Many dogs love water. It’s hard to resist letting a happy dog frolic in a creek or lake while out for a long walk, especially on a hot day. I’m sometimes tempted to jump in myself! But is it safe to let dogs play in and drink from creeks or lakes? Organisms like Giardia that thrive in water can make your dog ill. Certain algaes can be harmful, or even fatal, to dogs. In addition, mosquito larvae live in standing water, along with various other water-dwelling creatures that can be disease vectors. So, should you let your dog play in creeks and lakes? That depends on you and your dog, and where you live.
Determining Local Water Safety
If you’re tempted to let your dog swim in any body of water, a call to the local Water and Sanitation District as well as the Department of Public Health is in order. Ask if there are any known health problems that can occur due to contacting or drinking the water in your area. Don’t get complacent just because water is running– even moving water can cause illness due to animals upstream defecating in or near the water, causing parasites, protozoans, and other assorted nasties to float downstream to your pet.
Even if you’re told that the water in your area is generally safe, that’s no guarantee. Your dog could be the first to come down with a disease due to drinking from a local body of water. Or, there may have been other people or pets sickened by the same water, but either the illness wasn’t linked to the water, or it was never reported to the health department. You can consider taking a water sample and having it tested by a veterinarian or a local university, but water quality changes rapidly. Water that’s safe one day may not be safe the next.
Wild animals can safely drink water from most areas because they’ve developed both hereditary and individual immunity to any harmful organisms, algae, or bacteria in the water supply in their habitat. Some wild animals do get sick or die due to drinking water, but rarely do they keel over in sufficient quantities to be noticeable. Pets, however, are raised on purified drinking water and do not develop immunity. It’s similar to the problems experienced by tourists: Travelers may drink water in another country and become deathly ill, even if people native to that area drink it daily without harmful effects.
So, What’s A Concerned Dog Owner to Do?
Ultimately, the choice comes down to safety versus fun. If you wish to shield your dog from as many health risks as possible, you’re better off letting him or her swim at a pool at a doggie daycare, and keeping him or her on leash at all times near natural bodies of water. Remember to carry water with you so that you can offer a drink to your dog during long walks.
On the other hand, if you just can’t bring yourself to deny your dog a splash in the nearest stream, take as many precautions as possible. Discuss the water quality with the relevant authorities, as suggested above. Always offer your dog a bowl of drinking water before allowing him or her to play in a natural body of water, to minimize drinking from the water. Avoid standing water or any water with visible algae on the surface. Also avoid streams or rivers with strong currents. Appearances can be deceiving– wade in first to test the current before allowing your dog in if the stream is deeper than a few inches. In addition, talk to your vet about precautionary measures to avoid water-borne illness, and about symptoms to look for after your dog has been in the water.