What Is The Risk Of Dogs Swimming?

Swimming can be a fun and rewarding activity for dogs, offering both mental and physical exercise. However, there are also potential risks to be aware of when dogs swim. Responsible pet owners should educate themselves on the benefits as well as the dangers, and take proper precautions to keep their dogs safe.

On the plus side, swimming provides dogs an opportunity to run, play, and burn energy. The buoyancy of water supports their joints and muscles, making it an ideal low-impact workout. Swimming also stimulates their minds as they explore new environments. However, dangers include drowning, ear infections, exhaustion, and ingesting pool chemicals or bacteria. With proper supervision and preparations, the benefits can outweigh the risks.

This article will provide an overview of the potential risks dogs face when swimming, as well as tips to keep them safe. The benefits of swimming for dogs will also be discussed. The goal is to educate owners on how to allow their dogs to enjoy the water while protecting their health.

Drowning Risk

Drowning is a serious risk for dogs swimming in pools, lakes, oceans or other bodies of water. Some risk factors that increase a dog’s chance of drowning include:

– Breed – Some breeds like bulldogs and pugs are not as strong swimmers due to their body shape and short snouts. Their heavy front end causes them to struggle keeping their head above water (Source).

– Age and health – Very old, very young or sick dogs are more at risk. Puppies don’t know how to swim yet and seniors or ill dogs may have reduced strength and stamina (Source).

– Coat type – Heavy, long coats can become waterlogged and weigh a dog down in water. Short hair coats are safer for swimming (Source).

– Poor visibility – Murky water, darkness, reflections or glare on the water can disorient a dog and lead to drowning accidents.

– Exhaustion – Swimming takes a lot of energy. Dogs at risk for drowning are often trying to swim for too long and become fatigued.

Ear Infections

Swimming can increase the risk of dogs developing ear infections, commonly known as “swimmer’s ear.” This type of infection, also called otitis externa, occurs when water gets trapped in a dog’s ear canal, creating a moist environment perfect for bacterial and yeast overgrowth (Veterinary Partner – VIN, 2018).

The most common signs of swimmer’s ear in dogs include head shaking, scratching or rubbing the ears, discharge or odor coming from the ears, and redness or swelling of the outer ear. Dogs may also exhibit symptoms like whining or yelping when the ears are touched due to pain and discomfort.

There are several ways to help prevent swimmer’s ear in dogs:

  • Gently dry your dog’s ears with a towel after swimming or bathing.
  • Use a veterinarian-recommended drying solution to facilitate water evaporation.
  • Carefully pluck excess hair around the ear canal opening to allow better air circulation.
  • Check your dog’s ears regularly for signs of infection.
  • Avoid letting your dog swim for prolonged periods in contaminated water sources.

If caught early, most cases of swimmer’s ear can be treated with prescription antibiotic and antifungal ear medications. Severe or chronic infections may require oral medications or even surgery in rare cases (Nextmune, 2023). Consulting your veterinarian is crucial for proper diagnosis and treatment.

Skin Issues

Dogs can experience a variety of skin issues after swimming, most commonly rashes and hot spots. Some dogs are susceptible to a condition called “swimmer’s itch” or “water mites”, which is caused by an allergic reaction to parasites in lakes or pools (https://wagwalking.com/wellness/can-dogs-get-swimmers-itch). The symptoms of swimmer’s itch include red bumps, pimples, and severe itching of the skin. Swimming in chlorinated pools can also cause dry skin, rashes, and irritation in some dogs due to the chemicals stripping their skin of protective oils (https://www.akcchf.org/educational-resources/library/articles/water-dogs.html). Additionally, staying wet for prolonged periods can lead to “hot spots”, which are painful lesions that form on the skin.

Treatment for skin issues like rashes and hot spots usually involves topical ointments, antibiotics, and anti-itch medications. Keeping the dog’s skin clean and dry after swimming can help prevent many problems. Signs of skin irritation like persistent scratching, licking, or redness warrant a vet visit to diagnose and treat the underlying cause.

