Love Your Dog, Love Your Beach

 In OBX Pets & Wildlife, Safety


A beach vacation can be almost as much fun for dogs as it is for their human companions. Many dogs love the beach. Different smells and different activities are exciting and stimulating, and all the extra time with their human family makes them extra happy.  But hazards lurk at the beach for our canine friends, especially if they’re more used to the city or the suburbs, or if they typically lead a sedentary life.  The Outer Banks is a dog-loving place. Here are things that Outer Banks dog lovers know about keeping their beloved four-legged friends safe, happy, and healthy in the summer. Click here for OBX Leash Laws.

Watch out for that sand! 

Dog-DiggingWe humans wear flip-flops at the beach for a reason: sand can be hotter than hell! Don’t forget that it can burn your dog’s paws, too. Even dogs who are beach pros can be very uncomfortable walking on hot sand mid-day. If your dog is limping or refusing to walk after a visit to the beach, check his or her pads to see if the skin looks very dark, blistered, or raw. In order to prevent infection and relieve a very painful condition, a visit to the vet is necessary. It’s best to go to the beach with your dog in the morning or late afternoon. Save the middle of the day for a walk in our maritime forests or grassy parks. For those days when you can’t avoid those hot surfaces with your dog, have some Velcro dog booties handy to cover the paws – if your dog will put up with them!

Also, be alert that your dog does not consume too much sand. It’s inevitable that dogs will swallow sand when they’re playing, especially if they are cavorting with toys that roll around on the beach. Dogs also love to dig in sand, and use their snouts to follow the creatures they smell as they’re digging. But sometimes ingestion of too much sand can be dangerous.

“It can cause complete impaction,” warns Dr. Mark Grossman, a veterinarian at Roanoke Island Animal Clinic in Manteo.

A little bit of sand probably will not hurt a dog, but always be on the lookout for lack of appetite, bloody diarrhea and/or vomiting, which requires a visit to the vet. Depending on the severity, a vet can help the dog pass the sand, but other times it may require surgery.

“It can end up being like a brick in their bowel.” There’s no easy answer for what amount of sand is safe, he said, but the less the better. “I would keep a close eye on them,” he said, “just like you would with a 2-year-old child.”

Dog-DrinkingWatch out for the water!

Drinking saltwater can make dogs sick. Grossman explained that saltwater toxicity ranges from mild digestive upset to severe dehydration. The salt literally sucks the water out of the dog’s digestive system. The smaller the dog, and the more saltwater a dog drinks, the worse the symptoms will be: projectile vomiting and propulsive, possibly bloody, diarrhea.

A couple of laps of water will probably not hurt, Grossman said, but a dog cannot be allowed to drink freely from the ocean or the sound, which is brackish, not fresh, water. Most local dogs somehow know that the ocean and sound waters are bad for them.

“A dog visiting for the first time may not be used to it,” Grossman said. “Some dogs get it right away. It seems like dogs that live here get it.” Believe it or not, dog drownings are rare. “Dogs are pretty good swimmers,” he added.

A dog can be given CPR if it stops breathing and the heart stops from an accident or some sort of shock. The risk is that sometimes the animal could have something caught in its trachea that is not discernible. In an emergency, Grossman said to remember the ABC’s of CPR: Airway, Breathing and Circulation. Chest compression, with the dog lying on its side, should be about two per second.

To breathe for the dog, hold its mouth closed and breathe into their nostrils in a series of breaths for about three seconds each. Check to see if the lungs are inflating. Obviously, a vet should be called as soon as possible.

Dog_Vet2Watch the sun!

Dogs can get sunburn, especially on their ear tips. Certain white-haired dogs are especially prone to sunburn. Grossman said the most vulnerable dogs –light skinned, or with little or no hair – should not be allowed in the sun, period. For other dogs, owners should cover the tips of their ears, backs of their legs and the top of their muzzle with baby sunblock.

At the beach, dogs need shelter from the sun under an umbrella or beach tent. Dogs seem to know this next trick instinctively and will happily assist you: make the perfect dog bed by digging away a few layers of sand to get to a cooler, damp layer of sand beneath. Of course, fresh water should always be available. Dogs cool down almost entirely by panting, and fresh cool water is essential to keep their temperature balanced.

