Modern Medicine, Old-Fashioned Care

Jul 14, 2023 | General Health

The Hidden Doggie Dangers of Summertime Water Sources

It’s hot out there.

Does your dog have fresh water?

Dr. Laura Weis, DVM, of Doylestown Veterinary Hospital & Holistic Pet Care says one of the most important things for pet owners to keep in mind this summer is making certain their pets remain continuously and properly hydrated.

“Dehydration is one of the big issues we see in dogs coming into the hospital,” Dr. Weis says. “Pets that have been outside and playing, especially as temperatures climb into the high 80s, 90s, or even above.”

Older animals, animals with heavy coats, and brachycephalic animals (with flat faces) she notes, are particularly susceptible to the heat – but all dogs are at risk for heat stroke if they don’t have regular access to fresh, clean water.

“Be sure to provide water whenever you’re out hiking or playing at the park– or even if you’re just in your backyard with your pet.”

The importance of hydration cannot be understated, she adds, explaining that because our animals are out and about more often in the summer months, access to other water sources – unorthodox water sources – are more readily accessible. And thirsty dogs? They don’t discriminate.

Off the Deep End

According to Dr. Weis, the biggest dangers of summertime water sources typically fall into two categories: infectious agents – and swimming pools.

Chemical and chlorine exposure can be hazardous – even deadly – where both traditional chlorine pools and saltwater pools are concerned.

“With chlorine pools, levels are typically kept at a spot where if a dog is swimming or playing, they may ingest a little bit, but it’s not that big of a deal,” Dr. Weis says.

The real danger lies in pools that have recently been treated – or are actively being treated.

“I’ve seen patients who have munched on chlorine tablets,” Dr. Weis says. “They get lesions in the mouth and burns in the esophagus that are pretty serious.”

In pools that have been recently treated, chlorine levels can creep up quietly and pose a serious threat.

“It’s particularly dangerous for those water-loving dogs, like retrievers,” Dr. Weis says. “They’ll be playing and splashing around, having a great time, and they ingest a little too much. Then we see vomiting and diarrhea.”

The hazards are somewhat less in saltwater pools. That being said, if the pool is the only water source available to a dog, they’ll ultimately take advantage, making excessive salt load a concern.

“And then there are those dogs that just keep drinking and drinking,” Dr. Weis says. “With them, they can suffer from a phenomenon of water intoxication, in which dogs overhydrate themselves.”

The solution? Pay attention to your pets whenever you are poolside, and make sure they follow all safety rules, as well.

Infectious Organisms on the Rise

Giardia remains an infectious menace in our area. Primarily a disease seen in younger animals, older dogs – who are naturally more resistant to it – can still harbor and transmit the parasite, says Dr. Weis.

Typically picked up in water sources that have some sort of fecal contamination, Giardia spreads easily and causes diarrhea, which can be acute or chronic.

“A little bit or a lot gets into a water source – often small ponds or lakes,” Dr. Weis says. “But I’ve also seen it in fresh flowing streams, as well, where dogs frequently go back and reinfect themselves. And the problem is, you can’t see any signs of Giardia if you’re simply looking at the water.”

Another heavy hitter in the bug community is Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease that previously was thought of as a rural threat, often seen in farm animals who had access to tainted water sources.

Leptospirosis is carried in wild animal populations, Dr. Weis explains, so critters like raccoons or foxes spread the bacteria via urine contamination.

But Leptospirosis is also being seen more frequently in more populated areas.

“Because you can be an asymptomatic carrier, you can have animals or dogs that have Leptospirosis and are shedding it, but you just don’t know,” Dr. Weis says. “Now, we’re seeing it in dogs that have no access to fields and streams. They’re contracting it in puddles and contaminated water sources in towns and cities, where another animal has shed the bacteria through their urine.”

While vaccines against more dangerous serovars – or variants – of the bacteria do exist, there are many serovars our pets have zero protection against, Dr. Weis says.

“Leptospirosis can be very serious. It can lead to kidney shutdown and eventually failure. And even when it is treated successfully, it requires hospitalization, very aggressive fluid therapy, and antibiotics. And we see cases of it in our area every year. It’s around.”

If you’re heading to the lake or the river, you should also be on the lookout for Blue-Green Algae advisories.

Also known as Cyanobacteria, this water source danger blooms during the summer and early fall and thrives in sunny spaces and warm temperatures.

“Ten years ago, we really didn’t see much of this at all,” Dr. Weis says. Now? It’s a big problem.

“There’s a toxin in blue-green algae that infects dogs when they drink out of contaminated water sources that have an overgrowth, or they can be affected when they’re swimming. And there’s nothing we can do, treatment-wise, other than supportive care.”

Depending on the variety of algae, different organ systems may be affected.

“The most serious toxins affect the brain and central nervous system, while others affect the liver,” Dr. Weis says. “Signs can vary from neurological issues and seizures to vomiting and diarrhea as the animal starts to get liver failure. Some just affect the GI tract.”

Dr. Weis’ strong advice to patients: know before you go.

“If you’re going to go out to a lake or similar areas, check before you go swimming with your dog. Common sense helps some, too. If there’s a strange smell to the water or if there’s scum on top – or you can see an obvious algae bloom, don’t let your dog near it.”

The scariest part? Blue-green algae blooms can also form in standing water in your own backyard. For that reason, it is imperative that pet owners clear out all standing water around their homes, just like they would if they were trying to prevent mosquitos in the summer. A little bit of precaution goes a long way.

Flush with Possibilities

Not to be flippant, but some dogs simply can’t help but help themselves to a long, cold drink out of the bathroom toilet.

Sure, it’s gross. But is it dangerous?

“I think it depends on what you do with your toilet,” Dr. Weis laughs. “But it’s not a great idea. Some people use cleaners with certain chemicals that can be dangerous, including those that provide a continuous supply of cleaning agents. And depending on when your toilet has been cleaned last, and when it’s been flushed, there could be residue your dog could ingest.”

The silver lining (or, perhaps, the ring around the bowl)? There are not a huge number of parasites and/or bacteria that pass back and forth between humans and dogs. Still, Dr. Weis says, there are some. So, in general, keep the bathroom door closed when possible. Dogs drinking out of the toilet is simply not a great idea. Even if they think it is.

“From a dog’s perspective, they’re thinking, ‘Great!’” says Dr. Weis. What a convenience!

“But imagine your dog taking a nice long drink out of the toilet and coming to give you a big kiss.”

Summer’s too short to take chances like these.