English Bulldog with tongue out, climbing out of a swimming pool wearing a red life jacket.

Swimming and Dogs: What You Need to Know

Keeping Your Dog Safe at the Pool

Some dogs love water, some dogs hate it—find out how to keep them safe no matter how they feel!

Swimming is one of the best activities to enjoy on a warm day, and that is just a fact. There is something special about splashing around in cool water on a nice, warm day. Humans are not the only ones that think this, either. Plenty of dogs love going for a swim with their human or fellow pups—but swimming can come with some added risk. If you’re a responsible dog parent looking for ways to keep your pup safe and happy this swim season, read on to learn what you need to consider.

Dog and young woman wearing glasses swimming in a pool.
Swimming never looked so cool!

Is Swimming Good for Dogs?

Jack Russell Terrier swimming in a crystal blue swimming pool on a sunny day.
Swim with your heart!

For a lot of dogs, swimming can be a good thing. Just like with humans, swimming can offer all kinds of great benefits. If you have a dog that loves swimming, you should be happy about it. They have a fun hobby that is good for them too.

It’s Great Exercise

Dog mom and large dog swimming together in a pool on a sunny day.
Come join us for a swim.

One clear benefit of swimming for dogs is the exercise factor. When dogs get plenty of healthy exercise, they end up living a healthier life in the long run. It can be good for how they grow and develop. It can keep them active and make their bodies nice and healthy. For many dogs, exercise also promotes mental health as well.

It’s Low-Impact

A scruffy Lakeland Terrier going for a swim in a swimming pool.
I really do love the pool, I swear.

There are a lot of ways to get your dog to exercise, but not all of them are friendly for all dogs. The low-impact nature of swimming makes it easy on the joints, and this is the kind of support that a lot of dogs need. Many dogs are prone to problems with their joints, which can have negative lasting effects. The simple and comfortable nature of swimming is friendly for dogs who are currently experiencing joint problems or are at risk for them down the line.

It Burns Energy

Playful dog swimming hard in the pool on a sunny day.
Ready to burn those calories?

Energy in dogs is something that many dog parents have a love-hate relationship with. We might love it when our pups get the zoomies and go sprinting around the house at top speed—but what about the bigger issues with energy? What about the chewed-up furniture and excessive barking? Well, swimming can help with that. Taking your dog for a swim can tire them out and help them to feel stimulated so they are calmer at home. This is a win-win for dog parents and pups alike.

It Helps with Pain

Cute senior dog swimming in a pool having a relaxing summer day.
Nice and relaxing.

Warm water swimming can actually be great for older pups or pups who have pain that needs to be managed. The calming nature of swimming and how gentle it is on the body makes it a nice, safe space for dogs to relax and recover in style. Before trying swimming for pain, be sure to run it by your vet just to be safe. This might not work for all pups.

It’s Fun

Golden Retriever jumping into a swimming pool, making a big splash.
Wohoo!! Let's go for a swim!

As dog parents, we want our dogs to live a comfortable and fulfilling life. Swimming is one great way to go about that because it is just plain fun. Dogs that are looking for a little more fun in their lives and don’t mind the water will have a field day. Whether they are chasing sticks or just exploring the water, swimming is a mentally stimulating event that a lot of dogs genuinely enjoy.

How to Know if Swimming is Right for Your Dog

French Bulldog nervously swimming in a pool.
Guys... I'm not sure I like this water!

Even though swimming can be great for dogs, that doesn’t mean that it is right for every dog. There are plenty of smaller dog breeds that might be at risk when it comes to swimming—and some dogs really just don’t like it. Knowing the difference between a dog that is hesitant to swim but might warm up to it and a dog that is actively distressed by being in the water is very important. If you have any feeling that your dog is unhappy in the water or might be at risk, it might be a good idea to skip out on this activity. Just like us, dogs have their preferences, and it is our duty as dog parents to respect them.

Keeping Your Dog Safe While Swimming

English Bulldog wearing an orange life jacket with a tennis ball in his mouth while swimming in a pool.
There's nothing like a game of ball in the pool 😛

Even though swimming is a wonderful activity for dogs, it does come with some clear risks. Knowing how to navigate these potential risks for your canine companion can be the difference between life and death in some circumstances. Before you ever take your pup out to engage in swimming activities, consider the following.

Know Their Limits

Black Schanuzer wearing an orange life jacket, taking a short rest from swimming in the pool.
Gotta catch my breath.

Understanding your dog's limits when you first expose them to swimming is very important. It is natural for dogs to be hesitant about entering the water, and it is a healthy fear. Dog parents should allow dogs plenty of time to explore the water rather than simply expecting them to get in and swim. Many dog parents believe all dogs can swim, but this isn’t the case. Dogs can and do drown, so be sure to acknowledge and honor their limits as you get them more used to swimming. If your dog only wants to get their paws wet the first few times, that is just fine.

Keep Them Hydrated

Large dog wearing pink and black life jacket, swimming in pool almost out of breath.
Need some water over here!

Hydration is crucial when you plan to let your pup play in the water. It is very important to understand that your dog probably will not know the difference in types of water—and swimming water can come with risks. Whether your dog is in a pool with chlorine or swimming in a local lake or ocean, they will not understand that those water sources pose a risk to their health.

Making sure that your dog is hydrated will keep them from drinking these dangerous and potentially toxic water sources. Saltwater is as damaging for dogs as it is for us, freshwater sources can be riddled with bacteria, and drinking a lot of chlorine is not healthy. Give your dog plenty of water before, during, and after swim time—and always discourage them from drinking from those sources.

