Chlorine and Your Dog – Should You Be Worried? 


The barbeques are firing up, ice cream trucks are going, and you have finally opened your pool for the sunny season – don’t forget to think of your dog when considering pool-side safety tips.  While the number one concern that comes to mind for dogs and pools is the chlorine, there are several other risks to keep in mind when enjoying some pool time with your pooch.  Here is everything you need to know about you, your pool, and your pooch:

Why We Need Chlorine in Pools:

People use chlorine in their pools to do one thing: to stop the growth of bacteria and other living organisms.  Large bodies of fresh water, like pools, are the perfect growing ground for harmful bacteria that occur naturally in water.  By adding chlorine to water, it creates an environment that will kill any single-celled organism in the water such as amoebas, bacteria, some parasites, and other harmful organisms3.  When used in the right amount, chlorine keeps small organisms like bacteria out of the pool but does not harm larger organisms like squirrels, dogs, or people.

Bromine is another chemical used in pool sanitization and offers similar effects3.  It is a bit more expensive, though, and breaks down easily when exposed to sunlight.  As it is not recommended for outdoor pool use, it is not a popular alternative despite being less irritating to skin and eyes.

How Chlorine Can Be Toxic:

While chlorine is an important ingredient in pools to keep them free of algae and other simple organisms, it can also be deadly in the right concentrations.  In a 2006 study by the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs who ate the commercially available quick-dissolving form of chlorine typically used in pools showed life-threatening symptoms within the first eighteen hours2.  Rapid and shallow breathing, depression, mild dehydration, drooling and coughing were observed in all dogs.  This slowly led to kidney and liver damage, and eventual death.  If your dog accidentally ingests this chemical, be sure to seek veterinary help as soon as possible.

Fortunately, chlorine is not appetizing to dogs as it smells and tastes toxic.  It can be accidentally ingested if it contaminates a tasty snack, if they drink or breath pool water with a high level of chlorine, or are touched or petted after you dose the pool with chlorine.  Be sure to keep chlorine tablets or powder up high and out of reach of all dogs and children, keep both away from the water while the concentration of chlorine is too high, and to immediately wash your hands and change clothing after handling chlorine.

How Chlorine Can Affect Your Dog:

Now that we know chlorine is generally safe in the right concentrations, you should know that chlorine can also be irritating to the skin, eyes, digestive tract, and sometimes the respiratory tract, even when used appropriately.  In a study of 412 dogs who were enrolled in recreational, therapeutic, exercise, or rehabilitation pool swimming courses, several different symptoms were observed1.  Over 20% of dogs had dry hair, nearly 19% had dry skin, and almost 16% had abrasions in the armpits (possibly due to getting in and out of the pool) after their first session swimming.  Some other minor side-affects are: red eyes in over 13% of dogs, ear irritation in just over 6%, and respiratory problems in less than 1% of dogs.  All of these symptoms became more severe the more frequently the dogs swam in pools.

The most common of these symptoms, skin irritation and itching, can be avoided with prompt rinsing of your dog off with non-chlorinated water.  You should also limit the amount of time your dog spends in the pool, especially if they start showing any of these symptoms.  While ear infections were more likely in dogs who swam frequently, this is not believed to be due to chlorine.  Instead, it is probably due to the frequent wet environment in the ear when swimming.  Veterinarians can develop a routine with you to avoid these pesky irritations3.

Despite these small chances of irritation from chlorinated waters, veterinarians say that pools are generally more safe than freshwater bodies of water3.  This is because the bacterial and viral load in these fresh waters is unknown, and could be more harmful than the mild irritation typical with swimming in pools.

What Is More Dangerous Than Chlorine:

Chlorine is not the top safety concern when bringing your dog to the swimming pool this season.  Dogs are more likely to drown than to have severe symptoms from chlorine.  Even dogs who are excellent swimmers can panic while in the water, become tired or disoriented, or take on too much water and accidentally drown.  Barrel chested or snub-nosed breeds (like Pugs and Bulldogs) are more likely to have difficulty swimming and should be given a pet lifejacket until you know they can handle the water well.  Remember to always supervise water play-time and enforce breaks for your dog so they don’t become too waterlogged.

Pools can be excellent tools for exercise, rehabilitation, playtime and socialization.  To keep your dog smiling in the sun on a summer day of pool play, be sure to rinse them off after they are finished playing in the water, make sure they are safe and enjoying their time swimming, and keep an eye out for other Summer concerns.  Chlorine, a necessary ingredient for safe swimming water, should only be a concern if your dog gets too much of it.  In the meantime, enjoy the fantastic Summer season!

By Lauren Pescarus

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