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Can Dogs Swim In The Ocean? Saltwater On Dog’s Skin

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If your dog loves to swim and splash in the water, the ocean might seem like the perfect place to let them play. After all, the large expanse of the ocean means there are plenty of opportunities to find beaches away from other people to let your dog run and explore.

However, you may be wondering how safe it is for a dog to swim in the ocean.

While dogs are able to swim in the ocean, there are some extra precautions that you can take to make sure it’s a safe activity for your dog.

In this post, we will explore the safety of letting your dog swim in the ocean, including how the saltwater may affect your dog’s skin, external parasites, or even what happens if they drink salt water!

Is it Safe to Let Your Dog Swim in the Ocean?

With proper precautions, it can definitely be safe to let your dog swim in the ocean but beware of sharp shells, rocks, litter or any rip currents.

While we will explore some of the hazards associated with salt water later in this article, there are other hazards that can exist both in the water and on the beach.

Dogs won’t spend the entire time swimming in the ocean, after all. Hazards can exist on the beach, too.

Sharp shells and rocks can damage a dog’s paw pads. If the beach has any litter, it also has the potential to be dangerous. Not only can some of the litter be sharp and cut your dog, like pieces of metal or glass, but it might also be dangerous if eaten.

You should also be aware of any rip currents that exist in the ocean. While your dog may be able to safely swim out of them, it’s important to be aware to prevent this from happening in the first place.

One way to help your dog in case of a rip current is to fit them with a proper life jacket. In case your dog gets too tired while swimming, a well-fitted life jacket will help keep your dog afloat and safe while swimming in the ocean.

Dog watching the sun set over the ocean.
Photo by Mor Shani on Unsplash

Is Ocean Water Good for Dogs’ Skin?

The ocean is filled with saltwater, which will have a different effect on a dog’s skin than freshwater. This effect is different depending on your dog’s natural coat and skin.

If your dog is a breed with a water-repellent double coat, such as a Labrador Retriever, they are less likely to feel the effect of salt water on their skin because it’s harder for the water to reach their skin.

The occasional dip in the ocean isn’t likely to have any negative effects on your dog’s skin. Ocean water isn’t outright harmful, although there aren’t really any benefits to swimming in saltwater instead of freshwater.

However, repeated trips to the ocean or swimming in salt water can lead to dry, flakey skin and dull or brittle fur. In some cases, dogs may even start to lose patches of fur if care isn’t taken to avoid the side effects of swimming in the ocean.

If you plan to spend a lot of time swimming at the beach with your dog, you should take steps to make sure that your dog’s coat isn’t damaged and their skin stays healthy.

Should I Wash My Dog After Swimming in the Ocean?

One of the best ways to make sure that your dog continues to have healthy skin and a shiny coat is to bathe your dog after swimming in the ocean.

Saltwater won’t immediately have a negative effect on your dog’s skin. The problem tends to come if the salt isn’t effectively rinsed off of your dog.

After swimming in the ocean, you should rinse your dog with freshwater. Make sure to rinse all the way down to your dog’s skin.

This can be difficult to do on some breeds with thick double coats, so make sure to work your fingers all the way under their fur.

You can use a dog shampoo to help rinse the salt off of your dog, although it isn’t necessary. In fact, if you are taking frequent trips to the ocean beach, it’s better to rinse just with freshwater the majority of the time. Bathing too often can strip the dog’s coat of their natural oils.

Speaking of the natural oils in a dog’s coat – you can help protect your dog from any ill effects on their skin due to saltwater by avoiding giving them a bath prior to your trip to the ocean.

The natural oils in their coat help protect them from the saltwater, so save the bath for after your trip.

How Do I Get My Dog to Stop Drinking Ocean Water?

Ocean water can cause a dog to become ill and may be fatal in severe cases. Because of this, it’s important to try and prevent your dog from drinking water in the ocean.

One of the most effective ways to get your dog to stop drinking ocean water is to make sure your dog has regular access to plenty of fresh water.

Swimming and running along the beach is hard work, and they will get thirsty. Without fresh water being present, your dog will likely turn to the ocean to soothe their thirst. 

Not only should you make sure that you have fresh water available for your dog, but you will likely need to encourage them to drink it as well.

If they are enjoying playing in the waves, it’s unlikely that they will turn away from the fun to come back for a drink on their own.

If your dog is ingesting salt water because they are playing with the waves by biting them, offering fresh water might not be the best solution. For dogs that play-bite the water, a short time out might be best. 

By removing your dog from the situation, you will teach your dog that their fun time ends if they chomp at the water. Consistency will help teach this new skill to your dog.

Does Ocean Water Kill Fleas On Dogs?

The properties of saltwater that dry out your dog’s skin are the same properties that can actually kill any fleas on your dog. Salt ends up drying out the body of the flea, so they are unable to survive.

