What’s the oddest newsletter you subscribe to? Mine is the Toxic Times.
This jolly publication from the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS) is a roundup of the poisoning cases they’ve dealt with in recent weeks. As a vet, this makes for fascinating reading. And as a human of a nosy dog who gobbles garbage, it’s often a case of “There but for the grace of God…”
With a much anticipated trip to the seaside looming, it was sobering to read the Toxic Times warnings about beach hazards. Of course, I was aware of salt-water poisoning but hadn’t spared it much thought. Until now.
Here are just some of the hazards that can befall the unsuspecting pup at the beach.
It’s a blisteringly hot summer’s day, and your dog is overheated. The perfect solution is a plunge in the ocean. But be careful…
The dog who swims or plays catch in the surf can swallow a significant amount of seawater. This salty water contains high levels of sodium chloride. The latter is an electrolyte destroys the delicate salt balance in body tissue.
The immediate effects include vomiting, which is Mother Nature’s way of getting rid of the problem. However, in some cases, sodium still makes it into the bloodstream and draws water into the delicate tissue of the brain. The results are:
- Rigid muscles
- Kidney failure
- Coma and death
Of 20 recent cases that the VPIS helped, 4 died.
So what do you do if you suspect your dog has drunk seawater? Here are 2 biggies:
- Offer fresh water to drink, little and often
- Get to a vet, even if the dog seems fine.
Typically, the neurological signs don’t develop for a couple of hours. The risk is you think you’ve gotten away with it, but the dog becomes severely ill a while later. Only prompt, early treatment by the vet can prevent this.
2. Palm Oil Pollution
Palm oil is used in the manufacture of foodstuffs. It can legally be dumped at sea by ships, where it enters the ocean and gets washed up on beaches.
Imagine a Labrador bouncing across an unexpected harvest of fatty white stuff and they’re going to scarf it down. Unfortunately, this edible sea bounty is anything but harmless because it makes dogs ill.
Small quantities of pure palm oil are likely to make the dog vomit and have diarrhea. The VPIS recorded cases that led to severe dehydration, requiring intravenous fluids to restore dogs to health.
But the hazards don’t end there. Palm oil is a solid fat, and as such it’s like touching a lighted match to a fuse for those dogs who are prone to pancreatitis. Scavenging some palm oil could trigger a serious bout of illness, requiring hospitalization.
And there’s still more. The solid lumps of palm oil can stick together inside the gut and cause a blockage. These dogs vomit and can’t keep food down. Prompt diagnosis and surgery is essential if they are to recover.
Certain common species of jellyfish can still sting, even weeks after their death. It only takes a curious dog, using their nose to nudge a washed-up jellyfish, and they could get significant stings.
With dogs, the areas most at risk are the nose and mouth (for obvious reasons), paws and areas with little fur to protect them.
Signs of jellyfish stings often start immediately and include:
- Drooling saliva
- An irritated mouth
- Pain and distress
- Raised body temperature
- Muscular twitches
- Breathing difficulties
In non-tropical areas, if you spot your dog has been stung, carefully wash the area repeatedly with seawater (or drinking water for the mouth). Where possible, remove the stings, but avoid rubbing the area, and be especially careful not to rub sand into the skin.
In tropical areas, rinse the area with vinegar, although the chances of having vinegar on the beach are slim. Other treatments include antihistamines, pain relief and sometimes steroids are necessary to stop the swelling.
Take a dog’s-eye view of a dip in the sea:
Be sensible, and your dog will have a whale of a time on the beach.
Be cautious about heat – both on the paws and also from overheating. Don’t forget the 5-second rule: If the sand is too hot to hold your hand on the ground for 5 seconds, then it’s too hot for your dog to stand on.
That said, enjoy your summer! Have a blast on the beach — just be careful.
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This pet health content was written by a veterinarian, Dr. Pippa Elliott, BVMS, MRCVS. It was last reviewed July 28, 2017.