Does A Dog Suffer When It Drowns?


This article will compassionately examine the difficult topic of whether dogs suffer when they drown. We will take an evidence-based approach to understanding how dogs experience drowning, the physical effects, ethical considerations around accidental drownings, and most importantly, how to prevent these tragic events. It’s a sensitive subject, but understanding it thoroughly can help us make informed decisions to protect our canine companions.

How Dogs Experience Drowning

When a dog drowns, water enters the lungs, which impairs breathing and causes severe respiratory distress. This leads to hypoxia, a lack of oxygen reaching vital organs (Goldkamp, 2008).

As water fills the lungs, it causes inflammation, dysfunction of lung surfactant, and pulmonary edema (fluid accumulation). This restricts breathing and leads to panic as the dog struggles for air (Treating Environmental Lung Injuries: Drowning and Smoke Inhalation, n.d.).

The aspiration of water triggers the laryngospasm reflex, causing the larynx to constrict, which further obstructs airflow. The dog will go into respiratory arrest within minutes if rescue efforts do not immediately begin (Goldkamp, 2008).

In addition to the physical effects, drowning likely causes immense fear and pain in dogs. As highly social animals, dogs experience panic when unable to breathe. The water rushing into their lungs along with the inability to take in air is extremely distressing and agonizing for dogs (Goldkamp, 2008).

In summary, drowning severely impairs breathing through inflammation and fluid accumulation in the lungs. It also causes tremendous fear and pain as dogs frantically struggle for air. The experience is intensely physically and emotionally traumatic for dogs.

Monitoring During Drowning

Several studies have examined the physiological responses of dogs during experimental drowning scenarios. These studies have monitored heart rate, brain activity, stress hormones, and other vitals in order to understand what happens to a dog’s body when it is drowning.

One study by Conn in 1995 compared the effects of drowning in freshwater versus saltwater in dogs ( They found that heart rates initially increased during the first minutes of submersion as the body responded to stress and lack of oxygen. Brain activity declined rapidly in saltwater drowning, with electrical silence within 3-4 minutes. In freshwater, brain activity persisted slightly longer. Monitoring of heart rate and brain waves allowed the researchers to determine the point at which each dog had died during the experimental drownings.

Other studies have examined stress hormone levels, like cortisol and adrenaline, during drowning scenarios. These hormones are released as the body reacts to the stressful situation of submersion underwater. One challenge of monitoring vitals during drowning experiments is that the stress of restraint and submersion prior to drowning may alter measurements.

Overall, these monitored parameters give insight into the physiological stress and decline that occurs as a dog’s body is deprived of oxygen during drowning. The measurements confirm that drowning leads to immense stress and panic before loss of consciousness and death.

Aftermath in Survivors

Near drowning experiences can have major negative impacts on a dog’s health and behavior. Dogs that survive a near drowning incident may develop a condition called near drowning syndrome, characterized by fluid buildup and swelling in the lungs (source). This can lead to breathing difficulties, lack of oxygen reaching the brain, and even death in some cases.

Some common symptoms of near drowning syndrome include coughing, trouble breathing, blue tinge to gums, lethargy, and fluid coming from the nose. These symptoms may appear immediately or be delayed up to 72 hours after the incident (source).

Beyond the physical effects, near drowning can also cause lasting neurological issues. Survivors may experience reduced mental function, seizures, loss of coordination, and other deficits that impact their behavior and lifespan. Proper medical treatment and monitoring are essential to help dogs recover as much function as possible.

Ethical Considerations

It is a highly controversial ethical issue whether or not animals should be subjected to experimental drowning in laboratory settings. Some argue drowning experiments are necessary to advance scientific knowledge and potentially save human lives. But others counter that it is unethical to deliberately inflict suffering and death on sentient creatures like dogs simply for research purposes.

Proponents of animal testing say it is justified when it leads to important medical breakthroughs. According to one source, many medical advances could not have occurred without animal research, such as the polio vaccine, insulin for diabetes, and open heart surgery techniques. Therefore, some believe the ends justify the means when it comes to animals like dogs being used in drowning experiments. However, critics argue that much animal testing, including inducing drowning, is unnecessary and scientists should instead use advanced computer models.

On the other side, animal rights groups strongly condemn causing deliberate harm and suffering to dogs through experimental drowning on ethical grounds. PETA argues that it is morally wrong to drown dogs who have complex thoughts, emotions, and social bonds. They believe human benefit does not outweigh inflicting pain, fear, and distress on a sentient animal. There are also concerns that dogs may suffer horribly during the drowning process, indicating a need for more humane approaches even if the testing itself has potential merit.

In conclusion, there are reasonable ethical arguments on both sides of this issue. But in light of dogs’ capacity for suffering and modern alternatives, more scientists and institutions are erring on the side of finding less harmful methods of advancing knowledge.

