How Long Does Dry Drowning Take In Dogs?

What is dry drowning in dogs?

Dry drowning is a type of non-fatal drowning that can occur after a dog inhales water, either from swimming or other activities. Unlike regular drowning, dry drowning happens when water enters the lungs but the dog does not die immediately. Instead, fluid builds up in the lungs over the next several hours or days, leading to breathing difficulties, lung infection, and other complications (1).

The main difference between dry drowning and regular drowning is the timeline. With regular drowning, death occurs during submersion or immediately afterwards. But with dry drowning, symptoms develop gradually over the next 24-72 hours as fluid accumulates in the lungs (2).

Common symptoms of dry drowning in dogs include coughing, breathing trouble, lethargy, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, and congestion. Dogs may also develop pneumonia or other lung infections. Symptoms can range from mild to severe depending on how much water entered the lungs (3).

While the term “dry drowning” used to be common, it has fallen out of favor in human medicine. The preferred terms are “secondary drowning” or “delayed drowning” as they more accurately reflect the timeline and mechanism (1). However, dry drowning remains widely used when referring to this condition in dogs.

Causes and risk factors

The most common cause of dry drowning in dogs is laryngospasm, which occurs when the vocal cords spasm and close off the airway after water enters the lungs. This makes breathing increasingly difficult and can lead to suffocation if not treated quickly (

Fluid buildup in the lungs, known as pulmonary edema, is another cause. When water gets inhaled into the lungs, it irritates the lung tissue and causes inflammation. This leads to fluid leakage into the lungs, making it hard for the dog to breathe (

Certain dogs are at higher risk of dry drowning. Brachycephalic breeds like pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers are more prone due to their narrowed airways. Young puppies or senior dogs may also be at increased risk. Dogs that inhale larger amounts of water are more likely to develop complications (

Timeline and Stages

The timeline for dry drowning in dogs can vary, but there are some general stages and timeframes to be aware of:

Initial aspiration of water: This occurs at the time of swimming or submersion in water. Dogs can inhale or swallow water into their airways.[1]

Onset of symptoms: Symptoms like coughing, breathing difficulties, lethargy, etc. usually begin within 1-24 hours after the aspiration event.[2][3] In some cases, symptoms may not appear for 48-72 hours.

Progression of symptoms: Over the next several hours to days, symptoms can worsen as fluid continues to accumulate in the lungs. This is the dangerous stage where pulmonary edema and respiratory failure can occur.

Treatment and recovery: With prompt veterinary treatment, many dogs recover fully within 24-48 hours if treated supportively with oxygen therapy, diuretics, and monitoring. More severe cases may require 3-5 days of hospitalization.[1]

Overall, the entire timeline from initial water aspiration to full recovery may span anywhere from 24 hours to several days. Close monitoring for at least 72 hours after swimming is advised to watch for any delayed symptoms.

Symptoms to watch for

The main symptoms of dry drowning in dogs can vary depending on the stage:

Initial stage (minutes after water aspiration):

  • Coughing
  • Gagging
  • Choking or trouble breathing
  • Foaming at the mouth

Delayed stage (hours after initial incident):

  • Lethargy
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Wheezing or crackling sounds
  • Discomfort or distress

The most serious symptom to watch for is respiratory distress, indicating the airways are obstructed or fluid is accumulating in the lungs. This is a life-threatening emergency.


Veterinarians will diagnose dry drowning based on the dog’s history and clinical signs. If aspiration of water is suspected, the vet will perform a thorough physical examination, listening to the dog’s chest with a stethoscope for any abnormal lung sounds like crackles or wheezes. They may also check the dog’s oxygen levels and measure respiratory rate and effort.

Diagnostic tests commonly performed include:

  • Chest X-rays to look for evidence of aspiration pneumonia or pulmonary edema
  • Complete blood count (CBC) to check for elevated white blood cell count due to infection
  • Chemistry panel to evaluate organ function and electrolyte imbalances
  • Arterial blood gases to determine oxygenation and carbon dioxide levels
  • Laryngoscopy to visually inspect for water aspiration damage

If aspiration pneumonia is present, cultures may be taken of the respiratory tract to identify any infectious organisms. The earlier dry drowning can be diagnosed, the better the outcome typically is for the dog.


