarrhea 12-24 hours after the event.
Dry drowning happens when water or sand is aspirated into the lungs or other parts of the airway. It is usually a result of a dramatic event in the water, like losing balance while swimming and instinctively take a big breath, causing excess fluid to reach the lungs.
Your dog could show no signs of concern for hours or days. Some common symptoms are coughing, difficulty breathing, blue skin or gums, disorientation, and lethargy. If you suspect your dog may be suffering from dry drowning, call a vet immediately to have him checked out.
Prevention is the best solution here too. Do not let your dog swim unattended or for long periods. If your dog enjoys fetching in the water, pick flat floating toys. That allows them to fetch without opening their mouth so wide.
Rules and regulations in your area: GO REMOTE
Yes, I do consider confrontation with angry people who have a say about whether my dog has the right to swim in the same waters as them a hazard. Prevention saves you energy once again.
Before you head out, inform yourself about the rules and regulations that apply to your area when it comes to letting your dog free. For my peace of mind, I choose remote beaches. The fewer the people, the better the fun.
Crowded beaches are not ideal for the kind of craziness that possesses my dog. Aria gets ecstatic at the beach. She cannot be contained, and I wouldn’t attempt it. We need a safe distance, at least 50 to 60 meters, from the nearest bather for Aria to be able to be fully herself without being a bother to anyone. Of course I keep her harness and leash in sight in case I need to restrict her.
In any case, know what applies to your area. In some areas, dogs are allowed to be at the beach but not in the water. In others, they are not allowed at all. I find this obnoxious, but the law is not on our side, and I would never advise anybody to break the law (..publicly).
So, how do you protect your dog from the beach hazards?
- Know the hazards
- Know your dog
- Monitor your dog’s activities
- Keep your dog hydrated
Do not let the above collection of unpleasant scenarios discourage you from taking your dog to the beach. But also keep in mind that this won’t be the day for daydreaming or wandering off thoughtless
along the waves.
As always, complete this post with your recommendations, insights, or questions in the commend section. (They are all answered.) And if you feel like it, share with other dog folks.