Sink or Swim?

January 8, 2011

Having been lucky enough to get a couple of weekends of lovely weather in quick succession- unusual for Huddersfield at any time, let alone this early in the year- we’re all looking forward to summer sunshine and fun outdoors with our dogs in particular. It’s so much easier to get motivated for and enjoy walks when the sun is shining and the kids don’t need to be dragged along. We all get a bit fitter, canines and humans alike, as we make the most of the longer days, and get those joints and muscles moving and toned up.

Round about this time of year too, a quick dip starts to look like a great way to cool off after a game of football or fetch, and though alas far from the sea, we are blessed with plenty of reservoirs, canals and streams. Swimming is great all-round exercise for stamina and strength as well as being great fun for many dogs and their humans. However, before entering Fido in the 2012 Olympics (doggy paddle, of course) please take a moment to check he’s safe, as with no canine lifeguard on duty there are potential dangers lurking in our waters for the unsuspecting.

Blue green algae growth can be a serious threat especially in later summer. Blooming on the surface of the water, sometimes unpredictably, these microscopic organisms are very harmful and can even be fatal, and dogs can easily swallow them while swimming. Watch for warning signs, and avoid any water where you see a thin layer of blue-green colour. Other organisms like giardia can also be picked up from water, so if your dog needs treatment for sickness or diarrhoea and has been swimming recently, make sure to tell your vet.

It’s important to remember that no matter how hot the air is, open water temperatures in this area rarely get above about 12C even in summer, and sudden immersion in cold water can cause high blood pressure and overload the heart, especially for animals and people who already have heart or circulation problems- if this applies to your dog, ask your vet if it is likely to be safe for him to swim in cold water.

Make sure your dog can get safely in and out of the water, because he won’t stop to check….. every year a few unlucky dogs face near-drowning from jumping or falling into canals and locks especially, from which the steep sides are almost impossible for a dog to climb. Plants and weeds growing near the edges are often mistaken for grass by dogs who try to walk on them and fall in, and may even become tangled and trapped. Reservoirs sometimes have strong undercurrents where water is drawn from below the surface.

One last thing- many dogs are super keen swimmers and take to it naturally. Others however are less convinced, and it is not uncommon to hear of dogs being thrown into the water ‘to teach them to swim’, as people often believe that swimming is a natural ability of dogs. It is true that most dogs will keep themselves afloat for a while in a frantic scrabbling motion where they are nearly vertical in the water, a bit like the prancing horse on the Ferrari logo. This is not swimming, it’s panic! Dogs need to get the hang of swimming with their body horizontally and a smooth steady gliding stroke that doesn’t splash and is far more effective. If you want your dog to enjoy swimming, be safe around water and keep him fit and strong, take time to make sure he enjoys learning as you would with a child, get him out before he overtires, and make sure he is dry and warm straight away.

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