Treatment for dry drowning in dogs focuses on addressing the symptoms and restoring normal breathing. Vets will immediately provide oxygen therapy, either through an oxygen mask or ventilator if the dog is not breathing on their own (Source). This helps get oxygen into the bloodstream and reduce distress. Medications may be given to open the airways, reduce inflammation, or relax the vocal cords if they are spasming.

If the dog aspirated water into their lungs, the vet may prescribe antibiotics to prevent pneumonia from developing. In very severe cases, a breathing tube and mechanical ventilation may be necessary to restore normal breathing. Supportive care like IV fluids are also often administered. Most dogs begin to recover within 24-48 hours of initiating treatment, though some symptoms like coughing may persist for a week or more.

Preventing secondary drowning is key, so vets recommend close monitoring for any emerging symptoms for at least 48 hours after a near-drowning incident. With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for dry drowning is generally good if it’s caught early.


There are several ways to help prevent dry drowning in dogs:

Closely supervise dogs around all bodies of water. Even if a dog is a strong swimmer, accidents can still happen (source). Dogs should always be leashed or contained around pools, ponds, lakes, etc.

Teach dogs water safety and how to exit pools or other water sources. Having a ramp or steps can make it easier for them to get out (source). Practice with your dog if they will be swimming.

Dry dogs thoroughly after swimming, baths or exposure to water. Water left in the ears and nose can lead to aspiration or infection.

Avoid rigorous exercise, like playtime, for at least 2 hours after swimming. This allows dogs to rest and recover their normal breathing and heart rate (source).

Learn dog CPR and first aid. Being prepared to act quickly increases chances of survival.

Recognize high-risk breeds like bulldogs who have short snouts and can’t hold their breath long while swimming.

Keep water bowls away from kennels or crates so dogs don’t accidentally inhale water while drinking.

Long term effects

If dry drowning is not treated promptly, it can lead to serious long term effects in dogs. The main potential long term effects include:

  • Permanent lung damage – Fluid in the lungs can cause inflammation and scarring which reduces lung capacity.
  • Recurring respiratory infections – Damage to lung tissue increases susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections.
  • Heart problems – Lack of oxygen can cause damage to the heart muscle leading to arrhythmias or heart failure.
  • Brain damage – Oxygen deprivation can result in permanent brain damage affecting cognition, memory, and coordination.

Studies show that the longer it takes to restore normal breathing and oxygen levels, the higher the risk of long-lasting or permanent organ damage. This is why immediate veterinary treatment is crucial for the best chance of full recovery. With prompt care, most dogs make a complete recovery without any lasting effects.

According to, dry drowning complications can happen hours to days after swimming, so pet owners should monitor their dog closely after any water-related incidents.


With prompt veterinary treatment, the prognosis for dogs with dry drowning is generally good, with most dogs making a full recovery. However, the longer it takes for treatment to begin, the more damaging the effects can be. Thanks to research, we know that the majority of dogs survive dry drowning if brought to the vet within the first few hours of symptoms appearing. The key is recognizing the signs early and seeking immediate medical intervention.

Oxygen therapy, diuretics, and anti-inflammatories can all help reduce fluid in the lungs and improve breathing. Most dogs respond well to this supportive care when started quickly, before severe hypoxia and damage sets in. With aggressive treatment in the first 24 hours, vets report success rates upwards of 85-90%. However, delays in treatment of 6 hours or more lead to higher rates of complications like pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome. The longer fluid remains in the airways, the greater the risk of long-term breathing issues or respiratory arrest.

So while dry drowning carries a guarded prognosis overall, the likelihood for full recovery is good if owners vigilantly monitor for symptoms and rush their dog to emergency vet care at the very first sign of respiratory distress.

When to seek emergency care

If your dog starts showing any of the following signs after swimming or being submerged in water, seek emergency veterinary care immediately:

  • Coughing or gagging
  • Extreme lethargy or difficulty breathing
  • Collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Blue gums or tongue
  • Foaming at the mouth

According to the experts at Small Animal Clinic, “the timeline for symptoms [of dry drowning] can vary quite a bit from dog to dog. Some dogs will show signs right away, while others can have delays of a few hours or even a couple of days before problems surface.”

Therefore, keep a close eye on your dog for at least 48 hours after any water submersion incident. Don’t hesitate to call your vet or seek emergency care if you notice anything unusual.

Speedy intervention can make all the difference in the outcome for dogs with dry drowning. The longer the airway is blocked or the lungs are damaged, the higher the risk for permanent injury or death. So when in doubt, err on the side of caution and get your dog checked out.

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