Saltwater poisoning in dogs: A summer beach hazard

Saltwater poisoning in dogs: A summer beach hazard

Health & Safety

Taking your dog to the beach for a summer’s day out can be a really memorable treat for them, and you might want to offer your dog the chance to swim or paddle in the sea too. However, saltwater poisoning in dogs can occur if your dog ingests seawater, either because they try to drink it, or ingest in inadvertently; and this can be very dangerous.

This article will explain a little more about saltwater poisoning in dogs, how it occurs, and how to prevent it. Read on to learn more.

What is saltwater poisoning in dogs?

Saltwater poisoning in dogs is poisoning that occurs when a dog ingests a dangerous quantity of saltwater, or salt from water (like the sea) that has evaporated. The amount of salt ingested affects how serious the poisoning is, as does the size of the dog, and how well hydrated they are as well.

Saltwater poisoning in dogs can result in moderate and transient symptoms like a couple of days of digestive upset, but it can be very serious, and even prove fatal in some cases.

Generally, saltwater poisoning in dogs will only occur in dogs when visiting the beach and swimming in the sea, or trying to drink from the sea or rockpools. It could also develop if your dog ate dead or dying wildlife on the beach that had been in the sea (like sea birds or sea life).

In rare cases, dogs that have ingested salt designed for addition to a marine aquarium, or that have drunk marine aquarium water, can develop saltwater poisoning too.

However, generally when we talk about saltwater poisoning in dogs, we’re referring to a summer beach hazard that can occur if you take your dog to the beach for a day out.

How do dogs get saltwater poisoning?

There are a few different scenarios that can result in a dog ingesting enough saltwater or salt from sea water to develop saltwater poisoning. The most obvious of these, and the one most likely to make a dog acutely ill, is if they deliberately drank sea water.

A dog that is swimming, particularly one that is or was struggling and running into difficulties with the waves or currents, might swallow sufficient seawater to cause a problem too.

A swimming dog that has an uneventful swim may lick their salty coat if this is not rinsed off in fresh water promptly after their swim, again risking the ingestion of dangerous levels of salt.

Even retrieving toys thrown into the sea or into saltwater to retrieve can come with risk, if the toy is porous or absorbs water, so that your dog swallows some when they hold it in their mouth.

How would I know if my dog had saltwater poisoning?

If you’re at or have been at the beach with your dog and they’ve been exposed to saltwater (even if you’re not sure if they ingested any) keep an eye out for the following symptoms of saltwater poisoning in dogs. These tend to develop the same day as ingestion of too much salt, often quickly:

Throwing up.


Extreme indications of dehydration and a desire to drink.

Not wanting to eat.

Appearing dull, tired, and slow to respond to you.

Being shaky or unstable when walking or trying to stand, potentially staggering around and having problems staying upright.

Potentially, appearing bloated or swollen.

In acute and serious cases of saltwater poisoning in dogs, fits may develop, and the dog may become comatose.

Longer term, saltwater ingestion in sufficient quantities can damage the dog’s kidneys; so even if your dog isn’t showing any immediate symptoms, if you know they ingested anything other than a very small amount of saltwater, you should contact your vet.

If your dog is symptomatic of saltwater poisoning, call your vet immediately.

Can saltwater poisoning in dogs be treated?

A dog with saltwater poisoning needs to be rehydrated in the first instance, which means beginning the administration of IV fluid therapy and monitoring their electrolyte levels.

Aftercare tends to be intensive, and even for a dog with a good longer-term prognosis, they will almost certainly need an inpatient stay at the veterinary clinic of several days, potentially longer.

Severe cases of saltwater poisoning in dogs, particularly if not treated promptly, can prove fatal.

Can you prevent a dog from getting saltwater poisoning at the beach?

There are a number of things you can do to greatly reduce the risk of your dog getting saltwater poisoning on a day at the beach, and the first of these is to ensure they have constant access to fresh, clean drinking water and are encouraged to drink.

Dogs are only likely to deliberately drink seawater if they’re very thirsty, and so keeping them properly hydrated can wholly prevent this. Also, a dog that is well hydrated won’t be as badly impacted by salt ingestion via other means as one that’s dehydrated.

If your dog swims in the sea, make sure you rinse them off in fresh water as soon as they get out to stop them licking salt from their coat.

Don’t let them swim in water that’s too choppy or that you’re not confident they can manage; and don’t have them retrieve toys that will get waterlogged with saltwater.

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