Ask the Vet: Life’s not always a beach for dogs
By Matthew Kearns, DVM
The summer is not over and what better way to spend a hot day than to go to the beach and there is no better friend to bring than your happy canine. Just be aware that there are also hazards at the beach for your dog.
Saltwater/Seawater: Saltwater is a hyperosmotic. Hyperosmotic means the large amount of salt in seawater pulls fluid to it. Pulling fluid from the body into the gastrointestinal tract not only causes severe vomiting and diarrhea and secondary dehydration, but also can pull water from the tissues surrounding the brain. This will cause a secondary cerebral edema, or brain swelling and neurologic signs like seizures.
The second concern are the microscopic creatures living in the water. Seawater contains increased levels of bacteria from runoff, as well as cyanobacteria (blue green algae). These microorganisms can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, potential sepsis, and neurologic symptoms. If the beach is closed to humans, it is probably not a good day to walk with your dog on the beach even if they want to go into the water.
Cuts/lacerations/burns to feet: Cuts on dogs footpads are quite common on the beaches of the north shore of long island. We usually get 4-5 cases at our clinic alone each summer and we are not even an emergency clinic. Shells, sharp rocks, broken glass can all cut deeply into a dog’s pad. Sand, bacteria and other debris can then get into these open wounds. Also remember that the asphalt in the parking lot can become very hot leading to burning of the pads.
It is best to purchase some protective booties (if your dog will leave them on) to protect their feet from these sharp objects and excessive heat.
Toxicity: Not long ago this summer a couple brought their 5-month-old puppy into the clinic disoriented and difficulty walking. They had been walking on the beach that evening and the puppy was off leash. He did not return and, when they found him, he was in the condition I described above.
When the owners arrived, I was not sure what had happened but I knew the puppy needed to be monitored overnight. We immediately transferred this puppy to the emergency clinic and, at the emergency clinic, the puppy was diagnosed with marijuana toxicity. Rotten food and other sharp objects such as bones, etc are a concern for toxicity, intestinal obstructions, or perforations. Therefore, be careful with your dog off leash that they don’t get into anything that may have been discarded.
Heat stroke/sunburn: There really isn’t any shade at the beach unless you bring a beach umbrella with you. Remember that affects our dogs as well. Make sure to provide them with shade, do not let them run around excessively during the hottest time of the day, and apply sunscreen protection to hairless areas if you will be at the beach all day with your dog.
Please enjoy a day at the beach with your dog, but also take certain precautions to make sure the day is enjoyable for you both.
Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine.