Things you should know about taking your dog swimming in cold water:
Dogs are nothing if not enthusiastic. While dogs’ energy and enthusiasm are some of the best things about them, these traits can pose problems when it comes to cold water swimming. Sometimes, dogs don’t know when to stop, even in very cold temperatures! It’s up to us to ensure that our furry friends stay safe while swimming in cold water.
Your dog’s breed, age, and health
Some dogs are better suited to cold water swimming than others. Dogs with thick fur or double coats (such as Huskies, Retrievers, and Great Pyrenees) will be able to stay warmer in the water than dogs with thin coats (like Greyhounds, Dobermans, and Boxers).
Small dog breeds, puppies, and older dogs will also be more sensitive to cold water. Dogs with health conditions that may inhibit their body’s ability to regulate temperature should get a vet’s clearance before swimming in cold water.
Air and water temperature
Unless you’re lucky enough to find yourself near a hot springs pool, the water temperature is going to feel much colder than the air temperature, especially in the spring and fall.
Temperatures above 7 °C (45 °F) are safe for the majority of dogs, but temperatures below -6 °C (20 °F) may lead to frostbite or hypothermia after a while. Small dog breeds or dog breeds with thin coats, as well as senior dogs or puppies, or dogs with health conditions, may start to feel too cold when the temperature is below 0 °C (32 °F). A good rule of thumb is that if you find it too cold, your dog probably will too.
Photo by mark1201
Amount of time spent in the water
With so much fun to be had in the water, dogs may not realize how cold they are until they are already at risk of frostbite or hypothermia. It’s up to us as their owners to know their limitations. The colder the water is, the more quickly these two conditions can set in. A quicker swim of five to ten minutes or less may be safest.
Ice and Snow
Thin ice can be extremely dangerous. Never let your dog onto ice that you aren’t positive is fully frozen solid and able to support your dog’s weight. Falling through the ice can lead to drowning. Sharp or broken ice can also cut the pads of your dog’s feet, while slippery ice (particularly slopes and stairs) can lead to falls. If you’re going on a longer trek with your dog, bring along a rescue sling so that you can bring them to safety if necessary.
Snow can cling to the hair between your dog’s toe pads and create tightly packed ice balls. When this happens, your dog may be in pain, and the foot may even become injured. It’s a good idea to clean your dog’s feet after a cold water swim.
A normal body temperature for a dog is between 38 °C (100 °F) and 39 °C (102.5 °F). Hypothermia can set in at a body temperature below 38 °C (100 °F).
Signs of hypothermia in dogs include:
intense shivering stiff muscles poor coordination stumbling listlessness or lethargy pale or grey gums pale skin dilated or fixed pupils lowered heart rate and breathing rate collapsing
Photo by Mylene2401
If you suspect your dog may have hypothermia, take immediate action, and seek professional advice. In some cases, hypothermia can be life-threatening. Wrap your dog in warm blankets, provide a wrapped hot water bottle, and check your dog’s temperature at 10 minute intervals. If its temperature is below 37 °C (98 °F), go to a veterinarian right away. Otherwise, keep your dog warm until its temperature is above 38 °C (100 °F). Keep an eye on your dog until normal behaviour resumes.
Your dog’s extremities (ears, feet, and tail) can develop frostbite. If your dog’s skin looks pale and is cool to the touch, your dog may be getting frostbite. Once frostbite has set in, the skin may appear burned. Use warm towels to heat the areas and go to a veterinarian as soon as you can. If frostbite is not treated promptly and the tissue in the affected body part dies, it may require amputation. Sometimes, even if frostbite does not set in, extremely cold temperatures can dry out your dog’s skin. Coconut oil can help with dry skin.
Unfortunately, water quality issues do not go on holiday for the winter–they can actually increase! During this season, pollutants like road salt used for de-icing can end up running into lakes, rivers, and oceans, carried by melting snow or precipitation. Make sure you check the beach’s water quality on Swim Guide before taking your dog for a dip and avoid bringing your dog to the water for at least 72 hours after heavy rain or snowmelt events.
Tips for taking care of your dog after a cold water swim
bring towels or a blanket to dry off your dog make sure your dog has somewhere warm to go give your dog something warm to drink, like chicken or beef broth
Photo by Kelly Lund
Other things to pay attention to when taking your dog cold water swimming are wind chill, cloudiness, and dampness, which can all make cold temperatures feel even chillier. Although your dog may be working up a good deal of body heat playing in the water, your dog will quickly get cold once the physical activity has ceased. Wet fur and skin will also make your dog feel cold.
Falling temperatures don’t necessarily mean that swim season has to end for your dog. With the right knowledge and preparation, your dog can still frolic in the wintery waters!