However, there’s no guarantee that your dog will be completely flea-free after a dip in the ocean. If your dog has a thick coat, it may actually provide a safe place for fleas to hide without the ocean water reaching them!

Another consideration is that if fleas are present on your dog, they are almost always going to be present all over your home. Fleas reproduce at an extremely fast rate.

As the fleas jump off of your dog, they make their home in your carpet, on your furniture, and almost anywhere else they end up. Flea infestations can also exist in your yard.

While veterinary prescribed flea medications are the best way to eliminate fleas, there is evidence that saltwater (and thus, swimming in the ocean) may help to kill them if the salt content is high enough.

If you are unable to get access to products to kill the fleas in your home, salt can also come in handy in a pinch. Sprinkling salt into your carpets can start the process of getting rid of the critters. Coconut oil is another solution to prevent fleas.

Dog stretching on the beach.
Photo by donghero on Shutterstock

Can Dogs Swim in Saltwater Pools?

Dogs can swim in saltwater pools, just as they can swim in the ocean. However, the same precautions should apply.

Avoid letting your dog drink an excessive amount of water from saltwater pools. Just because the water is from a man-made pool instead of the natural ocean doesn’t make the water any safer to ingest.

You should also make sure to follow the guidelines above for bathing your dog before and after swimming in the saltwater pool. As with swimming in the ocean, avoid bathing your dog before their swim to make sure they have natural oils that protect them from salt water.

Once your dog is done swimming, rinse them thoroughly with fresh water to get rid of any excess salt that might be leftover in their coat.

Is Saltwater Good for Dog Wounds?

A common misconception is that saltwater can improve the healing of wounds.

The saltwater can actually contribute to wounds drying out. When the wound is treated with saltwater, it may become red and more inflamed.

In addition, saltwater often contains a lot of bad bacteria. Unless it is created carefully in a sterile environment, the bacteria will hitchhike their way into your dog’s open sores and wounds if you treat them with saltwater.

So, not only is there no benefit to saltwater in the majority of cases, it can actually make the problem worse in others.

If your dog has an open wound, you should avoid the ocean (and honestly, a lot of other outdoor adventures where it could become infected).

See your dog’s veterinarian for treatment for the wound, and they can guide you on when it is safe to let your dog go swimming in the ocean again.

How Much Salt Water Will Kill a Dog?

The average toxic dose of salt in dogs is 2.2 teaspoons of salt per pound of body weight.

The average gallon of ocean water contains 22.41 teaspoons of salt.

This means that a ten pound dog drinking just a gallon of ocean water is drinking more than a fatal dose.

It’s not unrealistic for a dog to run around the beach, play in the waves by biting at them, as well as choose to drink from the ocean instead of a bowl of fresh water to end up accidentally ingesting that much saltwater.

The average medium-sized, fifty pound dog, will ingest a fatal dose of ocean water just by drinking 5 gallons.

Keeping your visits to the ocean short enough that they can’t consume that much saltwater, as well as making sure to offer plenty of fresh water, are important aspects of keeping your dog safe from saltwater poisoning.

Even if your dog doesn’t drink enough saltwater to kill themselves, they still might find themselves sick from the lesser dose.

Symptoms of Salt Water Poisoning in Dogs

One of the most common symptoms of saltwater poisoning in dogs is vomiting and diarrhea. The ingestion of salt can affect your dog’s GI system first, before affecting the rest of their body.

When too much salt is in your dog’s body, the process of osmosis tries to balance out the high levels of salt by flooding it with water. This causes intense dehydration in your dog as well, since body fluids are being flushed into their GI system to counteract the high salt content.

Weakness, muscle tremors, and even seizures can be other symptoms of salt water poisoning in dogs. The nervous system in general can be ill affected by the excess salt in your dog’s system.

This can also lead to your dog displaying behavior that is out of the normal for your dog. They may act confused, lethargic, or non-responsive. Sometimes you won’t be able to put your finger on it, but your dog will just not be acting like their normal self.

Dogs that are experiencing saltwater poisoning also may not want to eat or drink, especially if their stomach is upset.

One unfortunate aspect of saltwater poisoning is that it doesn’t always present itself immediately.

You should inform your vet that your dog was swimming in the ocean if they display any of these symptoms within a few hours to a few days of their trip to the ocean beach.

A trip to the veterinarian is a necessity if you think your dog is experiencing saltwater poisoning. Quick care is essential!

Your veterinarian may use a combination of IV fluids, electrolytes, and other treatments to help your dog’s body return to normal levels of salt and water.

With these tips, you’re prepared for a great day at the beach with your furry companion!

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Disclaimer: This blog post does not substitute veterinary attention and does not intend to do so. I am not a veterinarian or pet nutritionist. If your dog shows any sign of illness, call your vet.

About Danielle

Equipped with 5+ years of expertise as a Rottweiler owner, I partner with licensed veterinarians and trainers to share research-backed and actionable advice for you and your furry friend.