Watch the heat!

Dogs can easily get overheated running around on the beach if they are overweight, out of shape, or even if it’s just hot, sunny and humid. Short-snouted breeds such as boxers, bulldogs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus and pugs can get overheated more readily.

Monitor signs of overheating, including rapid panting and excessive drooling; vomiting and/or diarrhea; sudden clumsiness; collapse or loss of consciousness.

No matter the breed, dogs should never, ever be left in a vehicle during our warm summer days. Even on a cool day, there must be plenty of air circulation and the vehicle should be in the shade. On a typical 85 degree day, the temperature inside a parked car (with cracked windows) can reach between 100 and 120 degrees in just 10 minutes.

If a dog shows signs of overheating, quickly wash the dog down with water and immediately bring the animal to a vet. Dogs can be also cooled down too much and too quickly, so it is essential that the dog is seen promptly by an animal doctor.

Watch out for stinging, biting, sharp and poisonous hazards!

■ Fish hooks are painful pitfalls of playing in the surf for dogs. Grossman said the hooks get imbedded in dogs’ mouths just like they would that of a fish – through and through. And they’re hard to get out, making surgery a necessity.

■ Sand spurs can often cause your dog to start limping when they’re caught between their toes, but they can be easily picked out. It’s much worse when they get stuck in a dog’s mouth. If your dog suddenly stops eating, check its mouth first. Grossman said he has seen spurs imbedded under a dog’s tongue.

■ Three poisonous snakes live on the Outer Banks: the cottonmouth, the rattler and the copperhead. Grossman explained that a dog, startled by a snake, will look right at it, and immediately get struck in the face. Fortunately, if taken to a vet right away, it will have a good chance of surviving. “Dogs are tougher than us,” Grossman laughed.

■ Jellyfish bother humans much more than dogs, Grossman said. They usually don’t create discomfort in dogs, he said, but some will show sensitivity to jellyfish in their mouths.

■ The oleander plant is very toxic to dogs. Chocolate, raisins and grapes are also toxic to dogs and can create kidney damage. And lilies are very toxic to cats. Grossman added that prescription drugs are dangerous to pets, too. “And keep your marijuana locked up,” Grossman advised.

Grossman reminded every pet owner to keep a bottle of hydrogen peroxide available. It can be used as a remedy to force their pet to vomit if it consumes a toxic plant or product. And just in case, make sure you write down the name and phone number of the veterinarian closest to your vacation home and post it on the refrigerator.

Dog_VetDon’t lose your pet!

Every summer, owners and their pets get separated from each other, sometimes with sad results. Erin Hutchko, C.P.D.T. and owner of Naked Dog Company recounts a tale about vacationers who travelled from Richmond last year with their standard poodle who was a regular to the Outer Banks. When they made a stop at Wal-Mart, a loud construction noise spooked the pet who hopped out of the car and ran away. No amount of calling or chasing was able to retrieve her; in fact, those gestures made the dog retreat even more. The family had to return to their Virginia home and spent the next two weeks using social media to send and receive updates about sightings. Hutchko said it was the leash that was still attached after two weeks that enabled her to catch the poodle. Instead of calling to her, she used her dog training wiles (and some pungent cat food) to sit down in the dog’s presence without calling her name or making eye contact. Hutchko said, “The minute she realized I was holding onto the other end of the leash, she panicked.” The happy ending is that dog and owners were reunited.

Try Daycare!

Consider a doggie daycare when your outings are going to be too long or too hot for Fido to enjoy. Hutchko said “people use daycare for exercise and to expel all that energy.” She added “if you’re going on an all-day fishing trip, pets need potty breaks. It’s good to have another option because you don’t want a dog on the beach all day.” ■

Catherine Kozak, a Nags Head resident, has been writing about the Outer Banks since 1995. She loves to take her little mutt, Rosie, to the beach when the weather is cool to let her romp with other canine locals.

  • Robin Adams

    Hi, I want to take my husky to the beach and let him run because he loves it so much. However when we went last summer he drank salt water and got diarrhea really bad. My question is this: what if I muzzled him so he couldn’t drink the ocean water and removed it every 20 minutes to give him fresh water?

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