Ingesting Water

Dogs that ingest a lot of water while swimming are at risk for developing an upset stomach and diarrhea. When dogs drink too much water, their electrolyte levels can become dangerously diluted, leading to a condition called water intoxication or hyponatremia. According to the American Kennel Club, water intoxication is most common in dogs who “spend a lot of time playing in a lake, pool or ocean.”

Signs of water intoxication can include lethargy, vomiting, glazed eyes, dilated pupils, lack of coordination, bloating and other gastrointestinal issues like diarrhea. If severe, water intoxication can even cause brain swelling and become life-threatening. Treatment usually involves resting the digestive tract and correcting the electrolyte imbalance with supplements or an IV drip from the veterinarian.

To prevent water intoxication, be sure your dog takes frequent breaks from swimming to rest and hydrate normally. Avoid allowing unsupervised play in the water. Monitor your dog for symptoms afterwards like an upset stomach or diarrhea, especially if they ingested water. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect water intoxication.


Overexertion during swimming can be dangerous for dogs. Dogs that swim for too long or too intensely can easily become exhausted. According to Fun and safe swimming tips for your dog, signs of exhaustion include swimming lower in the water than normal, panting, and shaking. Pushing a dog beyond its limits while swimming puts it at risk of drowning.

It’s important to pay close attention while your dog is swimming. Monitor for any signs of fatigue and don’t force your dog to swim if it seems tired. Provide frequent breaks for your dog to rest. Know your dog’s limits and don’t overdo it. With proper monitoring and breaks, you can help prevent your dog from overexerting itself while swimming.


Hypothermia is a major risk while swimming in cold water. It occurs when a dog’s body temperature drops below normal from prolonged exposure to cold temperatures (Rover). Small breeds with less fat and body mass are at higher risk. Older dogs or those with health conditions may also be more susceptible.

Signs of hypothermia in dogs include shivering, lethargy, dilated pupils, low heart rate, and loss of coordination. As it progresses, a dog may collapse, stop breathing, or enter a coma (Holiday Barn). Hypothermia can become life threatening if a dog’s temperature drops below 90°F.

To prevent hypothermia, avoid letting dogs swim for extended periods in cold water below 70°F. Pay close attention to small or vulnerable dogs. Limit swims to short sessions and provide warmth afterward with towels and rest. If hypothermia is suspected, seek emergency veterinary care immediately.


Dogs can definitely get sunburned, just like humans [1]. Light colored dogs with minimal fur coverage are especially at risk for developing sunburn when swimming [2]. Sunburn in dogs can lead to skin damage, peeling, lesions, and even skin cancer over time. Using a dog-safe sunscreen can help protect a dog’s sensitive skin from UV rays [3]. If a dog does become sunburned, treatment usually involves applying soothing aloe vera gel, giving an anti-inflammatory medication, and keeping the dog out of the sun until healed.

Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

Swimming can provide many health benefits for dogs when done safely and in moderation. According to Top Dog Health, swimming is an excellent form of therapeutic exercise that can strengthen joints and muscles. The water provides a low-impact environment that reduces stress on the joints while allowing the dog to move and build muscle.

Swimming is also beneficial for mental health and stress relief. According to the K9 Aquatic Center, the warm water helps dogs relax, assists blood flow, and reduces muscle spasms. The activity serves as a form of canine therapy, providing an outlet for energy and anxiety.

Furthermore, water rehabilitation facilities often use swimming pools in recovery programs for injured dogs, as noted by Impact Dog Crates. The buoyancy and resistance of water allows low-impact exercise to rebuild muscle and promote healing after surgery or joint problems.

Safety Tips

When allowing dogs to swim, it’s important keep safety in mind. According to WebMD, dogs should always be supervised when in water. It’s best to accompany dogs into the water to monitor them and assist if needed. Dogs should start in shallow water and only swim for limited periods to avoid overexertion.

Life jackets provide an added layer of protection according to VBSPCA. They allow dogs to enjoy the water without having to work as hard paddling. Life jackets are especially recommended for dogs who are not strong swimmers. Supervision is still required, but life jackets give dogs an advantage if they become tired or get into trouble.

With proper precautions, swimming can be an enjoyable activity for dogs. But pet owners must be vigilant about supervision and take steps to prevent accidents and injuries.

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