Some dogs are born natural swimmers1—think Labrador Retriever, Portuguese Water Dog, and Otterhound, among others. Therefore, it’s not a stretch to imagine these pups mistaking your pool for the lake. And when in Rome, you might as well get a drink. Freshwater water bodies are one thing, although Giardia is a concern for dogs and people.2
When you’re talking about pool water, it’s another story. After all, the chemicals are necessary to make it safe for you and your family to take a dip. The short answer is that an occasional swallow of treated water isn’t going to harm your pet—or you. At the very least, drinking salt water will only cause GI distress. However, large quantities are potentially fatal. Let’s do a deep dive into the reasons why.
The Proper Balance
Treating pool water is a necessary evil. Standing water is an invitation for bacteria, fungi, and a host of other nasty things to take up residency. Much of what can contaminate it is airborne and virtually impossible to avoid in an uncovered pool. You can treat the water with a pump and filter, which do that heavy lifting from the visible to the invisible. You can also opt for chemical treatments.
Chlorine is a popular choice because it’s effective and affordable. However, there’s an acceptable limit. It’s essential to balance cleanliness with safety. The maximum recommended concentration for an outdoor pool under 20 square meters is 5 mg/L.3 Remember that the chances are you’re drinking chlorine anyway if you’re on city water.
Of course, drinking water is regulated. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a concentration of up to 4 mg/L is safe.4 However, that figure applies to mammals like you and your dog. Even lesser concentrations are toxic to aquarium fish and aquatic plants. That’s why it’s imperative to age the tank water or treat it with chlorine removers before adding anything to it.
The pool water is also somewhat safe for your pup to drink, given a few conditions. First, the water should be properly treated. Inadequate disinfection isn’t safe for you or your pet. Second, we started this piece by qualifying it with an occasional drink. Too much can cause a problem. Finally, your pool shouldn’t be your dog’s only water source. What happens if they drink too much of it?
Signs of Toxicity
Two concerns exist in this scenario. One concerns the disinfectant, and the other concerns the liquid. Drinking too much treated water can irritate your dog’s mouth and GI tract. That can lead to nausea and vomiting. It can also cause dehydration if your pet isn’t getting enough fluids to replace what it’s losing. Again, we’re talking about balance.
The other concern rests with a pet drinking too much and leading to water intoxication. The body maintains a specific concentration of minerals, like sodium and potassium, and liquid. The risk occurs when your pet’s blood becomes too diluted from excessive intake. Levels of these electrolytes decrease to dangerous levels, a condition called hyponatremia. Signs of toxicity include the following:
It can be fatal if not treated promptly. It’s worth noting that it can also occur in people with similar signs and urgency.
Oceans, Seas, and Saltwater Pools, Oh, My!
Whether drinking from the ocean or a saltwater pool, it’s recommended not to let your dog drink the saltwater. The salinity range for seawater is between 33–37 grams per liter or 33,000 to 37,000 ppm. Saltwater pools have much lower concentrations of about a tenth of the salinity or about 3,200 ppm.
However, the problem for people and dogs consuming saltwater involves another electrolyte, potassium.
Sodium and chloride are the main dissolved salts in seawater. While potassium is also present, it’s not in the same ratio as blood. Therein lies the problems. The body maintains a balance between the environments inside and outside of its cells. Ingesting a large quantity can throw the proverbial wrench in the works. A dog’s body will try to fix the situation by decreasing its blood volume.
Signs of Saltwater Toxicity
Even though your dog is drinking, it’s still setting up the perfect storm for dehydration. The excess water going into your pet’s GI system will cause vomiting and diarrhea. It’s worth noting this imbalance also affects cardiac function. It can also spur seizures, weakness, kidney failure, and death. Sadly, the prognosis is poor at best for a dog suffering from saltwater toxicity.
An occasional drink of pool water shouldn’t present any problems for your dog as long as it’s properly maintained. Problems can arise if it’s excessive. Saltwater presents similar issues with more severe consequences, depending on the source. Bacteria and other pathogens can cause irritation and GI distress. However, too much can prove deadly.
Our advice is not to take chances. Make sure plenty of clean, fresh water is available for your pet when going to the pool or beach. The chances are it’ll prefer cold water to the warmer pool stuff. Don’t hesitate to make it a part of your pet’s training if you have a pool in your backyard. It’s far better to play it safe than having to rush your pet to the vet.
Featured Image Credit: GoDog Photo, Shutterstock