When A Dog Almost Drowns?

Recognizing the Signs of Near Drowning

After a near drowning event, it is crucial to watch for signs of water inhalation or aspiration in your dog. Some of the most common symptoms include:

Lethargy: Dogs who have inhaled or aspirated water may act very tired and weak. They often lack energy and motivation to move around. Lethargy is a result of oxygen deprivation to the brain and body that occurred during the near drowning incident (CDC).

Vomiting: Inhaling and swallowing water can cause nausea and vomiting. The water may contain bacteria, chemicals, or other irritants that upset the gastrointestinal system. Vomit may be clear, foamy, or tinged with blood.

Breathing Issues: Dogs may struggle for breath, breathe rapidly, cough, or make wheezing/whistling noises. This results from inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs after water aspiration.

Coughing: A wet, gagging cough is common after near drowning as the body tries to expel fluid from the airways and lungs. Coughs may be weak or forceful depending on the level of inflammation.

Causes of Near Drowning

Some of the most common causes of near drowning in dogs include:

  • Unsupervised swimming – Dogs that are allowed to swim without supervision can easily get exhausted and go under. It’s important to always watch your dog closely when they are swimming.
  • Falling into a pool – Pools pose a major drowning risk for dogs if they fall in and are unable to get out. Dogs should be supervised around pools at all times or access should be restricted.
  • Exhaustion – Dogs that swim for too long can become overtired and drown. It’s important to limit swimming sessions and allow dogs adequate rest periods.

Other causes include storms washing dogs into rushing water, falling through thin ice, boat accidents, and any situation where a dog ends up in deep water without an ability to get out. Supervision, flotation devices, and restricted access to bodies of water can help prevent near drownings.

According to the AKC article “5 Water Safety Tips For Boating With Dogs” https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/travel/tips-for-taking-your-dog-out-on-the-water/, drowning accidents can easily be prevented by proper supervision and use of dog life jackets.

First Aid for Near Drowning

If your dog has nearly drowned, the first priority is to restore breathing and circulation. According to the Red Cross, the steps for providing first aid are:1

Clear the airway. Tilt your dog’s head back and check if there is any blockage in the throat that is preventing breathing. Remove it if possible. Pull the tongue forward.

Provide rescue breaths. Close the dog’s mouth, breathe into the nose gently until the chest rises. Give one breath every 3 seconds to allow the previous breath to exhale.

Start chest compressions. Place your dog on a firm surface on its side. Place one hand on the widest part of the chest and rapidly push down compressing about 1/3 to 1/2 the depth of the chest 30 times. Do 5 cycles of 30 compressions and 2 rescue breaths.

Continue the compressions and rescue breaths until your dog regains consciousness and starts breathing, or you reach veterinary care. Avoid overexertion.

Getting oxygen circulating is crucial in the minutes after a near drowning to avoid organ and brain damage. Performing CPR immediately can greatly improve the chances of survival.

Taking Your Dog to the Veterinarian

If your dog has experienced a near drowning incident, it is crucial to take them to see a veterinarian as soon as possible, even if they seem to be recovering well. There are some important steps to take when preparing to bring your dog to the vet:

Call ahead – Let the veterinary office know you are on your way with a dog that has nearly drowned. This will allow them to be prepared to see you right away and start any needed treatment quickly.

Bring a towel – Keep your dog wrapped in a dry towel to prevent hypothermia after being in the water. Maintain gentle pressure on any bleeding wounds as well.

Give updates on your dog’s status – Provide information to the vet staff on what happened, how long your dog was under water, and their condition on the drive over. Details like unconsciousness, vomiting, abnormal breathing, coughing, or seizures are very important to relay.

According to the AVMA’s guidelines on euthanasia, veterinarians have an ethical responsibility to relieve suffering in animals, which may involve euthanizing a severely injured animal that has undergone a traumatic near drowning and has a poor prognosis (https://www.avma.org/resources-tools/avma-policies/avma-guidelines-euthanasia-animals). However, the vet will be able to make the most informed decision after fully evaluating your dog’s status from the near drowning incident.

Treating Pulmonary Edema

The main treatments for pulmonary edema in dogs focus on improving oxygenation and reducing the fluid buildup in the lungs. According to VCA Animal Hospitals (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/congestive-heart-failure-in-dogs), the three primary treatments are:

Oxygen Therapy

Providing supplemental oxygen helps improve oxygenation and breathing. This may involve use of an oxygen mask, oxygen cage, or other method to deliver oxygen. The goal is to increase oxygen levels to aid recovery.


Diuretics like furosemide are often given to help the dog’s body eliminate excess fluid buildup through urination. Reducing fluid overload takes pressure off the lungs and heart.


Ensuring proper rest is crucial during recovery. Restricting activity and excitement can help reduce the work of breathing and avoid aggravating the condition. confinement, leash walks, and monitoring are needed.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, with appropriate treatment dogs can often live comfortably with chronic pulmonary edema for months to years (https://vcahospitals.com/know-your-pet/congestive-heart-failure-in-dogs). Close monitoring and follow up care are needed after a near drowning incident.

Monitoring Your Dog After a Near Drowning

After your dog experiences a near drowning event, it’s crucial to monitor their health closely in the hours and days following. Some effects of near drowning may not be apparent right away. You’ll want to keep a close eye on your dog’s breathing, heart rate, and watch for any abnormalities or changes.

