Pools Can Be Dangerous To Da Max

Dr. John Kaya
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Wednesday - December 09, 2009
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Swimming is definitely a necessary survival skill when you live on an island. Thinking back to my first swimming lessons, I fondly remember mastering bubble-blowing, then kicking with a kickboard and finally embarking on the most basic of strokes: the doggy paddle.

Who invented the doggy paddle?

According to certain resources, prehistoric cave paintings depict people doing the doggy paddle. What inspired people of ancient times to mimic the dog? For that matter, can all dogs swim?

The following story may shed some light on the easily mastered yet underappreciated doggy paddle.


It was a quiet summer’s day and our staff was just about ready to break for lunch. As we discussed possible locales for our discerning palates, an emergency burst through our doors. Max, a 1-year-old Jack Russell terrier, was playing in his yard and accidentally fell in the pool. The owner, Mr. Potts, said that at first he didn’t notice the incident but realized that Max was missing. Glancing into the pool, he saw Max lying at the bottom. He dove in, pulled Max from the pool floor and carried his little buddy poolside. Fortunately Max was still alive, but after a few moments, Mr. Potts realized that he had difficulty breathing and rushed him to our hospital.

We immediately assessed Max’s condition. He labored with each breath and his mucous membranes were not as pink as we like them to be. As the technicians prepared the oxygen cage, I tipped Max’s head down and elevated his rear. Soon a steady stream of pool water exited his mouth. With an added hopping motion, more water poured out and Max’s breathing slowly improved. We gave him medication to draw any remaining fluid from his chest and placed him in the oxygen chamber until his condition stabilized. He was sent home the next day, tail wagging, with antibiotics to prevent a secondary aspiration pneumonia.

Whew, that was a close call.

Many dogs know how to swim, but unfortunately a few lack that natural instinct. Since Max’s accident I’ve spoken to several other owners who told me their dogs couldn’t swim. One owner said his dog enjoyed the beach and would run into the crashing waves only to continue running along the sandy ocean floor. The owner would jump in, rescue his dog and bring him back on shore, only to see his dog run back into the ocean. After a few moments, he would dive in and rescue his dog yet again.

That’s dedication for you. As caretakers of our pets, we need to be aware of our critters’ limitations. Don’t assume anything. The wild side would be a safer place if we were all a bit more careful.

Pet tips:

1) Think about water safety when introducing your dog to the beach or pool.

2) Even if your dog can swim, make sure he/she knows how to get to the shallow portion of the pool to avoid overexertion and possible drowning.

Dr. John Kaya is a veterinarian at VCA University Animal Hospital.

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