Euthanasia as an Alternative

When a pet owner faces the difficult decision to end a dog’s life, euthanasia is often considered a more humane alternative to letting the dog drown. With euthanasia, there are accepted veterinary practices to minimize pain and ensure a peaceful passing. The two most common methods are injection and gas inhalation.

With intravenous injection, a veterinarian administers an overdose of anesthetic drugs like pentobarbital or phenobarbital. This is designed to quickly render the dog unconscious followed by respiratory and cardiac arrest. When properly administered by a veterinarian, injection is considered painless and rapid. One study found average time to loss of consciousness was just 6 seconds.1 The success rate of euthanasia injection is very high when protocols are followed.

Inhalant gas like isoflurane can also humanely render a dog unconscious prior to respiratory and cardiac arrest. One study found inhalants took longer for loss of consciousness at 45 seconds on average, but was also painless for the dog.2 Success rates are also very high with minimal complications in most veterinary settings.

With drowning, the experience prior to loss of consciousness can be extremely distressing and painful for dogs. There is respiratory impairment, vomiting, aspiration, choking, seizures and panic. Even when drowning leads to death, the process is drawn out compared to euthanasia. This can cause greater suffering in the animal.

Euthanasia also has less emotional impact on human witnesses compared to the distress of watching or imagining a drowning death. While still difficult, euthanasia is accepted and comforting for many pet owners given the peaceful passing.

Preventing Accidental Drowning

There are several steps dog owners can take to help prevent accidental drowning of their pets. Proper supervision is key – dogs should never be left unattended near water. Investing in a canine life jacket provides an extra layer of protection if a dog ends up in the water. Life jackets for dogs are available in different sizes and styles. According to the American Kennel Club, it’s important to get the proper fit for your dog’s body type 1.

Securing backyard pools with self-closing gates and fences helps prevent unsupervised access. Dogs who enjoy swimming can benefit from professional training or lessons. This allows them to learn water safety skills in a controlled setting. It’s also recommended to start dogs slowly with shallow water interactions and short swims before progressing to longer distances 2.

By taking preventative measures and not leaving dogs unattended near water, owners can help protect against accidental drowning situations.

Recognizing the Signs

It’s critical to recognize the signs of drowning in dogs quickly in order to have the best chance of rescue and revival. According to PetMD, the most common symptoms of drowning and near-drowning in dogs include coughing with or without foamy, red saliva, respiratory distress, and decreased body temperature [1]. WagWalking also notes lethargy, vomiting, confusion, and unconsciousness as potential signs [2].

If you witness a dog in the water exhibiting these symptoms, immediate retrieval from the water is essential. Gentle handling is important, as rough movement may worsen breathing issues. Once safely out of the water, check for breathing and pulse and perform rescue breathing and CPR as needed until medical treatment can be obtained. Bringing the dog’s body temperature back to normal is also critical for survival.

For dogs who inhaled smaller amounts of water and don’t initially show symptoms, continued monitoring for the next 12-24 hours is vital to watch for delayed onset of respiratory distress or other issues [3]. Seek prompt veterinary care if any concerning symptoms develop.

Coping with Grief

Losing a beloved dog to drowning can be extremely traumatic and heartbreaking for owners. This sudden, unexpected loss often leaves pet owners overwhelmed with difficult emotions like guilt, anger, sadness, and despair. The home may feel painfully empty and silent without the dog’s presence. Many owners describe the grief as comparable to losing a family member or close friend.

It is critical that pet owners be gentle with themselves during this difficult time and acknowledge the deep pain of their loss. Do not feel ashamed of your grief or try to suppress it. Allow yourself to fully process the emotions so that healing can begin. Support groups with others who have lost pets can validate your feelings and provide a space to share fond memories.

The stages of grief often fluctuate rapidly after a pet’s traumatic death. Confusion, denial, bargaining, and depression may cycle through repeatedly. Know that all of these feelings are normal parts of the mourning process. With time and support, most pet owners can regain a sense of stability.

If the grief becomes prolonged or disabling, speak to a mental health professional. Persistent guilt, hopelessness, or detachment from daily life may indicate clinical depression or trauma requiring treatment. With professional help and the support of loved ones, it is possible to move forward while still cherishing the joyful memories of a beloved pet.

For more information, see the following resources:

[How to cope with the death of your pet](

[Coping with sudden and unexpected pet loss](

[Coping with Losing a Pet](


In summary, while drowning can be a traumatic experience for dogs that can potentially lead to death, there are some key learnings from examining this topic more closely. The research shows that dogs do suffer when they drown, experiencing panic, inhaling water, and being deprived of oxygen (Source). However, with rapid veterinary intervention, many dogs can survive near-drowning incidents, especially in freshwater. There are important considerations around preventing accidental drownings through supervision, fencing, and training. Additionally, euthanasia may be the most humane option in cases of severe, irrecoverable damage. While deeply sad to consider, understanding how dogs experience drowning can empower owners to save lives through prevention and prompt action when accidents do occur. Examining this difficult topic brings actionable insights for any dog owner.

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