Is too much saltwater bad for dogs?
Who doesn’t love a day at the beach with their dog, especially when we have some of the most stunning beaches in Hawaii?
But did you know seawater can have harmful effects on your dog?
Saltwater Poisoning is something many dog owners are unaware of until it becomes too late for their four-legged family members.
As a dog mom and a pet first aid instructor with an added certification in pet safety, it’s essential to bring awareness to dog parents of the dangers the ocean can have on their pups.
In this post, you will learn about saltwater poisoning in dogs, the adverse effects of saltwater in dogs, the signs of saltwater poisoning in dogs, what to do if your dog has saltwater poisoning, and how to prevent saltwater poisoning for your dog.
This blog is about saltwater poisoning in dogs.
Why is saltwater bad for dogs.
What is saltwater poisoning?
Saltwater poisoning is high sodium levels in the blood, which draws water out of the cells.
The water from the ocean contains a high level of sodium chloride that disrupts the balance of fluids in your dog’s body and draws water from the blood in your dog’s body and into your dog’s intestines.
Saltwater poisoning is extremely common in dogs, especially when pet parents make frequent visits to the beach with their dogs.
What happens when a dog drinks too much saltwater?
When a dog ingests too much saltwater, the excessive amount of salt (known as Hypernatremia) begins to build up and throws off the fluid balance in a dog’s body.
The cells in the dog’s body begin to release water to try and balance out the high salt concentration in the dog’s system.
The excessive sodium build-up causes your dog to lose brain cells, triggering seizures and severely dehydrating your dog.
Additionally, a dog may experience health problems, including but not limited to vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, kidney damage, brain swelling, and even death.
Dogs with high salt concentration and toxic levels of sodium in their system are known to have a 50% mortality rate, and their death occurs regardless of professional veterinary medical intervention and treatment.
How do dogs get saltwater poisoning?
The most common ways a dog can get saltwater poisoning is by purposely drinking it, intaking saltwater from splashing around, swimming, or retrieving toys from the ocean, and ingesting saltwater from saltwater-soaked tennis balls or absorbent dog toys.
Dog toys that can absorb saltwater or are large enough to hold a dog’s mouth open have enough sea salt (aka sodium chloride) to start to cause problems for a dog.
Common side effects of drinking saltwater in dogs.
Any dog who has ingested a small amount of saltwater commonly experiences “beach diarrhea.”
Beach diarrhea isn’t like regular diarrhea your dog can get from eating something that didn’t agree with them.
Beach diarrhea is extremely liquidy (kind of like water), can sometimes contain blood and/or mucous, and is known to be projectile, meaning just shooting out of your dog’s bum. So gross (yuck).
This type of diarrhea occurs when saltwater pulls fluid from intestinal tissue (known as the Osmotic Effect) and can happen pretty quickly in dogs.
Beach diarrhea isn’t fatal on its own and typically will go away after a while. However, it should never be dismissed or ignored as any form of diarrhea can easily lead to additional medical problems.
If your dog begins to experience beach diarrhea, it is recommended to remove your dog from any further access to saltwater and stop any ocean playtime.
In addition to beach diarrhea, dogs are also known to experience additional GI upset symptoms, like vomiting, due to ingesting sand with the saltwater and microorganisms, bacteria, algea, and toxins that may be in the saltwater.
If this form of diarrhea does not go away and your dog begins to experience lethargy, does not want to eat, or displays additional symptoms, you need to take your dog to the vet ASAP.
Symptoms of saltwater poisoning in dogs.
Signs and symptoms of saltwater toxicity include but are not limited to:
- Excessive thirst and/or urination
- Increased heart rate
- Muscle tremors
- Lack or loss of appetite
- Odd behavior
- Seizure and/or convulsions
- Loss of coordination
It’s important to note that the dangerous effects of saltwater poisoning can take time before they are noticed in your dog and can often be overlooked or dismissed if you don’t know what to look for.
If you suspect your dog is suffering from saltwater poisoning, stop whatever you are doing and get your dog to their vet or the nearest emergency veterinary hospital as soon as possible.
Delayed actions in getting your dog help or if the condition is left untreated can lead to kidney damage, coma, brain damage, and even death.
The toxic levels of sodium in your dog’s body significantly affects a dog’s brain, and by the time most dog parents decide to get off their ass and seek veterinary help, it is often too late for their dog.
How to prevent saltwater poisoning in dogs.
