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Pets and swimming

Swimming is a phenomenal way to exercise and bond with your beloved pet: Guinea pigs, ferrets, dogs, and of course aquatically incline animals like ducks can all go for a dip with you. Some pets will need more oversight, direction, and encouragement than others; but if done in the correct way, your fur baby can be a part of all the h2o fun. Follow these simple guidelines to help your pet adapt to the water, and to keep them safe.

Do’s

Start small. Puppies and other young babies will be more ambitious at this stage and less likely to develop water phobia, especially if you start introducing them early. The bathtub is the perfect beginning point. Fill the tub with no more than a couple inches of water, toss on your swimsuit and splash together! This will create a fond association of water.

Tip: Throw in treats to encourage them. Annie’s Organic Cheddar Bunnies float well—so if your vet gives the “okay” for your pet to consume them, they make a great swim treat.

Let your little one test their boundaries on steps or other gently sloping areas, when you do decide to hit the pool. A zero-entry pool would be ideal if you’re lucky enough to access to one, but basic steps work too. Let them work up the courage to move gradually into the water.

Stay with your pet at all times. This is crucial. Even if your pup is a great swimmer, it’s not a good idea to purposefully let them do it alone. Anything could happen. And when you’re in the teaching process, you’ll want to hover your hands near your baby, while they become stronger swimmers. Dogs naturally tend to paddle, but some aren’t talented enough at the beginning, so they will need you!

Wait until after the swim “sesh” to chow down. Swimming with a full belly can cause some serious tummy troubles, that could easily be avoided by waiting on the food. Feed your pet a few hours before swim time, to give digestion a good head start.

Play games in the water! Remember, this is a great time to bond and have a great time. Play fetch with floating balls when they have become confident, or simply splash around.

Consider a life jacket for all pets, except maybe ducks! Even if they have become great at treading the water, tiredness can still set in at any time. A life jacket will give you peace of mind, while letting your buddy focus more on play time.

Give them a wash and dry afterward, because things like chlorine can irritate the skin. Also, dogs can develop swimmer’s ear, so be sure to clean their ears after a swim. Blow dry and groom as usual.

Don’ts

Don’t push too hard or too quickly. Take it slow when giving those swim lessons. The only way this will stick and remain a life-long activity that you both can do together is to make it relaxing. Let your pet signal you by showings signs of confidence when they are ready to move forward.

Don’t take on a full swim along the ocean. Currents are unpredictable even for humans, and waves can be scary and overwhelming. If you’re at a canine friendly beach, let them splash their paws in a few inches of water, but over all it’s never a good idea to brave uncertain areas right along the rigorous shores.

Don’t assume your particular breed is a great swimmer. While some naturally can take to the water, like golden retrievers, other breeds tend to sink like a lead balloon. Bulldogs, for example, will need more training and time to adapt to the water.

Don’t get too rowdy in the pool. Not only does your pet need to know acceptable behavior when around others who may be taking a dip as well, it’s generally much safer for there to be an understanding of what is a healthy level of rambunctiousness.

Don’t think a cat can’t learn to swim, despite their skittish reputation! People teach cats in the same way they teach their dogs, with gradual encouragement. Start by carefully introducing them to the water. Gently hold them and give lots of snuggles while you stand in the water. Let their curiosity prompt the next steps.

We hope these tips help you get started on a healthy water relationship for your dogs, cats, and any other furry friends. Always talk to your vet before taking on the task of giving swim lessons. After you get the go ahead, get ready to have a blast!


Karyn Wofford is a “Mom” to her fluffy, sweet dog Halli. She spends much of her time traveling and advocating for Type 1 diabetes—and Halli sometimes accompanies her on her adventures. You’ll find Karyn’s work on sites like Mother Earth Living, and in magazines such as Diabetes Forecast.

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