RVing with Dogs – Safe Swimming in Lakes, Rivers, and Oceans

Swimming is a fun way for your dog to get great exercise. We love taking our dogs’ swimming during the hot summer months! They’ve enjoyed trips to lakes and rivers as well as the beach and always enjoy swimming. Well, at least Sierra enjoys swimming. Ruby isn’t much of a swimmer, but more of a belly wader. Sierra knows that nothing’s better on a hot day than a dip in some nice cool water.

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First determine if a lake is dog-friendly

Just do a quick search for lakes for dogs near you. Many are except for designated swimming areas with beaches and lifeguards. Then you’re ready to go, but check our dog swimming safety tips first

Does your dog know how to swim?

It’s a good idea to get your dog used to the water at an early age, since not every dog naturally knows how to swim. Dogs need to learn to swim just like humans do. Although your pooch will likely be doing laps in far less time than it took you, making your dog feel comfortable in the water is an important step that you should not skip over. You can help your pup get comfortable with the water by introducing them to it early.

Beware of stagnant water

As water flows slowly late in the summer, rivers, and lakes can become stagnant…and dangerous. Among other dangers, warm weather always brings a rise in the risk of encountering brain-eating amoeba most often found in hot, stagnant water. Avoid small bodies of water that are not moving.

Harmful Algal Blooms

If you’re not familiar with harmful algal blooms (HABs) and your dog spends any time in the water or you do, please take note of these and learn to recognize and avoid them. Harmful algal blooms can be green, blue, red, or brown. They can be scummy or look like paint on the surface of the water. We saw some water that looked like green paint when staying at Maumee Bay State Park on Lake Erie in Ohio. It definitely made us not want to go in the water.

Algal blooms can be toxic. Keep people and pets away from water that is green, scummy, or smells bad.

  • Red tides are overgrowths of particular types of algae that occur in oceans, bays, and estuaries that give the water a characteristic red color. These HABs can be extremely deadly and debilitating when they’re highly concentrated. The toxins released can even be present in the air when a red tide is bad. Learn more about red tides.
  • Blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria overgrowths, often impart a blueish-green hue to affected water, but not always. They mostly occur in still water like lakes, reservoirs, ponds, and canals. The toxins associated with blue-green algal overgrowths can cause everything ranging from mild skin irritation to severe liver failure. Learn more about blue-green algae.

Rip Currents

Rip currents are powerful and dangerous currents of water that run perpendicular to and away from shore. They have carried both pets and people out to sea, some with tragic results. Contrary to what some people may believe, rip currents don’t just happen in the ocean. They can occur in any body of water with breaking waves – so not just oceans, but even larger lakes, like the Great Lakes. Be careful and learn how to recognize and escape rip currents, as warning signs aren’t always posted.

Please know that dogs caught in rip currents often survive them just fine. They just seem to have an innate knowledge of how to get out of them … or perhaps it’s their strong swimming abilities or calmness and lack of panic that lets them ride it out and then return to shore. What has sadly happened on more than a few occasions though is that a dog’s person jumps in to try to save them from the rip current, only succumbing to the rip current themselves while their dog rides it out and calmly exits.

Watching as a beloved dog is swept out to sea is heart-wrenching. Doing nothing seems unthinkable. But experts say that is exactly what a dog owner should do – nothing! The U.S. Coast Guard advises swimmers not to attempt to rescue their dogs who get swept away into the surf. Experts say the average dog is a better swimmer than the average human.

Consider a life jacket.

Dog life jackets are a must for boating dogs but they’re also recommended if your dog is an unsure swimmer. Plus your dog will just be so cute in it! Sierra and Ruby have life jackets we use when kayaking or going for a long swim.

Don’t Let Your Dog Drink from Lakes, Rivers, Ponds, or Oceans

Whenever you take your dog swimming be sure to bring plenty of fresh water to keep them hydrated. Yes, your dog will want to drink lake or river water but he’s safer drinking water that you bring from home. Lakes, ponds, swamps, and rivers are contaminated with organisms that can be harmful to your dog. In mild cases, these organisms can lead to diarrhea, but in severe cases, they can be fatal.

Drinking from the ocean can make your dog extremely sick. Salt water has an osmotic effect, pulling liquid into your dog’s intestines. This can cause diarrhea and vomiting, both of which can lead to dehydration (often called ‘beach diarrhea‘).

Unlike normal diarrhea, beach diarrhea is severe and comes on fast, and it causes dogs to dehydrate quickly. If dogs ingest enough salt water they can suffer serious kidney damage which can be fatal.

To reduce the risk of your dog getting sick be sure to bring along plenty of fresh water when you take your dog swimming. Keep a close eye on your dog and call them over if you see them start to drink from the ocean.

Take a break

Sierra will swim and fetch a ball or stick all day if we let her. After swimming for a bit we have to force her to take a break and catch her breath. This is another reason we bought her a life jacket.

Watch for glass and metal

Just as our feet do when they’re wet for an extended period, dog paws get soft when they’re swimming–making them even more susceptible to getting cut by broken glass and metal.

Carry a first-aid kit

Accidents happen, whether it’s a cut or a thorn in a paw, keeping a pet first aid kit on hand can save the day.

Wash Your Dog After Swimming

Wash or at least rinse your dog after a swim to help get rid of any bacteria that collected on their fur. If your dog isn’t cleaned off after swimming they’re going to be ingesting any nasty stuff they may have picked up when they groom themselves. Bathing will also help get rid of any chemicals that may have built up on his fur, and it will help alleviate any itchiness caused by sand or debris.

Clean your dog’s ears after a swim

Moisture in a dog’s ear can set the ideal stage for an ear infection, so make sure to clean your pooch’s ears thoroughly after each romp in the water. Ocean and lake water can set up nasty bacterial infections rapidly which can eat through your dog’s eardrum, giving an ear infection a whole new meaning—one you don’t want to learn firsthand. Ask your vet for an ear-cleaning demonstration.

Watch Your Dog for Signs of Illness

There are a few parasites that can transmit waterborne diseases to our dogs, and they’re impossible to spot with the naked eye.

After taking your dog swimming watch for symptoms of illness including diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, decrease in appetite, and fever. If your dog shows any signs of illness take your dog to the vet for the correct diagnosis and treatment. Some waterborne illnesses are fatal if left untreated.


Go out and have some fun adventures with your dog this summer. Take them to the lake, river, beach, or your local dog-friendly pool. Swimming is a great exercise for dogs, and it’s the perfect way to keep cool on those hot summer days. Just keep these tips in mind to help keep them safe.

Thank you for reading our dog swimming safety tips. Does your dog love to swim? Do you have any questions or comments? Please let us know below.

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