By Selena Garrison

Growing up close to the beach, one of my favorite things to do early in the day was to sit and watch all the surfers who were riding with their dogs on their boards. As someone who could never even get myself up on a surfboard, I was so fascinated by them. I was so used to seeing dogs at the beach and with people on their boats, that it never even crossed my mind that the ocean water could be dangerous to them. The truth, though, is that saltwater poisoning is a very real threat to our precious pets. According to Dr. Jennifer Breder Pruitt, Associate Veterinarian at Airport Road Animal Clinic, saltwater poisoning occurs when too much salt builds up in a dog’s body, causing the cells to release their water content in an attempt to balance out the sodium. (The opposite is true when they drink too much fresh water on a hot day, driving salt out of the cells and leading to dangerously low levels.) Saltwater poisoning can lead to many serious health effects including severe dehydration, seizures, brain damage, kidney damage, and, if left untreated, death.

WHAT ARE THE SIGNS? Dr. Breder Pruitt says there are several things to keep an eye out for if you plan on taking your pet to the beach or on the boat this season. The most notable symptom of saltwater poisoning is a change in behavior. Specifically, too much sodium can cause your dog to become confused, lethargic or even non-responsive. Additionally, dogs that ingest too much saltwater may vomit or have diarrhea immediately after going in the water. As time goes on, your dog may not want to eat or drink. Other signs include body swelling and excessive thirst or urination. HOW CAN YOU KEEP YOUR PET SAFE? Of course, we all want to keep our pets safe, and this is no exception. Saltwater poisoning is highly preventable, and there are many things you can do to keep your pup healthy when around saltwater. Before hitting the beach, offer plenty of fresh water to get your pet nice and hydrated ahead of time. Keep a bowl of fresh, clean water on the beach with you and take a break to encourage your dog to drink every 15-20 minutes.

If you notice something seems off and you have been at the beach, even if it is hours later, take your dog to your veterinarian as soon as possible, even if an emergency vet is needed.

According to Dr. Breder Pruitt, if your dog does have saltwater poisoning, he or she will likely need to be hospitalized and receive intravenous fluids and supportive care to monitor hydration and electrolyte status to prevent swelling of the brain and seizures. So, if you are bringing your pets with you for family fun this spring, make sure to keep them safe by preventing saltwater poisoning and treating it quickly if you notice symptoms.