Keeping your dog safe at the beach

Dogs love the beach. 

Cooling off in the shallows on a hot day. Chasing away the seagulls. Leaping over the waves. Digging for treasure (or sheer joy?). Rolling in stinking seaweed.

You probably love taking your dog to the beach (despite the seaweed stink).

There's a lot to love. But there are also a few downsides and dangers you need to be aware of.

What can go wrong at the beach?

Getting lost

Part of the attraction of the beach is the wide open space. But the ability to run free can be a problem.

It's easy for your dog to get carried away or distracted by the sights, smells and noises of the beach. And in only a few minutes, he can be far enough away to not hear your calls or see where you are. Some dogs panic in this situation and run further away or worse, head for the road.

Before you unclip the leash at the beach, make sure you have a few training tricks under your belt. The most important is coming when called. You can encourage him to return to you by having few rewards in your pocket. Taking a favourite ball (one that floats!) will also help keep the focus on you.

Some dogs can be trained to respond to hand signals. This is handy when the crashing of waves or screeching of seagulls drowns out your calls.

Eating stuff

The beach can be like a buffet table for dogs. People's left overs, dead sea creatures, fish bait (with hooks) and even sand can all be gobbled up.

Some of these are dangerous.

  • Puffer fish and paralytic shellfish – these contain nerve toxins that cause rapid paralysis. If the paralysis involves the chest muscles, your dog will not be able to breathe. Go straight to the nearest vet if you think your dog has eaten or even chewed on a puffer fish. Not all shellfish are toxic – but eating shells isn't a great idea. They can get stuck.
  • Fish hooks are another reason for having to go to the vet after a trip to the beach. If your dog swallows a hook and there's line attached, try to hold onto it. Don't pull it and don't cut it. Just head to the vet.

Stick to areas of the beach where the sand is clean. Avoid areas with a lot of washed up seaweed – lots of things get caught up in it.

Although it's rarely dangerous, dogs can swallow a surprising amount of sand at the beach. Some dogs can even eat enough to cause impaction of the intestines. Lots of fresh water and some fibre containing food will usually get the sand moving. But an enema might be necessary for some.

Drinking stuff

Speaking of enemas... You might be familiar with the explosive diarrhoea many dogs get from drinking salt water. It's usually over very quickly and as long as you offer plenty of fresh water, there shouldn't be a problem. But think about allowing some extra walking (or emptying) time between swimming and getting into the car!

There are few more serious problems due to salt water.

  • Drinking a lot of salt water can increase the amount of salt in your dog's blood. High enough levels can cause seizures. Fortunately, this is rare because most dogs don't drink that much. And if they do, they tend to vomit it up. But this can lead to another problem.
  • Sometimes the vomited water ends up going down the wind pipe into the lungs. The water can damage the lungs causing pneumonia. If you notice coughing or laboured breathing, seek advice from your vet.

Make sure you know where fresh water is available at the beach (or bring some with you) for when your dog gets thirsty.

Swimming hazards

Dogs can get into difficulty in water the same as we can. They can get caught in rips, dumped by waves and stuck too far away from the shore. Dogs can drown just like people.

Only let your dog swim where it is safe, and make sure you keep an eye on him at all