Dry drowning / secondary drowning in dogs – every owner should be aware

Have you ever heard of dry drowning? Most people haven’t, but it is a very real danger. You have to keep an eye out for, especially living near the coast, or any other water. It is a potential danger for both dogs and humans.

Quite simply put, inhaling water while swimming causes excess fluid to build up in the lungs, making breathing hard. This can “drown” you or your dog hours or even days after swimming.
Your dog will act like a drunk human if dry drowning does start to occur. Vomiting with slowed and dazed movements are things you are most likely to notice. Difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, skin and gums may change colour to blue / grey, drooling and coughing, signs of shock and cold extremities are other things to keep an eye out for. If you see any of these or are in the least concerned, contact your vet immediately.

The vet will carry out relevant tests to check your dog’s condition, and will treat accordingly. This will often include keeping them in for observation. Watch them while they’re swimming. If they seem to be taking in a lot of water, take a break and stop throwing the stick or toy. Trying to pick something up from the water can cause them to ingest water without us realising. Puppies and older dogs need more breaks when swimming.

Don’t encourage diving for toys under the water. Dogs open their mouths wide to pick up whatever they’re after, and chances are if they’re in the water, they’ll be getting a little of that too. If you are playing fetch in the water, pick floating toys, ideally those that are flat rather than round, will help keep your dog from opening its mouth so wide and therefore reduce the amount of water being gulped down.

If you do suspect your dog is suffering from water intoxication, take them immediately to the vet. Dry drowning can occur in either fresh or salt water. Salt water and fresh water near-drowning vary in how they affect the lungs. Because of its high sodium content, salt water draws water from the bloodstream into the airways effectively flooding the airways. Fresh water inactivates a substance called surfactant, which is manufactured by the lungs and functions to keep the lungs from collapsing. Without surfactant, the airways collapse (atelectasis). Therefore, the main feature of salt water drowning is pulmonary edema (fluid in the airways) and the main feature of fresh water drowning is atelectasis (collapse of airways).

When your dog comes to us for hydrotherapy, we always try to ensure that that it does not ingest water, but we like you to be aware of the signs in case they have problems either after they have been here, or after they have been having fun in water with you.

We hope that if you know what to look for, neither you nor dog will ever have a problem.

Dry drowning can also occur in humans.