Poolside Safety: Prevent Pet Drowning Deaths

Written by:

Patty Khuly, DVM
Published: July 26, 2006

The swimming pool can be summer’s best friend or a year-round disaster waiting to happen. Consider the drowning deaths of 4,000 children every year in swimming pools across the U.S. Multiply by one hundred and you have a reasonable guess at the number of dogs that drown each year in our backyard watering holes.

There are no confirmed statistics on exactly how many dogs drown every year, but my experience paints a bleak picture of a multitude of avoidable watery deaths each year.

Unfortunately, I rarely see these as patients… unless you count the ones that are already well past any hope of assistance.

Five years ago this week, I lost my best friend, Marcel. He was a beautiful French Bulldog entrusted to me by a reputable breeder who needed to place this fancy show dog in a home where he would receive more attention (this breeder already had a number of dogs he was caring for). I was recently divorced and newly relocated to Miami after graduating from school; he was my best friend at a difficult time.

Two years later Marcel accompanied me to a gathering of friends at a home in Coconut Grove. Accustomed to being poolside at my parents` house, I assumed he’d be as safe here as anywhere. I was wrong. After ten minutes of inattention I found him at the bottom of the swimming pool.

As a veterinarian, the feeling of losing a dog this way takes on a new dimension… the guilt is extreme. I can’t plead ignorance or bad luck — just carelessness.

Since the accident (and now that I have another French Bulldog — a non-swimming breed, btw), I’ve taken to keeping up with the vast array of advice on pool safety for dogs. Living in Miami where almost all my clients have pools. I now realize how little information I had dispensed to my clients on pool safety. So let me make up for it a little bit with the following advice.

  1. Be aware of your dog’s swimming proficiency. Realize that this proficiency will diminish dramatically at night, with advancing age, and the fear associated with accidental falls. Even excellent swimmers may panic in the dark or after a slip and fall into the water.
  2. Some dogs will never swim. That doesn’t mean they’re not at risk of falling in by accident (as happened with Marcel).
  3. Dogs with seizure disorders are never safe around water when unsupervised!
  4. Consider pool safety products such as baby fences, pool alarms (they sound when anyone falls in), alarmed collars (rigged to alarm at a home base when its wearer falls in), and electrified underground pool fences (the dog wears a collar to keep him away from the pool’s perimeter).
  5. Life vests and pool ramps (to help dogs get up from the side of the pool) are not completely safe. Monitoring tools (like the alarms listed above) are only as good as the person listening for them. Avoidance of the pool area through secure fencing is the only way to ensure poolside safety.

If you have a pool or allow your dog to play unsupervised near water, please heed this advice. Marcel’s suffering was brief but severe. Mine will last forever. Arm yourself with knowledge, vigilance, and maybe a few choice products so you and your pet don’t suffer the same.

Image: Kittibowornphatnon / Shutterstock