The first thing you can do as a dog parent is to stop your dog from drinking saltwater when you see them and remove them from the salty water source.
To prevent your dog from ingesting large amounts of saltwater and sodium reaching toxic levels in their system, experts recommend taking frequent breaks (approximately 15-minute intervals) from ocean playtime or swimming.
Take a break and relax with your dog in the shade or provide shade for your dog if you still want to soak up the sun, offer your dog fresh, clean water to drink, and monitor your dog for any signs of saltwater poisoning.
Make sure to have a good amount of fresh water on hand to last the duration of your time at the beach.
Fresh, clean water helps dilute any excess salt in your dog’s blood, and your dog will cleanse their body each time they urinate.
Carry a separate water supply for your dog in a large water bottle, and be sure to bring a water bowl for your dog to drink from.
Canadian based company Asobu has large water bottles with attached water bowls for any beach day outing or to take anywhere for your dog.
Take caution not to let your dog drink too much fresh water and to drink too fast.
Drinking too much fresh water too quickly can drop normal salt levels in your dog’s system and create a new problem.
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Saltwater poisoning in dogs home treatment.
When you get home, monitor your dog for any signs or symptoms of saltwater poisoning.
If your dog has been vomiting or experiencing beach diarrhea, place your dog in an area where your dog can try to relax and recoup.
Keep offering small amounts of fresh water about every 30 minutes, even if your dog continues to vomit or has bouts of diarrhea.
They need the water to help replace fluids your dog has lost during vomiting or through diarrhea.
If your dog hasn’t vomited within two hours, mix a half amount of water and a half amount of apple juice (make sure there is no xylitol in the apple juice ingredients) and offer a small amount of the mixture for your dog to drink.
The idea behind this slightly sugary mix hack is to help restore electrolyte balance in your dog’s system.
If your dog is experiencing beach diarrhea, try to avoid feeding their regular diet for no more than 24 hours after their last bout of vomiting and diarrhea.
Experts recommend providing small amounts of bland food diet instead until all GI upset resides and your dog is feeling better with no additional vomiting and regular bowel movements.
Plain steamed rice and boiled chicken is the typical go-to bland diet recommendation for dogs experiencing GI upset.
Suppose you don’t feel like going grocery shopping or are not into cooking. In that case, pet industry companies like Grandma Lucy’s and Under the Weather have great alternatives and food resources for dogs.
Under the Weather’s Bland Diet Formula is designed to help any dog experiencing digestive upset and is enhanced with electrolytes to boost hydration.
Under the Weather’s Bland Diets come in six different options for pet parents to choose from for their dogs.
Unfortunately, Under the Weather does not ship directly to Hawai’i, but you can easily purchase Under the Weather products on Amazon.
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Grandma Lucy’s Simple Replacement meals are highly digestible meals to help any dog with an upset stomach.
Grandma Lucy’s replacement meals are a digestible energy source with no by-products or preservatives and come in three replacement meal flavors for pet parents to choose from.
You can purchase Grandma Lucy’s at any local pet business that sells the brand or online from Grandma Lucy’s.
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Both brand bland diets are freeze-dried and come in small packs, which is excellent for storing and keeping a bag or two on hand when needed.
Veterinary medical treatment for saltwater poisoning in dogs.
Believe it or not, there is no precise textbook treatment for dogs suffering from saltwater toxicity, but taking immediate action can mean the difference between saving your dog’s life or losing them forever.
If your dog is experiencing multiple signs of saltwater poisoning, it’s imperative to get them veterinary medical help immediately.
Veterinary staff will try to restore the water and electrolyte balance to normal levels in your dog’s system.
IV fluids will be used to try to flush the excess amount of salt out of your dog’s system.
The veterinary staff will closely monitor electrolyte levels, control any seizure activity, treat for brain swelling, and provide additional supportive care your dog may need.
A dog who receives prompt veterinary medical care for saltwater poisoning should recover within two to three days.
My husband and I once took our dogs to the beach a long time ago, and both my dogs experienced beach diarrhea after drinking some of the saltwater.
Luckily, their symptoms subsided after some quiet time at home, and they never displayed any signs requiring us to rush them to the vet.
The next time you take your pup out for a beach day, be sure to bring fresh water for your dog, take frequent breaks, and keep a close eye for any warning signs of saltwater poisoning.
Be sure to spread the word and educate friends, family, and fellow dog parents about the dangers of saltwater toxicity in dogs and help dogs have a safe day at the beach.