Paws in the Sand

By: Ashley Navarrette, DVM

TVMA Member
College Station, TX.

Published June 2020

As we delve into the official start of summer, many Texans and their four-legged friends are flocking to the coastline to escape the heat with some sand, sun and fun. While a trip to the beach can be a great place to interact with your pets and enrich their lives by exposing them to many different sights, sounds and smells, it is important to make sure it is a safe and successful outing. The beach and ocean can be fraught with the potential health and safety hazards listed below.

Salt Toxicity
Salt toxicity is common during summer months at emergency veterinary hospitals near the Gulf Coast. Unfortunately, dogs do not often realize the difference between fresh water and saltwater, especially if fresh water is not readily available. Ingestion of large amounts of saltwater can lead to dangerous sodium levels in the blood that can initially cause vomiting and diarrhea but can progress to neurological signs, such as incoordination (appearing intoxicated), seizures and depression, ultimately resulting in severe brain swelling.1 If you believe your pet has ingested too much saltwater, seek veterinary care immediately. Always have fresh water available for your pet and carefully monitor his activity in the ocean.

Heatstroke
Heatstroke/thermal and solar burns are not specific to the beach, but they can happen very quickly and have devastating results. A common way thermal burns develop is dogs walking or standing on hot sand, asphalt or concrete. A rule of thumb is that if it’s uncomfortable for your feet, it’s too hot for their paws. If you can’t carry your dog across the hot sand, invest in a pair of protective booties. Light-colored and short-haired breeds are prone to sunburn and secondary skin cancers, while dark, short-coated breeds are more susceptible to thermal burns, leading to serious complications such as skin necrosis.2 Have a source of shade available and discuss canine sunscreen with your veterinarian.

Heatstroke is a medical emergency that can occur due to high temperatures, overexertion and breed conformation. Clinical signs of overheating are excessive panting, dark red gums, rapid heartbeat, vomiting, diarrhea and possibly seizures.3 The aftermath of heatstroke can progress to multiorgan damage and failure. Short-faced breeds and dark-coated breeds tend to be more prone. Always carefully monitor your dog’s exertion in hot weather.
Snakes and other wildlife may be found in the dunes, so dogs and humans that explore the dunes should do so with utmost caution.
Here are some items to bring to ensure your trip at the beach with your dog is safe and enjoyable:

  • Fresh drinking water and bowl
  • Source of shade
  • Bags for picking up your dog’s waste
  • Treats/food (if staying for an extended time)
  • Life jacket with handle
  • Floating toys such as balls, bumpers, etc.
  • Collar with identification and leash
  • Towels
  • Protective booties

Beach Activities for You and Your Dog

  • Go for a run with your pet. The sand adds resistance that both you and your pet will benefit from. Monitor your dog for any evidence of overexertion or heat stress.
  • Fetch along the beach and into the water.
  • Always supervise swimming activities; not every dog is a natural-born swimmer. Every dog should wear a life jacket no matter the swimming skill level.
  • Some dogs can be trained to surf or stay on a paddle board with their owners.
  •  Play with other dogs. Always make sure both dogs are social and used to interacting with other dogs. Always supervise your dog interacting with other dogs.
  • If your dog is more of the laid-back type, put your toes and paws in the sand and relax.

Always make sure the beach you plan to visit is dog-friendly or if it has specific leash laws. Speak with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is vaccinated and on appropriate parasite prevention. If high temperatures or high humidity are forecast, go early or late in the day, when heatstroke is less likely. With a little preparation, you and your dog can have a fun and safe day at the beach, making memories to last a lifetime.


References

1Summer Hazards to Avoid in Our Pets and Patients; Jo Marshall, CVT and Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC

2Schwartz, et al. 2018. Dorsal thermal necrosis in dogs: a retrospective analysis of 16 cases in the southwestern USA (2009-2016). Vet Dermatol. 28:449.

3Hyperthermia and Heat Stroke in the Working Canine; Lori E. Gordon, DVM

Ashley Navarrette, DVM, MS, MS, is a graduate of Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in College Station, Texas. Dr. Navarrette works at Texas A&M University, where she practices small animal emergency medicine.

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