Pets and Pools
Pet Tales
by Barry B. Burtis D.V.M.

Summer is almost here! Let the fun begin! For many families, enjoying a backyard pool will be a big part of that summer fun. Here's a word of caution, though, to make sure that this source of fun does not become a danger for your pet.

There are now approximately 60 million dogs and 67 million cats in North America. There will be between 400,000 - 450,000 new pools installed this year. 41.3% of pool owners have at least one pet. These numbers mean that accidental pet drownings will continue to increase unless there is increased awareness of the problem by pet owners.

Most healthy dogs and cats have an instinctive ability to swim. However, in many cases, they are able only to swim for a short time and for a short distance. As a result, if they are unable to get out of a pool, they may quickly experience difficulties. Vocalization which might alert the pet's owner to the problem, is usually not possible when the pet is in the water and swimming. Also, often the pet may try to escape by clawing or scratching at the nearest edge of the pool. Nails are broken to the quick, bleeding may begin and pain and panic worsen.  The danger of the situation quickly escalates when this happens. Water is swallowed, breathing becomes laboured and the animal soon becomes exhausted.

Very old, very young and animals with a disability are most at risk of falling into a pool, in the first place, and will probably be in danger more quickly if they do. Pool covers that allow water to accumulate in them over the winter months can also be hazardous. Solar covers are also particularly dangerous for pets. They fall or try to walk on them, go under and are unable to get up.

Pet owners with pools should ask themselves: Is escape from the pool possible for my pet? Can my pet swim? Is my pet trained to escape from our pool? If the answer to any of those questions is no, then there may be no more than two to five minutes to rescue your pet to prevent an accidental drowning.

Here are several measures that a pet owner can take to try to prevent pool dangers for their pet. It is always best to prevent any pet access to a pool, if it is unsupervised. If a pet owner swims with a pet, it should be trained to go to steps in the shallow end of the pool, if they exist. It should also be remembered that even if steps are present, they may be too high for a small animal. Also, steps below the waterline may be invisible so a pet, particularly when stressed, may not be able to recognize them as an escape route. There are pet immersion alarms that pets can wear that alerts owners if their pet falls into a pool or off a boat. One such type of alarm, called the " Safety Turtle", produced by Terrapin Communications, fits a pet of any size, is portable and has been available for a number of years in North America.

With these facts in mind, you and your pet should be assured of many enjoyable hours in those lazy, hazy days of summer ahead. Barry Burtis is a local companion animal veterinarian. Past Pet Tales can be found at