Check your dog’s breathing rate and rhythm often, at least every 30 minutes initially after the incident. Count their breaths per minute – a normal resting rate is around 15-30 breaths per minute. But if their breathing seems labored, rapid, irregular or shallow, that is a red flag. Contact your vet immediately if you observe any respiratory distress.

Frequently check your dog’s heart rate as well, which normally ranges from 70-180 beats per minute depending on their size. You can feel their pulse by gently placing your fingers on their hind leg where the thigh meets the abdomen. An abnormal heart rate combined with breathing issues is an emergency.

Also monitor for coughing, pale or bluish gums, wheezing, lethargy, loss of consciousness or seizures. These all indicate potentially serious medical problems like pulmonary edema or neurological effects from oxygen deprivation. Your dog may show signs of distress hours or even days later, so diligent monitoring is key. Don’t hesitate to call your vet or an emergency animal hospital at the first sign of trouble after a near drowning. Early intervention can make all the difference.

With close observation and quick follow-up care as needed, you can help your dog gradually recover their strength and health after the traumatic experience of nearly drowning.

Preventing Future Near Drownings

The best way to prevent future near drowning incidents is to take proactive safety measures around water. Fencing in pools is crucial to keeping pets safe. According to the Humane Society, “Backyard swimming pools are synonymous with summer fun. But they can be deadly for pets. Pool drownings are tragic, because they are preventable” (https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/pool-safety-wild-animals). Installing a proper fence around the perimeter of the pool will help keep pets from accidentally falling in.

It’s also important that pets wear flotation devices or life jackets when on boats or around bodies of water. The buoyancy provided by life jackets can prevent fatigue and drowning. Make sure to get a properly fitted life jacket designed for your pet’s body type.

Finally, diligent supervision is key to preventing drowning incidents. When pets are swimming or playing near water, keep a watchful eye and don’t leave them unattended. Being within arm’s reach can allow you to intervene quickly in an emergency. Take sensible precautions, but avoid being overprotective to still allow your pet to enjoy the water.

CPR Techniques for Dogs

When a dog is pulled from the water during a near drowning event, it is critical to begin CPR immediately if the dog is unconscious and not breathing. According to the Red Cross, the proper technique for CPR in dogs involves chest compressions and rescue breaths (https://www.redcross.org/take-a-class/cpr/performing-cpr/pet-cpr).

To perform chest compressions on a dog, place the dog on its right side on a firm, flat surface. Place your palms over the widest part of the chest, then push down firmly about 1/4 to 1/3 the depth of the chest, compressing the heart between the breastbone and spine. The compression rate should be 100-120 compressions per minute, similar to the technique used on human patients.

After 30 chest compressions, tilt the dog’s head back, lift the jaw, and give 2 rescue breaths. Make sure the airway is clear, use enough air to make the chest visibly rise, and let the chest deflate fully before the next breath. Check for a pulse, and return to cycles of 30 compressions and 2 breaths until the dog begins breathing on its own or veterinary care is available.

Long Term Effects

The long term effects of a near drowning incident depend on how long the dog was deprived of oxygen and the damage that occurred. Some of the most common long term effects include:

Brain Damage

Depriving the brain of oxygen can lead to short-term or permanent brain damage. The longer the brain goes without oxygen, the greater the impact. Possible brain damage after near drowning includes:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures
  • Coma
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Memory problems
  • Behavioral changes
  • Difficulty regulating body temperature and blood pressure

Mild cases may resolve over time as the brain heals. More severe cases can result in permanent impairment or personality changes.

Organ Damage

Other organs besides the brain are also vulnerable to oxygen deprivation. Near drowning can damage organs like:

  • Lungs – fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) is common
  • Heart – arrhythmias, cardiac arrest
  • Liver
  • Kidneys

Organ damage may heal over time or it can be permanent, potentially leading to organ failure down the road.


Inhaling water can cause pneumonia, either from bacteria in the water or fluid in the lungs. Pneumonia may develop immediately after near drowning or up to 48 hours later. Symptoms include fever, coughing, nasal discharge, breathing issues, lethargy. Antibiotics are used for treatment.

Pneumonia can result in permanent lung damage if severe. Proper treatment is important for reducing this risk.

Prognosis After Near Drowning

The prognosis for a dog after a near drowning incident depends greatly on how long the dog was deprived of oxygen under water and the extent of the damage caused. Some key factors that determine prognosis include:

  • Duration of submersion – The longer a dog is trapped under water, the greater the risk of brain damage from oxygen deprivation. Dogs that are quickly rescued have a better prognosis.
  • Water temperature – Cold water can help preserve brain function during submersion. Dogs that nearly drown in warm water tend to have worse outcomes.
  • Swift emergency response – Immediately performing CPR and getting the dog medical attention can improve prognosis.
  • Age and health of the dog – Younger, healthier dogs tend to have better chances of survival and recovery.
  • Respiratory and organ function – The development of potentially fatal pulmonary edema or damage to other organs like the heart and kidneys can severely impact prognosis.

According to the American Kennel Club, most dogs that receive prompt veterinary treatment after a near-drowning incident survive with little lasting damage. However, in severe cases where the dog stops breathing or its heart stops, permanent brain damage or death can occur (VCA Animal Hospitals).

With intensive veterinary monitoring and supportive care in the days following the incident, many dogs can make a full recovery. But the prognosis remains guarded until the dog stabilizes medically. Prevention remains key to avoiding these traumatic events.

Scroll to Top