Beach Safety Tips for Dogs

During the summer, many people take their dogs to the beach. Swimming provides a wonderful low impact form of exercise that is also a great cardiovascular workout. The cool water even provides relief for dogs with osteoarthritis.


Here are my tips for keeping your dog safe at the beach:

1) Check the water – Unfortunately, there can be dangers hiding in the water. Strong currents, alligators and sharks kill dogs and humans each year. My friend was at a beach in Alabama when she spotted a miniature poodle swimming in an area known for gators. She told the owner about the danger before continuing her walk. When she returned, the owner was sitting on the beach alone. Her dog had vanished below the water!

2) Bring fresh water for your pet to drink – If dogs drink a lot of salt water, they can develop salt toxicity. Signs of toxicity include vomiting, diarrhea and dehydration. If not treated immediately, the condition can progress to ataxia (looks like the dog is drunk), depression, seizures and death. I recommend offering fresh water every 30 minutes to prevent this.

3) Watch for signs of heat exhaustion – What feels great for us in a bathing suite may be too warm for a dog with a fur coat. Go to the beach at sunrise or sunset for cooler temperatures. For trips during the heat of the day, bring a shade umbrella. Watch dogs closely for the early signs of heat exhaustion which include excessive panting, salivating,  and/or a slight lavender color to the tongue. At the first sign of trouble, spray them down with cool (not cold) water and place in air conditioning. Be especially careful with brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs, boxers, Shih Tzus and pugs who are prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke because of their unique airway structure.

4) Apply sunscreen to pink colored skin – Dogs suffer from sunburn and skin cancer just like people. The pink skin under white fur is especially sensitive to burns. Use a sunscreen that is safe for pets like Epi-pet which is FDA approved for dogs.

5) Check out the sand before letting your dog off lead – Over the years, I have treated dogs for pad lacerations from broken glass. I have also removed fish hooks and shell fragments from wounds.

6) Sand fleas – In the U.S., the term ‘sand fleas’ is often used to describe the bite of a small crustacean, Orchestia agilis, that eats the skin of animals. It is not an insect, so the common flea preventatives to do not work. There is a true sand flea, Tunga spp, found in tropical and subtropical areas that will bite humans and animals.

7) Avoid stagnant water – Blue- green algae (cyanobacteria) is very toxic to dogs. It can affect their skin, gastrointestinal system, liver and central nervous system causing death in a little as 15 minutes. Rinse exposed animals in fresh water and seek veterinary help immediately.

Lab at beach

Remember to respect the wild animals that live on the beach. Watch dogs closely to make sure they don’t harass nesting birds or beach seals.


-Mayo, I et al, ‘Hyperthermia (Heat Stroke, Heat Prostration), Client Education: First Aid, VIN, Pub Dec. 31, 1994, revised June 2, 2015     -Pampiglione, S et al. ‘Sand flea (Tunga spp) infections in humans and domestic animals: state of art.’ MEDICAL & VETERINARY ENTOMOLOGY, Sept. 2009 Vol, 23, issue 3:172-186. -

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.

2 replies on “Beach Safety Tips for Dogs”

    1. Hello Mark,

      Since sand fleas aren’t insets, we don’t have a great way to prevent them. Look closely to make sure your pet isn’t getting bit from regular fleas that happen to be at the beach. Here’s a link that may help you identify them If you determine the bites are caused by fleas, then most of the flea preventatives should work. Hope that helps.

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