Look Out for Temperature Concerns

Large dog in a swimming pool taking a break and feeling the sun on their fur.
Sunbathing by the pool.

Temperature is a huge consideration pawrents must acknowledge when they are taking their dogs out for a swim. On a hot day, your dog’s risks do go up, even if they are in the nice, cool water. Make sure that there is plenty of shade and space to rest on hot days.

Cold water is also very important if you have a pup that is entering the water at altitude. In the mountains, the water tends to get very cold, and this can be a risk for your dog. Exposure to cold water can cause your dog to experience hypothermia, even on a warm day. It can even have unexpected side effects, like a sprained tail! Be sure to limit how much time your dog spends in cold water.

Use a Life Jacket

Alaskan Malamute dog wearing an orange life jacket, swimming in a crystal blue pool.
Safety first!

Life jackets save lives, and they are very important for dogs. While it is true that your dog might be able to swim, it is important to acknowledge that your dog might not be the best judge of what is or is not safe. In the same way that you wouldn’t leave a child unattended in the water, you wouldn’t want to leave your dog free to take on challenging water sources without adequate protection.

A life jacket can help your dog in a variety of settings. Whether they swim out too far and get tired, or they find themselves getting tossed around by a few waves, a life jacket can keep your pup’s head above water and stop them from drowning. No matter how well your pup swims, you should always have a life jacket on them in natural water sources.

Check on Their Paws

Adorable large dog jumping out of a swimming pool with a tennis ball in his mouth.
You wanted to see me?

Our pup’s paws take a beating every day, and swimming can be fairly damaging for paws. While the act of swimming itself might not be the biggest problem or risk, the shallows and surrounding areas can be surprisingly damaging. When dogs are kicking through water or wading through the shallows, they might find their paws colliding with some pretty destructive surfaces. Rocks, sticks, and other debris can all scrape up paw pads, leaving your dog with exposed wounds that can hurt them or get infected. Be sure to inspect their paws before and after they enter the water and treat them as needed.

The water might be cool, but the surrounding beach might be like walking on lava for your pup. For the same reason that you might not want to take your dog on a walk across the asphalt at solar noon, you don’t really want them at the beach if it is a scorching hot day. Hot sand, hot rocks, and hot concrete can all pose risks to your pup’s paws. Be sure to consider this when scheduling your day.

Keep Your Dog Close

Adorable small dog swimming their heart out in a training pool.
Almost there...

Your dog should never, under any circumstances, be left to play in the water alone. Time and time again, we hear that you should never go swimming alone, and the same is true for your dog. You should always keep your dog nearby so that you can act in the event that something goes wrong. You do not want to realize that your pup is struggling to swim when they are too far out for you to reach them.

Know When to Go Home

Welsh Corgi dog swimming in a pool at the dog park on a hot sunny day.
Taking a dip on a sunny day!

A day of swimming can be fun, but as the dog parent, it is up to you to know when to call it a day. Some dogs love swimming so much that they will swim to exhaustion, and this really isn’t good for them. Dogs that keep swimming well past when they should suffer medical complications. Even if your dog can swim for several hours, remember to have them take a break or call it a day. Balance is always better.

Be Aware of Water Levels and Speed

Black Labrador with a tennis ball in his mouth, swimming in a giant pool.
These waters sure are high!

Dogs that are swimming in natural spaces take on a higher degree of risk than dogs in pools. Natural water can be unpredictable and dangerous for dogs and dog parents alike, so you want to keep an eye on it. Even if your dog plays in the same river every year, you still need to check it out before they get in. Avoid letting your pups in water that has a strong current or unexpectedly high-water levels.

Look Out for Wildlife

Adorable Austrailian Shepherd swimming in the lake, openly in nature.
Be careful of what's lurking underneath.

Outdoor swimming can mean encountering wildlife that might pose a risk to your pup. In nature, a lot of different animals visit natural water sources for drinking, cooling off, and lounging. Be sure to be fully aware of the kinds of animals that your pet might encounter. Water snakes, disease-carrying bugs, and even bears can pop up in some places. Always know the risks!

Keep an Eye on Them After

English Bulldog with their tongue out, wearing an orange life jacket, swimming in a pool.
You looking at me?

Even if you take your pup to the pool and find that they had a completely normal day, your work is not done. Some complications associated with swimming do not show themselves immediately. After you take your pet out on the water, be sure to watch them for any indications that they might have developed an injury or infection.

Don’t Skip the Bath

Adorable Maltese and Poodle mix, getting a bath after a day in the swimming pool.
Bath time is definitely not fun time 😔

After a long day of playing in the water, you and your pup will probably be exhausted—but the day is not over. After your dog plays in any kind of water source, make sure that you get them home and put them right into the bath. This can help to wash away chemicals, debris, skin irritants, and bacteria.

The Takeaway

English Bulldog with tongue out, climbing out of a swimming pool wearing a red life jacket.
One more lap, pleeeeeease?

Swimming can be a wonderful experience for your dog as long as you know what it takes to keep them safe. Once you get your routine down, you will find that this can be a great source of exercise and a wonderful bonding opportunity for you and your furbaby. Remember, always focus on safety first so you can make sure that every day of swimming brings only the best for you and your dog!

Until next time, thank you for reading!

About the author: Gabrielle is the loving pawrent to adorable pups Willow and Dilla. Growing up surrounded by dogs, she always dreamt of having her own. Willow and Dilla came into her life and changed everything. Now, she's crazy about pampered pooches, and her perfect day involves dancing with her husband, dressing up her furbabies, and cuddling them to sleep. For Gabrielle, life is all about spreading love and joy with her adorable canine companions by her side.