What to do if a dog is drowning
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What to do if a dog is drowning

Dogs
Health & Safety

Would you know what to do if a dog was drowning? Hopefully the issue will never arise, but if it does it can be very frightening to witness, and happens very quickly; and the instinctive reaction of many dog owners in terms of how they try to help their dog actually places them at risk too.

This article will outline the basics of what to do if a dog is drowning, both while they’re in the water and in the aftermath. Read on to learn more.

How might a dog become at risk of drowning?

Water doesn’t have to be particularly deep or rough for a dog to drown; and while it is rather macabre to consider, there are a lot of combinations of water types and scenarios that can result in a dog drowning.

Even garden ponds, hot tubs, and paddling pools your children might use in the summer can be dangerous for a very small dog, if they fell into water too deep to stand up in and were unable to get out. Outside of the home, the risks are even more numerous, and falling into water, deliberately getting in and being unable to get out, or having difficulties on a planned swim can all result in a dangerous situation arising.

Some dog breeds can’t swim at all in the vast majority of cases, so you should always research your own dog’s theoretical abilities to know where you stand in this respect and if they have any increased risk factors for drowning. This is particularly important for the owners of flat-faced dogs, like the pug.

For some dogs, the weight of their coat when wet might drag them down, and a big risk even for dogs that swim well is if they were unable to get out of water they got into; such as if they leaped into water from a height with no way to get back out.

Getting a dog out of the water in an emergency

If the dog is in water that’s not overly deep, that you know is safe for you, and that you can access without risk (like a paddling pool or hot tub) you can of course generally just lift them out. However, in other situations (such as a dog that is struggling in open water like a marina, lake, river, or canal) the first and most important thing to know is what NOT to do; and this is to get into the water yourself.

Even if the water proves to be safe, you cannot make an accurate risk assessment to keep yourself safe when reacting to an emergency; and you may think that getting into the water yourself will allow you to save your dog. This is really unlikely to work out as planned though.

You cannot save your dog if you’re struggling yourself, with the cold of the water, hazards in it, or something else. Also, if your dog is panicking or struggling they will potentially drag you down too or push you under the water unless they’re very tiny.

To get a dog out of water in an emergency, there are a few things that might work depending on the scenario playing out and what there is to hand to help.

If possible, try to hook your dog out of the water; using something like a boat hook, which will often be distributed around areas like marinas and canal lock sides, along with life rings.

If the dog is too far out or there’s nothing appropriate to hand, try to throw something your dog can grab onto. Again, this relies on there being equipment for emergency use nearby; but in a pinch, just rope can work.

If your dog is still buoyant, call them and try to get them closer to you, specifically, closer to a spot where they will either be able to touch the bottom of the water or get out of it.

If this is not possible, run to a spot where you stand the best chances of being able to pull them out, so the nearest place with the lowest drop to the water.

If you do attempt this, lie flat on the ground and put only your head and shoulders over the water, and if there is help to hand, have someone hold your legs. Doing this greatly reduces the chances of you falling in, or your dog pulling you in, compared to if you were crouching or standing.

You may well need help to get anything other than a small dog out, but if you can at least get hold of the dog’s harness you can help to support them in the water. Taking your dog out for walks and particularly, to swim or when near water in a harness makes getting them out of water if needed far easier, so bear this in mind when you plan walks or swims.

What to do if your dog has aspirated water

If you’ve managed to get your dog out of the water and they’ve aspirated water, this can be dangerous, and you will need to act quickly to prevent the dog from choking or drowning on land from the water already in their lungs.

If your dog is small this is again easier; hold them vertically face down to allow the water to follow the path of gravity. If your dog is bigger and you cannot lift them without risking injury, you need to get their head lower than their body. This can mean lying them on a slope, or putting something underneath their hind legs to raise their back end up, or having help to hold their back end up.

Unless you can get the dog more or less fully vertical, you should try to gently pull their tongue forwards and out to the side to ensure this does not obstruct the flow of any water draining.

Even if you manage all of this successfully, call your vet immediately and take your dog in to ensure that they’re ok.

What if my dog is not breathing?

If you’ve gotten your dog out of the water and they’re not breathing, call your vet immediately so that they can instruct you in delivering CPR to your dog, which will generally first require draining any aspirated water from the lungs once more. If you are successful, get the dog dried as best you can and take them to the vet immediately.

If my dog recovers, do they need to see the vet?

Yes, even if your dog seems fine if a little distressed or confused, any near-drowning incident or potential aspiration of water needs veterinary attention. There may still be water in the lungs or other injuries that you missed in the emergency itself, and your dog may need tests and monitoring for a while to ensure they’re fine.

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