Everyone loves to be at the beach, particularly with our dogs. There can be more threats and hazards on the beach than many pet owners realize, but there are easy ways to keep your pet safe as you both enjoy the outing.
Before your beach trip
Check with your local beaches before you pack up the dog, since not all beaches allow them. Depending on the time of year, some beaches allow dogs during the off-season, but summer is a different story. It’s also important to find out whether or not they need to be on a leash or if they can roam free. Bring a long leash no matter what, but know ahead of time if there will be an area where a leash isn’t necessary. If they can be off-leash, be sure your dog is under your voice control. Some people on the beach (as well as easily frightened children) will be less dog-friendly than others, so be mindful of who your dog might be approaching to avoid any sort of snafu. Never leave your dog unattended. Even the most well-trained dog can get distracted. Pay extra special attention to your surroundings and any potential situations that may cause your dog to wander or run off. Follow ALL of the rules set by the beach. You don’t want to be the reason that dogs aren’t allowed at that particular beach anymore. Just how safe or hazardous any particular beach may be will depend on a number of factors, including what type of pet you have, whether you are visiting a river, lake or ocean, recent weather conditions, the time of year and how busy the beach is while you visit.
Visit at a comfortable time
Visit the beach when temperatures are mild and the weather is calm. In winter, if the temperature is too low for you to be outdoors without extreme layers, it is too cold for your pet. Similarly in summer, if the sand is too hot for you to walk on barefoot, it is too hot for your pet and may cause painful burns.
Hot sand can burn a pet’s sensitive feet and increase the risk of heatstroke or other heat-related problems. Icy wind and cold water on winter beaches can be just as dangerous, putting pets at risk of hypothermia or frostbite.
Take breaks to cool off
On hot days, take frequent breaks and seek out shade so your pet has a chance to cool off. Offer drinks from a portable bowl, or train your pet to drink from a bottle. Never allow your pet to drink from a river, lake or ocean, as the water may not be safe to ingest.
Whether temperatures are hot or cold, pets can be at risk of sunburn when visiting a beach without shade. Ears, noses and bare skin patches are especially susceptible to sunburn, as are pets with white fur or thin coats.
Pets that play in the water may be at risk of drowning depending on the water depth, currents, rip tides and unexpected waves. If you aren’t sure of the depth, currents or condition of the water, don’t let your pet play in the surf or jump in the lake. If your pet likes to play fetch in the water, be alert to any floating debris that may excite them and lead to unexpected diving into what could be dangerous waters. Saltwater can also cause toxicity if swallowed, or eyes and sensitive membranes can be irritated if pets are immersed or splashed. Ingesting a small amount of sea water won’t do any harm as long as dogs have access to fresh water, but if they swallow enough seawater, they can become seriously dehydrated. Signs include vomiting; thick, saliva; and dry, tacky gums. If your dog is vomiting and having trouble walking, those could be signs of severe dehydration.
Wear a life vest
If your pet will be in the water, equip the animal with a life vest suitable for its breed, size, and weight. Even if you intend to stay close to shore, a pet playing in the surf or at the edge of a river might fall in and get caught in a dangerous riptide or swift current.
Many different animals visit water sources, and pets could be at risk from attacks from a number of wild visitors, including bears, mink, raccoons or muskrats. Ocean beaches may also harbor jellyfish, stingrays or shallow-water sharks that can threaten pets.
Litter and pollution can be hazardous to pets on beaches. Discarded fishing hooks or tangles of fishing line, broken glass bottles, rotten food and other materials can cause injuries or illnesses. Oils or spilled chemicals can also coat pets and cause toxic contamination.
Check local laws
Before you visit any beach, no matter what hazards it may pose, check local laws about when, where and how pets may be allowed on the beach. Many public beaches do not permit pets, while others may have the time or seasonal limitations on when pets can visit. Leash laws, restricted zones, and pooper scooper laws can all be in effect on the beach, and pet owners should conscientiously follow all local ordinances to keep their pet, and themselves, safe from any fines, fees or other legal action.
A crowded beach can be exciting for a pet, but it can also be disorienting. If a pet gets confused it may become separated from its owner and be lost in the crowd, unable to find its way back. Always keep updated identification tags on your pet, and have the animal microchipped in case any collar or tags accidentally come off. This can help you be reunited with your pet quickly and easily in case they are lost.
Be wary of temperature extremes
Depending on where you are in the country, summer at the beach can bring about two extremes: heat from the sun and a cold ocean. Pay attention to how your dog is acting and responding while he’s with you throughout the day, since there could be the potential of either heat stroke or hypothermia.
Some signs of heat stroke in a dog include:
- Rapid panting
- Bright red tongue
- Thick, sticky saliva
If you think that your dog has heat stroke while you’re at the beach, take the following actions immediately:
- Move the pet into the shade and apply cool (not cold) water all over their body to gradually lower their temperature.
- Apply ice packs or cool towels to the pet’s head, neck and chest only.
- Allow the pet to drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes.
- Then take your pet to the nearest vet.
A few ways to prevent heat stroke is to bring lots of fresh, cool water that they can drink. A spray bottle with cool water that you can spray him down with will also help in temperature regulation. A bonus of having fresh water with you is that you can also clean the sand and salt water from his paws, which can cause irritation and dry out those sensitive pads. Also, since you can’t guarantee that you will have access to a shady area, bring an umbrella that your pet can hang out under.
Clean up afterward
Carefully rinse your pet with clean, fresh water after a visit to the beach to remove any sand, dirt or microorganisms that can be uncomfortable or dangerous. At the same time, clean up after your pet so no other beachgoers stumble across their messes.
Visiting the beach can be a great experience for both you and your pet, and by being aware of potential threats at different beaches, you can be sure it is a safe experience as well.