Beach hazards Owner Factsheet
The beach can be a fun place for you and your dog, particularly in summer when the weather is warm, but there are potential hazards that can occasionally result in serious health risks to dogs.
What are the potential hazards on the beach?
Seawater contains a high concentration of salt and there is a risk of salt poisoning if an excessive quantity of seawater is drunk. Salt poisoning can result in vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, drinking excessively, and in severe cases may cause convulsions. Seawater may also irritate the skin and eyes.
Jellyfish can still sting, even when they have been dead for weeks. In dogs, stings may occur on the nose, mouth, paws and on areas of skin with little fur to protect them. A jellyfish sting can cause vomiting or retching, swelling, distress and pain. If the jellyfish has been swallowed there may be drooling, irritation in the mouth, swelling in the throat and difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Lumps of whitish or yellow palm oil can wash up on beaches (particularly in winter months) from transport ships washing out their tanks off the coast. Eating palm oil can cause gastrointestinal upset and potentially can cause pancreatitis. Most dogs develop only mild signs, but it can be more of a concern if the palm oil is aspirated into the lungs as a result of vomiting. This can cause coughing and breathing problems.
Eating sand may cause gastrointestinal upset and very occasionally, if a large volume is eaten, the sand may become impacted in the gut and cause blockage. Signs of gastrointestinal obstruction include vomiting, abdominal pain, lethargy and loss of appetite. Sand in the eyes will cause irritation and redness. In very hot summers sand may become very hot and can burn your dog’s paws.
Dogs do not have very efficient mechanisms for cooling themselves down. Heatstroke can occur from too much exercise, particularly when the weather is warm or if a dog is exposed to a very high temperature without ventilation or access to water, such as in a hot car. Signs of heatstroke include panting, dark red or purple gums or tongue, lethargy, vomiting, thirst, drooling and weakness; in severe cases shock and coma can develop.
Like humans, dogs are susceptible to sun damage, and areas of the body with less fur cover such as the nose, ears and tummy, are at particular risk. The affected area may be red and tender to touch, and skin may become dry and cracked. Try not to let your dog spend too much time in the sun in the middle of the day - whilst sunscreens are available for pets - avoidance of intense sun is much safer. Perhaps put up a beach umbrella to provide shade for your dog.
If your dog is small, short-legged, very young or a brachycephalic breed then it may be at risk of drowning, particularly in windy weather when the surf is rough. You may wish to fit a life jacket on your dog but don’t use this as a substitute for safe behaviour. A life jacket will not reduce the risk of your dog being caught in a strong current and swept out to sea.
Broken glass and sharp objects may cut skin and paws. Discarded mouldy food may also pose a hazard if it is eaten since mould can produce toxins which can cause tremors and convulsions in dogs. Toxic substances may wash up on the beach or be discarded by other beach users (eg e-cigarettes).
Shellfish feed on microorganisms that can produce toxins. These toxins can accumulate in the shellfish and can cause poisoning if eaten. Very occasionally pets may be poisoned by eating shellfish washed up on a beach. Signs are very variable as there are many different toxins produced but there may be drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal discomfort and paralysis.
How can I keep my dog safe on the beach?
There are practical steps that can be taken to help reduce the risk of an accident or illness during a trip to the beach:
- Try and prevent your dog ingesting things found on the beach, including dead sea-life, litter, palm oil, seawater and sand
- .Provide shade in hot weather and avoid being on the beach during the hottest part of the day during very hot weather.
- Provide access to fresh water, particularly when the weather is very warm and/or your dog has been running around and may be overheated. Be careful not to allow your dog to drink excessive water over a short period of time as this can lead to water intoxication. Allow free access to fresh water or offer water little and often.
- Take care that dogs that are elderly, obese, have a heart condition or breathing problems do not become overheated.
- Never shut your dog in a car in hot weather. A dog can overheat and die quickly from heatstroke in these extreme conditions.
- Use sunscreen, particularly on exposed skin that is not protected with fur (depending on the breed) eg nose, ears, tummy. Make sure you use a sunscreen designed for pets - some of those made for people can be toxic to dogs.
- If your dog is prone to getting overexcited or eating inappropriate things it may be best to keep them on a lead when on the beach.
- Heed any weather warnings or health advice provided during extreme weather events - they apply to pets too.
What should I do if I think my pet is overheated?
- If your dog appears overexerted and/or at risk of heat stroke, wetting them with cool water may help them cool down.
- Allow them to rest and provide fresh water to drink
- Increasing air circulation around your dog with a fan may help.
- Take your dog to the vet for a check-up, since there could be dehydration or other complications.
What should I do if I think my pet has been stung by a jellyfish?
Take care not to get stung.
If your dog has been stung on the skin:
- If it is safe to do so pull any remaining tentacles off the skin with a towel or stick.
- Do not rub the tentacles off or rub the area with sand (this may cause the stinger cells to fire).
- If possible flush the area with seawater not fresh water (fresh water can also cause the stinger cells to fire).
If your dog has eaten a jelly fish:
- Do not attempt to make your dog vomit.
- If your dog has a jelly fish in the mouth:
- Do not attempt to remove it as you may get stung. Encourage your dog to drop the jellyfish.
- Take your dog to the vet for a check-up, since there may be pain and local swelling could develop.
What should I do if I think my pet has eaten something on the beach?
- Remove your dog from the source of poisoning.
- If you can do so safely, remove any suspect material from your dog’s mouth.
- If practical collect a sample of what has been eaten or a sample of vomit.
- Do not attempt to make your dog vomit.
- Contact your vet for advice and be prepared to take your pet and the suspect material to the veterinary surgery.
What information will help my vet?
On arrival at the veterinary surgery someone will assess your pet immediately and make sure that its condition is stable before any other treatments are instigated. Your vet will want to know:
- If your pet has eaten or drunk something on the beach.
- Is your pet overexerted, overheated or has not had access to fresh water.
- How long ago the incident happened?
- Has your pet shown any signs of being unwell?
- If your pet is receiving any medication or has any pre-existing medical conditions?