Your water-thirsty dog is probably counting (with all paws) the days until the pool or beach is open to visitors of the four-legged persuasion, and with the official first weekend of summer closing in, a lot of tails are about to get wet while wagging. But as veterinarian Carl Zymet, owner of Ossining's Zymet Animal Hospital points out, it's also time to think about your pet's safety in, around and near the waters.
"You've got to be very careful. If it's a stagnant lake or pond area, that could be contaminated with bacteria or other parasites, and dogs can pick up a lot of things from water," Zymet said. "If they get water in the mouth, they could develop gastrointestinal problems, and water in the ears could cause otitis, an inflammatory infection in the ears."
Zymet recommended hosing pets down after they get out of swimming in waters such as the Hudson River or a lake. He also recommended using cotton balls to gently wipe water out of ears to help prevent ear infections.
Dr. C. Christian Benyei, owner of Westport's Schulhof Animal Hospital, pointed out not all dogs like water.
"All dogs have an innate survival ability to swim," said Dr. Benyei. But that doesn't mean they all enjoy water sports. Some dogs are averse to it either because of a previous water-related trauma or because they've never been exposed to it. Dr. Benyei said convincing a water-fearful dog to enjoy the water is similar to the approach one might take with a small child. "Start with splashing in shallow water and gradually go to greater depths as confidence is gained," he said.
But most dogs greet a day of water sports with unleashed enthusiasm. In fact, it's up to dogs' "humans" to be mindful of factors that could hinder four-legged fun, particularly in multi-purpose recreational water holes. The ASPCA cautions keeping dogs away from fishing lines, lures, hooks and bait. And if you're spending a day at the bay or ocean, the ASPCA also recommends rinsing a dog's paws after contact with sand or salt water, drying his or her ears after any water contact and brushing those with heavy or soft coats after a dip because wet coats can mat and trap bacteria.
Along with your book and sandwiches, remember to pack an appropriate toy that won't sink and send your dog to the bottom of the body of water to fetch it. The best water toys are made of hard rubber with a flotation device and easy-to-grab rope attached.
But If they do spend time with their heads under water bobbing for "Kongs," don't be too concerned: "Most dogs don't like the taste of salt water and won't drink too much," said Dr. Benyei. But he strongly suggests bringing along a supply of fresh water for your dog at the beach to keep them hydrated, cool and happy.
Speaking of happy, Dr. Benyei recommends keeping a keen eye on your dog's "attitude." If your pet starts to "slow down, takes longer getting out of the water and has a droopy tail, then it's probably time to call it a day," he says. Additionally, dogs with little pigment -- those with pink lids and noses -- are prone to skin cancer in that region. Non-chemical sunscreens, such as Little Twig products, are helpful in protecting these susceptible areas from the sun.
Dr. Benyei also recommends that humans be considerate and aware of their canine companions' instincts. "Some dogs are trained for water rescue work, particularly Newfoundlands. My wife was gently "saved" by an ex-Coastguard dog while swimming in the river in our backyard," he said. "The dog "gently but persuasively took her arm in his mouth and brought her to shore."
Okay, they might not all be lifeguards, but your own aqua-dog will always be good company.
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