Lots of dogs love water play. The expression “water dog” says it all. Any breed can be water lovers, from tiny toys to huge Mastiffs. For those select water lovers, any source will do such as a hose, pool, lake, stream, or sprinkler. As long as it’s wet, your dog is happy.
Some dogs may be a bit more excitable around water than others. Not content with just splashing through it or swimming in it, they may bite, dive, and snap at any water that moves. Why do dogs bite at water? Is this normal behavior? Is it safe to allow your dog to attack the water, or should you discourage it?
The Root of the Behavior
If your dog is a water dog, you may have seen them biting water, barking, and having a great time playing. You may have even encouraged their water play, since chasing the hose or swimming fetch make great exercise opportunities for your pet, especially during the summer months.
Normally, water play isn’t a problem. But what you may not know is that water play also comes with some risks, which can become life-threatening. How is water play dangerous?
Dogs don’t always know when they’ve had enough. While playing, the action of biting at water, or diving beneath the surface of a pool or lake for a toy or ball means that they can unintentionally ingest water. If they ingest too much, they can suffer something called water intoxication. Despite the name, water intoxication can be extremely serious very quickly. Toxicity begins when a dog has consumed about a third of their body weight in water, which may mean that smaller and leaner dogs may be more susceptible. However, water intoxication can happen to any breed.
First signs of water intoxication include lethargy, lack of coordination, bloating, vomiting, excessive drooling, pale gums, and dilated pupils or glazed eyes. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, seizures, and loss of consciousness.
Drinking excessive water causes the sodium-potassium levels in the blood to become unbalanced, which causes cells to increase fluid intake. In some organs, swelling cells is not a high concern. But for the brain, swelling can become lethal.
Another potential risk of playing in water is a condition called aspiration pneumonia, which is the result of a dog that inhales water into the lungs. If caught quickly, treatment is often successful. Symptoms may present within 24-48 hours of water play and include trouble breathing, depression, loss of appetite, and a blue tint to lips and gums. Breeds that have “smooshed faces,” like Pugs and Bulldogs, may be more susceptible to aspiration pneumonia, but it can happen with any breed. If your dog coughs, gags, or vomits after water play, that may be a sign they have aspirated some of the water.
Encouraging the Behavior
Does this mean you shouldn’t let your dog play in water? No. But always monitor your dog, and take certain preventative measures. While water intoxication isn’t all that common—and remains a frequently misdiagnosed or unknown condition—it can happen to any dog.
If playing in a pool, try not to let your dog drink the water. A little bit won’t hurt, but an excess of chemically treated pool water can become harmful. And always avoid pool time if the pool has been recently “shocked.”
If playing at a lake or river, algae can become toxic if ingested. In addition, there are other diseases that can be contracted through infected or contaminated water.
Take special care with young or small dogs, as water intoxication or other illnesses may have higher risks associated with undeveloped immune systems or low body weight. As always, when playing in water, make your dog take frequent breaks, provide a source of fresh, clean water to drink, and monitor your dog’s water play, making sure they’re not ingesting too much water. This may mean avoiding “bobbing” for tennis balls altogether, as keeping jaws open wide results in unintentional ingestion of water. Consider a life vest for your dog if they have trouble keeping their head above water while swimming. Canine life vests can be purchased from most pet stores. Discourage or avoid letting your dog play with hoses, sprinklers, or faucets with pressurized water, as these may pose higher risks for aspiration.
Other Solutions and Considerations
While many dogs enjoy water play, it’s important to monitor your dog during play and always be safe. If you have a water fanatic, additional training may be required in order for you to guide your dog’s water play into a safer habit. If water fetch is your dog’s game of choice, purchase other floating toys that are easier to grab, and don’t require your dog to dive or “bob” for them. Life vests are another important tool you may consider, if your dog has trouble keeping their head above water. And, if your dog can’t handle it, force frequent breaks or limit access to water. They don’t always know when enough is enough.
Water play is some of the most fun you can have with your dog, especially in warm weather. But too much of a good thing can be possible. Encourage safer water play and be on the lookout for sudden exhaustion. You can have fun with your pup in the water and be safe, too.