Can Dogs Get Swimmer’s Itch?

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Swimming can be a fun activity to cool off in the summer for both humans and pets, but are there certain side effects to watch out for? In humans, swimmer’s itch is often caused by an allergic reaction to the “little swimmers”, or parasites that share the water with you. The scientific name is cercarial dermatitis and although it can be uncomfortable, in humans it will go away in a couple of days. Although these little visitors cause unsightly symptoms and the thought of being their host might give you goosebumps, they cannot live inside a human body for long and the recovery time is very speedy.

You need to be especially on alert if the rash lasts more than three days. If this happens, you should see a doctor right away because you might be dealing with something a little more serious. Swimmer’s itch is not, however, contagious, so you cannot catch it from another person. As with any rash or skin irritation, go with your mother’s advice and do not constantly itch the rash, although this is easier said than done.

Can Dogs Get Swimmer’s Itch?

YES!

Dogs can get summer’s itch and it is a more serious condition in dogs than in people (more on this later) because the parasites cannot only live within the dog’s body, but can reproduce and make their own little colony in a canine’s system. Although dogs have a coat that might hide the initial signs of swimmer’s itch, you will be able to separate the hairs and see the rash underneath.

Does My Dog Have Swimmer’s Itch?

Of course, in order for your dog to have swimmer’s itch, they must have been in contact with water within the last week or so. If your dog has been on dry land, you can eliminate this condition right off the bat. The initial symptoms are:

  • Itchy skin

  • Rash or lesions

If your dog is a host for these parasites a little longer and they are allowed to spread through the body, your dog might start having stomach issues such as:

  • Diarrhea

  • Vomiting

  • Liver failure (in extreme cases)


The main cause of swimmer’s itch is much of the same as in humans. If your dog swims or wades in shallow water that is infested with parasites, your dog could be at risk for contracting swimmer’s itch. In some cases, drying the dog off immediately after swimming can help clear the parasites away from your dog’s skin.

The diagnosis of swimmer’s itch in dogs is quite different than in humans. Because these parasites can live within the dog’s body, many times your veterinarian will take a fecal sample to test for parasites. If these symptoms do not match up to what your dog is exhibiting, read up on other potential skin issues in dogs:

Itchy Skin in Dogs

Mad Itch (Pseudorabies) in Dogs

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Swimmer’s Itch?

Most swimmer’s itch in dogs can be cured by your vet administering a deworming product. The amount and type will depend on the preference of your vet and how long your dog has had this condition. While an infestation of parasites is never a good thing, most dogs make a full recovery from swimmer’s itch.

If you are interested in reading more about parasites in dogs (and who isn’t?), here are a couple of articles to brush up on:

Intestinal Parasites in Dogs

Protozoan Parasites in Dogs

How is Swimmer’s Itch Similar in Dogs and Humans?

The initial symptoms of swimmer’s itch is the same in humans and dogs. The skin will become irritated and itchy, producing an unsightly rash. The causes of swimmer’s itch (swimming in parasite infested waters) is also the same for both humans and dogs.

How is Swimmer’s Itch Different in Dogs, Humans and Other Animals?

Humans and other animals such as goats, horses, and cattle are not good hosts for this type of parasite. In humans, the symptoms will clear up in a matter of days, while animals like horses are unlikely to exhibit any symptoms at all. Unfortunately, dogs’ bodies are not as resilient to this and the parasite is able to live inside of the body, causing more symptoms than in other species.

Case Study

Two dogs were playing in the shallow shore water of a lake in the southern United States. After this incident, the dogs showed signs of itchy skin. The owner found red lesions on both of the dogs’ skin. The owner sought medical attention for the dogs within a week, when these symptoms did not go away.

The case veterinarian took fecal samples from the dogs and they tested positive for a parasite called Heterobilharzia americana. The veterinarian prescribed praziquantel for several days and kept the dogs at the facility for observation.

Both dogs made a full recovery.