Has your dog been coughing after swimming? It could be a mild irritation or it could be something more serious like dry drowning.
It is not uncommon for dogs to cough after swimming, especially if they have been swimming for an extended period of time or if they have inhaled a large amount of water.
Most of the time, this kind of coughing is temporary and should go away on its own in a few hours.
There’s a common myth that all dogs are good swimmers. While this might be true for some dogs (Labrador retrievers, Newfoundland dogs, Irish Water Spaniels, etc.), there are some dog breeds that are just not designed for swimming.
Large bodies of water should always be considered a risk for dogs, whether they are strong swimmers or not.
What is Dry Drowning?
Dry drowning, also known as silent drowning, is a rare but serious condition that can occur in dogs. It is a type of asphyxia, which means that the animal is unable to get enough oxygen.
Dry drowning can occur when a dog inhales water or other foreign substances into their lungs, which can cause inflammation and damage to the respiratory system. This can lead to respiratory failure and death if not treated promptly.
There are several ways that a dog can be at risk for dry drowning. One common cause is if the dog inhales water while swimming or playing in the water.
This can occur if the dog is struggling to stay afloat or if they accidentally swallow water while trying to drink from a pool or pond. Dry drowning can also occur if a dog inhales vomit or other foreign substances that obstruct their airways.
Some Breeds Weren’t Made to Swim
Dry drowning, also known as secondary drowning, is a rare condition that can occur in dogs (and people) after inhaling small amounts of water into the lungs. You might be surprised to learn that it can happen hours or even days after swimming.
The following breeds should be watched carefully around any body of water. Keep a life jacket on your dog to minimize the risk of accidental drowning.
- Chow Chow
- Bull Terriers
- Shih Tzu
This is just a partial list of common breeds that have difficulty swimming properly. It’s important to remember that even dogs that normally swim well can still experience a near-drowning event.
Risk Factors for Dry Drowning in Dogs
There are several factors that can increase the risk of dry drowning in dogs, including:
Swimming or playing in rough water
If a dog inhales water while swimming or playing in rough or choppy water, they may be more likely to experience dry drowning.
Dogs that have difficulty swimming or are not used to being in the water may be more prone to dry drowning due to their increased risk of inhaling water.
Dogs with underlying health conditions may be more at risk of dry drowning. Some of these conditions include the following:
- Asthma or other respiratory conditions
- Tracheal collapse
- Heart disease due to reduced lung capacity
- Weakened immune system
Older dogs or puppies may be more prone to dry drowning due to their decreased ability to swim or their increased vulnerability to respiratory problems.
Signs of Dry Drowning in Dogs
- Coughing or gagging
- Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing
- Irregular heartbeat
- Crackling sound in the chest
- blue colored skin or gums due to lack of oxygen
- Fatigue or lethargy
- Loss of appetite
- Change in behavior, such as appearing anxious or depressed
Dry drowning occurs when water irritates and fills the lungs. This makes it difficult for the dog to breath and causes the dog’s vocal cords to spasm and close the airway.
Complications of Near-Drowning Incident
Dogs who have trouble swimming, aren’t able to climb out of the water when they need to, or who are too weak to swim safely may develop serious complications. Unfortunately, the complications listed below can lead to death if not treated promptly.
Aspiration pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that occurs when bacteria or other foreign substances are inhaled into the lungs.
This can happen when a person or animal inhales vomit, saliva, or other substances that contain bacteria. Aspiration pneumonia is often caused by difficulty swallowing or a decrease in the level of consciousness, such as in the case of intoxication, stroke, or seizure.
Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia may include:
- Cough with mucus or pus
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
Water intoxication, also known as hyponatremia, is a condition that occurs when a dog consumes too much water too quickly. This can lead to a dangerously low level of sodium in the blood, which can be life-threatening.
Water intoxication is most common in dogs participating in water sports or activities, such as dock diving or water retrieval, or in dogs that are left unsupervised with access to a pool or other body of water.
It can also occur in dogs that drink large amounts of water after exercise or in hot weather.
Symptoms of water intoxication in dogs may include:
- Swelling in the face, legs, and abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Lethargy or weakness
Diagnosing Dry Drowning in Dogs
If your dog has been coughing a lot after swimming and doesn’t seem well, he may need medical help.
There are several ways that a veterinarian can check for water on the lungs (pulmonary edema) in dogs. Some of the most common tests and procedures used to diagnose pulmonary edema include:
During the physical examination, the veterinarian will listen to the dog’s chest using a stethoscope. They may hear abnormal sounds, such as crackles or wheezes, which can indicate the presence of fluid in the lungs.
X-rays can be used to visualize the inside of the dog’s chest and look for any abnormalities, such as fluid accumulation or swelling in the lungs.
Blood tests can be used to measure the dog’s oxygen levels and check for any other underlying medical conditions that may be contributing to the pulmonary edema.
Ultrasound can be used to visualize the inside of the dog’s chest and look for any abnormalities, such as fluid accumulation or swelling in the lungs.
In this procedure, the veterinarian inserts a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached into the dog’s airways to look for any abnormalities.
In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend a biopsy to collect a sample of tissue from the dog’s lungs for further testing.
Treatment for Dry Drowning
The first priority is to ensure that the dog is able to breathe and has an adequate oxygen supply. The veterinarian may use oxygen therapy or other supportive measures to help the dog recover.
