Swimming for dogs in the summer – important information to keep in mind!

Many dogs really enjoy swimming. Especially in the summertime, it’s a great way to cool down. Splashing around with their person or other dogs is also just a whole lot of fun.


When the weather turns warmer, people take every opportunity to get outside with their dogs. So what could be more natural than taking a dip and doing something good for your dog?

What are the health effects of swimming on dogs?


For dogs with musculoskeletal diseases or conditions like arthritis and healthy dogs alike, swimming and even wading in natural bodies of water are excellent forms of exercise, plus they’re fun! Dogs build muscle and strength in the process, and these activities are great for their body awareness. Joint mobility and coordination also benefit. If you go wading with the dog, you can also practice normal, healthy movement.

Moving in water is strenuous

Water resistance significantly increases the amount of effort involved, so the muscles work harder than they do when running on land. One positive effect is that the body weight the dog has to carry is reduced the deeper the water is. Swimming is also excellent exercise for the cardiovascular system.

There are a couple of things you should be sure to bear in mind when exercising and enjoying the water!

General information:

  • Swimming and wading are very strenuous activities for dogs. In both cases, I recommend starting with just a few minutes at a time and slowly building up, minute by minute. Even for a healthy dog, these movements are much more strenuous, so you should build up gradually.
  • When it comes to playing in the water, you should always be guided by your dog’s current condition. Just like people, dogs can’t perform exactly the same every day.
  • Dogs often do not know their own limits, and they are not rational. They can keep running or swimming even long past the point of exhaustion. Ideally, you should keep your dog from reaching that point at all. This requires close observation.  If you notice that your dog is slowing down and the movements seem strained, you should definitely call a halt. You should also try to develop a feel for this to keep the dog from reaching that point. Consequences include “limber tail” syndrome, which I will discuss later.

But these points are important, too:

  • The water should not be too cold. If it is, your dog’s muscles will contract and become stiff. If your dog is shivering, playing and exercising in the water won’t be any fun for him, either. Dogs feel just like people in that regard.
  • For younger and senior dogs, I would always recommend wading close to shore.
  • You should never force your dog to swim. Some dogs simply don’t like swimming, while some can panic when they no longer feel the ground beneath their feet. In those cases, wading is a better choice.
  • Wading is perfect if your canine companion can enter the water from a flat shore or beach.
  • You should avoid uncontrolled jumps into the water.
  • Eating is also taboo before wading and swimming, just like with any other physical activity. Exercise is less effective on a full stomach, but that isn’t all. It can even be harmful to your dog’s health – with consequences like gastric dilation volvulus or circulatory collapse.

There are certain additional factors to bear in mind with swimming in particular:

  • If your dog goes swimming and you wish to use it as an opportunity for training, you should equip the dog with either a life vest or a harness and a long leash like the flexi Giant.
  • If you go along into the water, too, you can steer your dog’s movements while swimming and set the pace.
  • Bodies of water with currents should be avoided. A dog cannot gauge whether he can cope with the current. He may swim out too far and be unable to fight the current.
  • Dogs with elbow or knee injuries or certain back problems should not swim. In these cases, you can go wading instead or seek professional advice for therapeutic swimming from a trusted canine physical therapist.

Special points for wading:

  • When it comes to wading, it’s best to start out in water up to your dog’s ankles and then move up to the knees and then hip-deep water.
  • When wading, use a harness and leash so you can set the pace and keep your dog’s movements fluid – this is the only way to ensure effective training.


When should a dog not go swimming or wading?

Dogs should avoid swimming and wading if they have a fever or infectious disease, open wound, inflammation or serious heart condition.

A health problem that often results from swimming: limber tail

Limber tail syndrome, or acute caudal myopathy, is a little-researched condition. Also known as swimmer’s tail, cold water tail, broken tail, dead tail, and by several other names, this condition frequently affects dogs that have swum a great deal or those who are not accustomed to swimming as much, which has caused excessive strain on the tail.

Since dogs mainly go swimming in the summer, limber tail is especially common during the warmer months. Dogs with limber tail are unable to move their tails, and they experience a lot of pain in the tail area. The whole tail is paralyzed.

Signs of limber tail

Dogs with limber tail have a distinctive tail posture. The tail is held horizontally at the base, with the rest of the tail hanging down vertically. Affected dogs also feel pain when sitting. They typically lean to one side to take pressure off the affected area. Defecating and urinating is also highly problematic due to the severe pain. The base of the tail is markedly swollen and highly sensitive to touch and may even be very painful. The pain caused by limber tail is often compared to lumbago, or low back pain, in humans. Anyone who has ever suffered this kind of pain will have an easier time identifying with the kind of pain their dog is suffering.

Causes of limber tail syndrome

Because research on this syndrome is scanty, the cause has not been conclusively identified. However, it is often associated with extensive swimming, or with swimming in cold water. Those are not the only causes, however. There have also been an increasing number of cases in dogs that had spent a long time sitting in a crate or car, with little freedom of movement. This leads to the suspicion that poor circulation or a sprain in the tail area might also cause limber tail.

Which kinds of dogs are affected?

Any canine companion can suffer from limber tail syndrome in principle. Male dogs are more often affected than female ones. It is especially common in Setters, Foxhounds, Beagles, Pointers, and Retrievers.

The condition occurs most often in the summer, and in many cases in dogs that enjoy swimming.

Is there any way to keep a dog from getting limber tail syndrome?

Limber tail syndrome is suspected to be less common in dogs that are well trained. In addition, you should make sure dogs always have enough room to move around, even on longer car rides or at other times when they are in a crate.

Treatment options

Limber tail syndrome is typically treated with anti-inflammatory pain medications. This offers rapid pain relief while also helping to ease inflammation.

Applying heat to the base of the tail and treatment from a physical therapist can also be helpful.

When treated quickly and appropriately, most furry friends will recover quickly and without lasting consequences.

Fun in the water: summary

Splashing around in the water is a lot of fun, but I always recommend that owners be a bit cautious and make sure their dogs don’t overextend themselves. Doing that will help prevent health problems like limber tail, so nothing can dampen your enjoyment of playing, swimming, and training in the water!


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