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First Aid for Pet Drowning

by | Jun 21, 2023 | Cat Behavior & Care, Dog Training & Care | 2 comments

Swimming comes naturally to most animals, but pet drowning happens just as easily. Hot weather prompts pets and other animals to seek water to cool off. Many puppies leap before they look, or simply fall into the swimming pool, hot tub or break through ice on the lake and can’t get out. Despite instinctive dog paddling, pets drown if they can’t climb out and get too tired to float. Learn how to treat dog drowning and save pet drowning victims.

pet drowning

High Risk Pets

Some breeds adore the water, (even cats like Turkish Vans) but others have a hard time staying afloat. For instance, Labrador Retrievers especially love the water. Breeds with heavy coats such as Collies become waterlogged and dislike puddle jumping. Heavy-bodied breeds like Bulldogs have trouble staying afloat and actually could sink, while tiny pets like kittens have trouble to get out of the pool.

All pets are at risk, but especially small breeds, puppies, and cats are most prone to pet drowning. Their inexperience, curiosity and fearlessness prompt them to explore, but they may not climb out of even small bodies of water. The steep sides of backyard pools and hot tubs prove dangerous during the summer.

Wintertime risks happen when the pet walks out onto the ice-covered pond or river and falls through. A puppy’s light weight means he can travel far away from the bank before the ice cracks, and you won’t be able to reach him for rescue.

Water Safety for Swimming

Most backyard pools have steps to get out along with a shallow end. Teach your pets how to find these easy exits. For instance, place a large visual marker, such as a planter near the shallow end or steps. Then when King does his doggy dive, have him paddle toward the planter to show him the steps. Praise him when he finds the way out. Never leave pets unsupervised around the pool.

Does your pup enjoy boat rides at the lake? Camping and spending time with furry friends on the water can be loads of fun, but pets easily lose their footing on slick decks. A dog that pinwheels off the boat racing at forty miles-per-hour needs lots of luck to survive and swim to shore. Even if he manages the trek, he may become lost on the beach, so identification tags and microchips are a must before such adventures.

Provide double-sided rubber mats on boat decks for more secure pet footing. A halter and tether also helps keep pups secure on board. If your furry friends absolutely must go with you on the boat, provide safety life vests for pets. Learn more about water safety and helpful products in this post. 

First Aid for Pet Drowning

    1. If the worst happens, and you find your pup floating and not breathing, minutes count. Sometimes it’s not obvious the dog has drowned if you find him drifted onto the shore, so check the rims of the eyes or gums. Lack of oxygen turns these tissues blue or gray instead of the normal pink.
    2. Before administering first aid, get your pet out of the water, but keep yourself safe. Unless water is very shallow, don’t get in the water yourself. Stay calm and find a pool skimmer, rake, fishing pole or other long reaching device to hook the collar and fish your pet out of the wet.
    3. For small pets like cats, puppies, and toy breeds, hold him upside down by the hind legs or hips and give him a good shake to help drain water from the lungs.
    4. If he’s too big to pick up, place him on his side with his head lower than his tail. Put the heel of your hand in the dip behind the last set of ribs, and thrust up toward his head three or four times in a modified Heimlich maneuver. Wait a couple of seconds to watch for water to come out and repeat one more time to expel the water. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed to jump-start the breathing.
    5. Water absorbs quickly in the lungs, though. If nothing comes out, don’t continue the maneuver. Some pets experience “dry drowning” when fear or cold temperatures cause the airway into the lungs to spasm. Even with no water in the lungs, the pet still can’t breathe.
    6. When the heart has stopped, it’s very difficult to get it going again without specialized veterinary equipment. But you can save your puppy’s life with rescue breathing.

See the Vet for Pet Drowning

Even when you’re able to resuscitate your pet at home, it’s a good idea to have the veterinarian examine your pet after a near drowning. Pets that fell in the water, especially during winter weather, can develop hypothermia—body temperature below normal. They may need help to re-warm.

Please pet-proof pools and other water adventures to prevent tragedies all year round. Supervise your water-babies so cooling off during the summer stays safe and wintertime play won’t be risky business. Water games should be fun for the entire family. Oh, and get a first aid book!

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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!


  1. Frank Steele

    Every week I spend so much time saying to myself, “Really? I had no idea.” I learn more every wee’.

    • Amy Shojai

      Oh good! That’s the point.


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