As the weather warms up and pandemic restrictions are gradually lifted, people are spending more time near the water. And so are our dogs.
Generally, that is a wonderful thing. Many dogs can't get enough of the watery stuff. But sometimes a fun day in the water can prove hazardous. Being aware of the hazards can help you keep your dog safe.
Salt water: Salt water is one of the best features of the beach, but dogs are prone to overindulge, either drinking the water or swallowing it when they retrieve floating objects like balls.
A little bit of salt water is harmless, but a large amount of salt water can increase sodium levels in the body, leading to hypernatremia. Signs include vomiting, drinking a lot (polydipsia), being unusually quiet, an unsteady or wobbly walk, muscle tremors and even seizures.
In my experience, its often the most excitable, ocean-loving, enthusiastic ball-retrieving dogs who experience this illness. Blood tests indicate high sodium levels. This can be a life-threatening condition, but most dogs respond very well to intravenous fluid therapy, the aim of which is to slowly normalise their sodium levels.
Creatures in the water: One of my patients, a lovely golden retriever, found a squid in shallow water and took it in her mouth. This resulted in the release of copious amounts of squid ink, which took the owner days to wash out of her fur. The squid survived.
Most sea creatures are harmless, but it is important to take some care to avoid swimming dogs in areas frequented by sharks, jellyfish and other creatures.
Humans also pose a risk to dogs as well - so avoid swimming too close to humans engaging in potentially dangerous recreational activities. We see dogs who swallow fish hooks, or those who come too close to a surf board.
Blue-green algae: Blue-green algae, also known as cyanobacteria, look green but turn blue as they die. Local weather conditions can cause algal blooms, which discolour the water, and form what scientists call "scums".
They tend to smell quite bad, though remarkably this doesn't seem to deter some dogs. Algal blooms may kill fish, and I've known highly food-driven dogs to ingest dead, foul-smelling fish in these situations. Different species of algae are associated with different toxins, but generally these are bad news for dogs.
Any dog that has been in water containing blue-green algae should be rinsed in clean, fresh water immediately so they don't groom any more off themselves.
If possible, seek immediate veterinary attention as early decontamination may reduce toxicity. Signs can include vomiting, diarrhoea, difficulty walking, tremors or seizures. Affected dogs should be hospitalised and may need intensive care.
Rocks and oysters: Every year I see plenty of dogs with lacerations on their paws from jumping onto rocks or oysters, even those submerged in water. Try to guide your dog away from these hazards or keep them on a lead in high-risk areas.
Ticks and snakes: The reality of living in Australia is that when you're close to the bush or coast, you're never too far from a venomous creature.
Both paralysis ticks and snakes can cause severe, life-threatening illness in dogs, although tick venom tends to be a bit slower acting. Both can cause paralysis and difficulty breathing, and in severe cases dogs may require mechanical ventilation.
It is important to ensure that your dog's tick prevention is up to date. There are a range of long-acting preventative products to choose from including spot-ons, tablets, chews and collars and they are very effective at preventing ticks.
As for snakes, look carefully where you walk, and don't let your dog run free through thick bush.
Despite the hazards, most dogs love accompanying their human family members on a day out in the sun, and most come home unscathed!
Dr Fawcett, BVSc(Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), Dip ECAWBM (AWSEL), is a lecturer at the Sydney School of Veterinary Science and a practising veterinarian.