Summertime Splash – the Benefits of Swimming for our Dogs

Summer is here and for the Jackson gang that means regular trips to the beach where it is cooler by the ocean to walk. It also means plenty of swimming. I encourage swimming in my dogs for fitness and conditioning. Exercising in water, while still strenuous, does not involve weight bearing on joints or spine, great for dogs like my Cadbury suffering with a bit of arthritis. For years swimming has been advised as a low impact beneficial exercise for people, especially those who would struggle with traditional exercise such as jogging or cycling. But even in fit, healthy dogs swimming has benefits. A recent study by Hartpury University Centre found that healthy dogs who went swimming had a significantly improved stride afterwards. Their overall motion and agility had improved.

Swimming is therefore ideal for our canine athletes whether actively competing or recovering from injury, and I will take my dogs for regular swimming sessions over the summer at the beach as part of their fitness and well-being activities. Unfortunately, the dog who would benefit the most from swimming is the one I can’t persuade to go beyond the waves. Merlin doesn’t do swimming, and that’s that. Luckily I have no such problem with Sparrow, and hopefully little Swift will be a happy swimmer once we get her near water.

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This is the closest Merlin gets to being wet! (C) Sophie Jackson

If your dog swims or you want to use it as a way of improving their motion and fitness during the summer competing season, check out these tips below for happy, productive, safe swimming.

Keep it Short and Sweet

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Swimming is great exercise (C) Sophie Jackson

Swimming is great exercise for your dog because it involves a lot of all over body work. The heart pumps, the lungs expand, the muscles stretch and burn calories all while your dog motors through the water. That also means swimming is a tiring pursuit, pushing yourself through water takes energy, even more when you might be pushing against the tide at the beach. Swimming sessions don’t need to be long to be productive. When I take Sparrow for a splash, I probably only have her swim for 15-20 minutes WITH breaks in-between each swim (she goes out to retrieve a ball). Dogs don’t always know when to stop, so it is up to us to keep things short and not keep going just because our dogs are up for it. I also suggest carrying a snack for post-swimming to help them recover some of those lost calories. Liver cake is good, but a small doggy biscuit works too.

Never on a Full Belly

Talking of food, don’t feed your dog then swim! This is a big no-no for human swimmers, but the same principle goes for dogs. Swimming too soon after a meal can cause cramp or, in dogs, the dreaded bloat. Give your dog a couple of hours to digest their food before swimming.

Pick your Place

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The beach is a great resource for swimming (C) Sophie Jackson

Outside of a hydrotherapy swimming pool, every potential swimming spot carries hazards. Not that they should scare you, but it is sensible to know the potential problems to enable you to avoid them. At the beach you need to be aware of strong currents, appearances of seasonal creatures like jellyfish (we get them here occasionally) and scary rip-tides. At lakes or streams underwater weeds can cause dangers and swimming in places with a deep bank will make it hard for your dog to climb out. Depending on the venue, you might also need to be aware of other water users, such people in motorboats or fishermen casting lines. Basically be alert, and I advise never to allow your dog to swim in a place you can’t physically reach if you needed to rescue them. If you can’t be down into that water in an instant to help them, don’t risk it. Accidents don’t happen often as dogs are powerful swimmers, but you need to ready for them just in case.

Water Overload!

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A good shake after a swim (C) Sophie Jackson

Until recently I had never heard that dogs could suffer from water intoxication, now I do know about it and I make sure not to let it happen. Water intoxication happens when a dog swallows too much water too rapidly, over-hydrating the body and diluting its natural bodily fluids with fatal consequences. Dogs become bloated, lethargic, will vomit, stagger and collapse. Immediate veterinary care should be sought if your dog displays these symptoms after swimming. To avoid the problem, take breaks between swimming, don’t over-do it, and if your dog is a water biter or prone to plunging in with his mouth open, then keep sessions very short. This is definitely a problem better prevented than cured!

Don’t let that put you off, of course! All exercise carries a risk, but most problems are easy to avoid.

I hope you and your dog have great fun over the summer swimming and that it is a benefit to them. Following these tips and being aware of your environment will make swimming a safe, enjoyable activity. And if you fancy getting into the water with your dog, why not?

(Not me though, I don’t do swimming! That’s one thing me and Merlin have in common!)

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