The next step in treatment will depend on the severity of the drowning episode and any other underlying medical conditions the dog may have.
In some cases, the veterinarian may recommend medications to reduce inflammation and swelling in the airways, or to prevent the development of pneumonia.
Prescribed mediations may include:
- Diuretics to help remove excess fluid from the body and improve breathing
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and swelling in the airways
- Bronchodilators are used to help widen the airways for improved breathing
- Antibiotics for any infection that may have developed
Intravenous fluids may be given to help support the dog’s blood pressure and prevent dehydration.
If the dog is severely affected by the near drowning episode, hospitalization may be necessary for further treatment and monitoring. This may include mechanical ventilation, which involves using a machine to help the dog breathe, or other supportive measures as needed.
It is important to remember that the treatment of near drowning in dogs is highly dependent on the individual case and the dog’s overall health. Your veterinarian will work with you to develop a treatment plan that is tailored to your dog’s specific needs.
How to Prevent a Near-Drowning Episode
There are some basic precautions pet owners can take to protect their dogs from drowning. If you know your dog can’t swim, and you’re going to be anywhere near the water, keep him or her in a doggy designed life vest.
Invest in a Good Quality Life Jacket
Good quality life jackets are comfortable enough for your dog to wear in and out of the water. It’s not a substitute for supervision, but it can go a long way in keeping your canine pal safe.
Gate or Cover the Pool
Block the steps of your pool to keep small dogs from climbing up. If you have an in-ground pool, keep the cover on it when not in use.
Do you have a hot tub? Keep the lid closed when not in use and keep dogs away from it when people are taking advantage of it.
More Great Tips for Water Safety
- Supervise your dog while they are in or around water. Never leave them unattended.
- Keep an eye on your dog’s behavior while they are in the water. If they start coughing or appear distressed, remove them from the water immediately.
- Avoid letting your dog drink large amounts of water all at once, especially after exercise or in hot weather. Encourage them to drink small amounts of water frequently instead.
- If your dog has any underlying health conditions or is prone to respiratory problems, it is especially important to be cautious around water and to seek veterinary advice before allowing them to swim.
- If your dog has difficulty swimming or has never been in the water before, consider using a life jacket to keep them safe.
- Make sure your dog wears a life jacket whenever you are in a boat.
- Teach your dog how to exit a pool and where to find the steps.
- Use toys that don’t require your dog to keep his mouth open for long while in the water.
How to Save a Dog From Drowning
If you suspect that your dog is experiencing respiratory distress or has drowned, it is important to act quickly and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Here are some steps you can take to provide CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) to a drowning dog:
- Remove your dog from the water as quickly as possible.
Check That Your Dog is Breathing
Watch for movement in their chest
You can tell if your dog is breathing by watching for movement in their chest. If you see their chest rise and fall, they are likely breathing.
Listen for breathing sounds
You can also listen for breathing sounds, such as the sound of air moving in and out of their nostrils or the sound of their chest expanding and contracting.
Feel for breath on your hand
You can place your hand in front of your dog’s nose and mouth and feel for breath on your skin.
Check for other signs of life
In addition to checking for breathing, you can also check for other signs of life, such as a pulse, movement, or responsiveness.
Start Artificial Respiration if Dog is Not Breathing
If you are trained and comfortable doing so, you can also perform artificial respiration.
- Remove your dog from the water as quickly as possible.
- Position your dog on their right side on a flat, stable surface, or on the ground.
- Using the heel of your hand, perform chest compressions on the widest part of your dog’s chest, just behind the elbow. Administer compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute.
- If you are trained and comfortable doing so, you can also provide rescue breaths. To do this, close your dog’s mouth and hold their nose shut, then exhale into their nose until you see their chest expand.
- Continue CPR until your dog begins to breathe on their own or until you are able to get them to a veterinarian.
It is important to note that CPR can be physically demanding and may not always be successful. If you are not trained in CPR or are not comfortable performing it, it is important to get your dog to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
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To help prevent your dog from coughing after swimming, it is important to keep a watchful eye on your pets.
Dry drowning typically doesn’t result from a dramatic water event. Instead, it can occur after a brief underwater period during which a large amount of water is gulped down.
It can happen in a bathtub or in any body of water.
Encourage your dog to take breaks and rest while they are swimming. If your dog is prone to coughing after swimming, you may also want to consider using a life jacket to help keep their head above water and reduce the risk of inhaling water.
If your dog experiences any unusual signs or symptoms after swimming, be sure to get him or her to a veterinarian ASAP just to be on the safe side.
“In Honor of National Swimming Pool Day: How to Prevent Dry Drowning in Pets.” Veterinary Village, www.smallanimalclinic.com/services/dogs/blog/honor-national-swimming-pool-day-how-prevent-dry-drowning-pets. Accessed 20 Dec. 2022.
“Aspiration Pneumonia in Dogs.” Pet Health Network, www.pethealthnetwork.com/dog-health/dog-diseases-conditions-a-z/aspiration-pneumonia-dogs. Accessed 20 Dec. 2022.
“Use of Artificial Circulation in Resuscitation of Drowned Dogs – PubMed.” PubMed, 1 Jan. 1976, https://doi.org/10.1016/0300-9572(76)90037-x.