How to Keep Your Dog SAFE at the Beach – by Dr Amelia Allen, Animal Emergency Service (AES)
Dr Amelia Allen is an emergency veterinarian in one of the Animal Emergency Service (AES) practices in Brisbane. She frequents the beach often and while she follows certain safety measures when taking her own dogs to the beach, she has seen many emergency cases at work that could have been avoided. Here are her care and caution tips to ensure that you and your furkids enjoy a safe trip to the beach.
How to Take your Dog Safely to the Beach
The beach is a beautiful place to relax, go for a refreshing swim and appreciate the beauty of nature. But these trips are even more special when our furbaby is right there by our side to enjoy it with us.
As with all trips, there are a few things we should consider to ensure our best friend gets home safe and sound and to avoid any emergency trips to the vet.
Finding the right beach:
It is important to check that the beach you want to visit with your 4 legged friend allows dogs, whether they are allowed off lead and whether only at certain times. There are a lot of dog friendly beaches around so just make sure you do your research.
What to bring:
- Water – your pet dehydrates just like we do. It is important to bring water bottles to offer your pet. I will bring at least 2 full water bottles (ideally heat resistant). If it is a short beach visit (less than 20 minutes) and you know that that public dog bowls are there, then you probably don’t need to worry. If your pet has a big drink of water when you get home, it means to bring water next time.
- How does your pet drink? Some pets are ok to drink out of a tap or a pouring bottle, others are not. Get to know your pet’s preference.
- Shade! Planning a day trip and love to sunbake? Your pet may not appreciate the heat but won’t know how to tell you and will certainly choose to be by your side than the shade. Bring an umbrella / shade cloth to give your pet an option. Also a travel mat or towel can be a cool place for them to lie on.
- Help them cool down! Some pets love to jump into the water to cool down but others are scared especially if there are waves. There are cooling vests available or try draping a wet towel around them.
When to go:
Just like us humans, it is best to avoid the beach when it is really hot and in the middle of the day. Dogs are extremely prone to heat stress which is life threatening. If your feet hurt when on the sand, then your pet’s feet will hurt too! Early in the morning or late afternoon are perfect times to visit the beach.
Extra caution is needed when taking certain pets to the beach:
Unfortunately if your pet is overweight, they are more prone to heat stress/exhaustion. It doesn’t mean they can’t go to the beach, you could include it in their exercise regime! But avoid the hot part of the day, try slow small walks initially and then build up to longer stays.
Brachycephalic (short nosed pets)
As humans, we sweat to reduce our body temperature. Dogs pant. Unfortunately in short nosed dogs, this ability is hampered and can easily cause them to overheat. They need small amounts of exercise in cool climates. A bad sign is if their panting starts to become very loud. Brachycephalic breeds include (but are not limited to) French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Shih Tzus, Mastiffs, English Bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles’, Lhasa Apsos, Griffons, Pekingese and Boxers.
While swimming is great for pets with arthritis, the sand can be difficult for them. Take it slow and limit it to small excursions.
Skin prone to sunburn.
White skin or furless skin needs to be protected just like us humans!
Keep them out of the sun, otherwise you can look at doggy sunscreen and sunshirts (just be careful they don’t over heat in a rashie!)
Doggy beach etiquette
- Lots of people like to take their pet to the beach so if your pet isn’t sure around other dogs, then pick quiet times of the day so they are not overwhelmed.
- It is important that you are able to call your dog from disturbing other people on the beach.
If you're at a dog off leash area and there is a dog on leash, it is important you don’t allow your dog to say hi to that dog as the owner is responsibly demonstrating that they don’t think it is safe for their dog to be off lead.
Most dogs just love to chase a ball. Things to keep in mind:
- Pick a ball that doesn’t get a lot of sand stuck to it if possible (not furry).
- Choose a size that doesn’t take up the entire space of their mouth when they carry it.
- Balls that float will ensure that you don’t lose them in the water!
- Consider your pet's ball sharing manners. What will happen if other dogs try to play?
- Make sure you make them rest, dogs can often keep going and going and can over heat themselves so give them regular breaks (even though they can be very persistent!)
- Try to remember to bring a ball and don’t rely on a stick they find. Sticks can be dangerous as they can puncture their mouth or throat.
Hazards at the Beach
Can sand be dangerous?
- If ingested sand can unfortunately cause vomiting and diarrhoea which can lead to dehydration and can even cause obstructions in their bowel if ingested in large volumes.
- Most doggos don’t like the taste so won’t eat it but if they like digging or playing with their toy, they may inadvertently eat a lot of sand, so monitor this carefully and discourage them.
What if it gets in their eyes?
- Just like us, they have eyelids and tears to protect their eye. If they dive into a bunch of sand, it is ok to rinse their eyes with water just like we would. If they become very red or sore, it is important to see a veterinarian immediately.
What if they drink the salt water?
This is not common as like us, they don’t like the taste but again they may inadvertently drink it especially if they are diving in after their favourite toy! You may need to limit toy use if they are prone to this as this is dangerous for them if they drink too much.
Luckily this is not common but if our doggos try to keep up with us in the water with the waves, water may go down the wrong hole. If your pet is choking/coughing or is breathing up after the beach, you need to see a veterinarian immediately as this is an emergency.
You have both had an amazing time and now you’re ready to head home.
It is perfectly ok to use tap water to rinse your doggo off after a beach trip. Make sure you dry them off properly with a towel, as moisture can damage the outer skin layer, making it susceptible to skin infections. If your pet has a long coat, shampoo may be required to help remove all the sand.
If your dog has a skin sensitivity, it is best to talk to your veterinarian about the right washing regime for them.
Generally we don’t recommend a complete wash more often than every two weeks as dogs have a pretty strong outer layer to protect them.
If they have no skin condition, a natural aloveen based shampoo and conditioner should be sufficient.
Once you have used a towel to dry off your dog, lay it on the ground in the sun as most will like to dry off a little more on a cool towel.
What about their ears?
- To prevent ear issues occurring, it is a good idea to wipe the surface of the ear with a soft towel or cotton balls. Never use cotton tips.
- If your dog is prone to ear infections, it is worthwhile considering using an ear cleaner after the beach trip. You can use the ear cleaner to ‘flush’ the canal and then cotton balls to wipe out the opening of the ear. Cotton balls are a good size as you can’t accidentally go deeper than you should and cause damage to the ear canal.
- It is best to talk to your veterinarian to make an ear infection prevention program that works for your pet as there are different ear cleaners and some are not good to use when they have a concurrent infection.
- It is important to try to dry out the skin in dogs who are more wrinkly. You can use cotton balls/make up pads and give these problem areas a wipe after your trip.
Photo credits: Dr Amelia Allen's own and @toulouse.the.cavoodle on IGIf your pet is in need of emergency care and you are located in SE Qld, please go to animalemergencyservice.com.au as they provide after hours care (even on weekends and public holidays). Their well-equipped vet hospitals are located in the Brisbane suburbs of Underwood and Jindalee, at Carrara on the Gold Coast and at Tanawha on the Sunshine Coast. No appointment is necessary.