Heading to Lake Michigan to escape the summer heat? Like many dog lovers, you may want to bring your pup along for some boating fun. To help make sure the experience is a positive one, here are five tips provided by Dr. Sarah Nold, DVM, on-staff veterinarian for Trupanion, a pet medical insurance company based out of Seattle.. Be sure to read the short interview that follows for important information to help set your dog up for success.
Dog Boating Safety Tips
- Do a Test Run – Your dog should get acclimated to any boat before heading out on the water. Allowing them to get their bearings while docked will reduce any distress caused by from not being firmly planted on solid ground. Consider keep your dog’s first boat outing short so they can adjust to the ship’s movement. It’s also the time for you to evaluate whether they are prone to seasickness. If seasickness becomes severe, ask your veterinarian about possible medication for future outings.
- Invest in A Life Jacket – Not all dogs are strong swimmers, so it’s important to have a life jacket as a safety precaution, especially when there are rough weather conditions or currents. If something were to happen, many life jackets have a handle so you can easily lift and pull them out as need be.
- Don’t Forget About Basic Needs – If you plan to be out on the water for an extended period of time, make sure you pack all the basic needs for your pet as well as yourself. A few things to remember: puppy pads for bathroom breaks, familiar toys, treats/food, a water bowl, health records in case of an emergency, especially if your trip exceeds a day.
- Heat Hazard – Make sure you pet has access to shade on the boat and plenty of water. With the high temperatures during the summer, dogs are more prone to heatstroke and will need to stay hydrated. Be sure to keep an eye on your pet for signs
- Check Local Laws – While there are no national legal restrictions or requirements pertaining to having animals on your boat, double-check local laws, since regulations can vary by state.
LY: Dr. Nold, when acclimating a dog to a boat, can you say more about the pacing? Would you recommend the boat remain docked during the first visit, with the short practice trip being a separate day entirely?
Dr. Nold: Yes, ideally the first introduction would be on a docked boat and getting used to the movement of the boat in the water only. If your dog seems anxious then you may need to go even slower and make multiple trips to the dock first before even getting on the boat. Try to keep the experience positive and not push your dog faster than he is comfortable. For example, you may just hang out on the dock with his favorite toy or treat and then move to doing the same on the boat.
LY: Are there particular signs pet parents should be looking for that would indicate their dog is feeling uncomfortable?
Dr. Nold: Signs of anxiety may include barking/whining, licking lips, excessive salivation, yawning and/or tail low or between legs.
LY: Thanks for saying that. Yawning as a sign of stress can be easy to miss since humans tend associate it with boredom. Some dogs show stress so quietly, maybe just drooling and yawning, that it can be easy to overlook.
So, if a dog is showing stress on or near the boat, are there certain things an owner can do to make the experience better for them? Are there calming techniques that can be employed?
Dr. Nold: Being calm yourself is very important. Your dog can tell if you are upset or anxious. Distracting them with something they enjoy will help to associate the location/activity with something positive.
LY: You mention seasickness. Short of vomiting, are there precursor signs that a dog is experiencing seasickness? Are there any considerations one should make in advance, such as whether or not to feed their dog, etc, prior to getting on a boat to make it easier on the tummy?
Dr. Nold: Excessive salivation is another common sign. It is recommended to not feed within an hour of going on the boat.
LY: Let's talk life jackets. Apart from a handle, do you have recommendations for how to find a properly fitted life jacket?
Dr. Nold: Follow the fitting recommendations of the particular life jacket you purchased. In addition to knowing your dog’s weight you will likely also need other measurements for best fit (such as their girth or the widest part of the rib cage).
LY: Should the dog be desensitized to wearing the life jacket before being asked to wear one on the boat? (Can too many new things at once stress the dog out...life jacket, plus boat, for example)?
Dr. Nold: Great question! Yes, ideally you would get him used to the life jacket at home first. Introducing one new thing at a time is the best recipe for success!
LY: Heat can be a real concern for dogs as we know. Are there signs to watch for that tell one when a dog is suffering from too much heat? What are the signs of heatstroke and what immediate action should the owner take if they realize their dog is starting to have difficulty?
Dr. Nold: Brachycephalic (short-nosed or flat faced) dogs, overweight/obese dogs or those that are older are going to be affected at lower temperatures and in a shorter period of time. Make sure your dog has free access to fresh clean water and shade. Early signs of heat stroke are rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, vomiting, diarrhea and lethargy. If your dog is showing these signs move them to a cool shaded or A/C area. You can place a sheet over your dog and wet the sheet with cool water. A fan blowing air on your dog may also help. Transport to the closest veterinarian for an exam to determine if additional supportive care is necessary. As heat stroke progresses your dog may develop difficulty breathing, blue or pale color to gums, seizures, bloody diarrhea. Death may result if not treated quickly and aggressively.
LY: And that drives home the point that making sure your pet is truly having fun in the sun is a responsibility pet owners must take seriously. Thank you for giving us this guidance to help make sure the summer is a safe one for our four-legged companions!
Sarah Nold, DVM wanted to be a veterinarian since elementary school, when she had the opportunity to job shadow an equine veterinarian. She found a way to volunteer with a number of small animal veterinarians and at the Oregon Humane Society. Her desire to become a veterinarian was not just about her love for animals, she also admired the relationships the veterinarian was able to develop with the pets, pet owners, staff and even the local community. She appreciates the position of trust and respect that a veterinarian is placed in. After completing her BS in Biology and Science at Portland State University, she attended Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine. She graduated in 2010 and immediately moved up to Washington where she worked in small animal clinical medicine before joining the Trupanion appeals team. She has two cats (George and Juniper). George is an orange and white Tabby and Juniper is a Dilute Tortie Lynx Point. Her specific interests in veterinary medicine are feline medicine, alternative medicine, and dermatology. She says, “there is nothing like taking the time to explain allergies to a pet owner and having them thank you for finally understanding why the itching keeps coming back!”
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