The Effects of a Chlorine Pool on Dogs

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Dog swimming in chlorinated pool.
Dog swimming in chlorinated pool. (Image: pakornkrit/iStock/Getty Images)

Many dogs love a good swim, never more so than when their humans are splashing around in the water with them. The chlorine that keeps bacteria at bay in swimming pools has minor effects on dogs, affecting them mostly the same way chlorinated water affects us -- by drying out our skin and hair. It's no big deal for either species, but a little extra attention to coat care can keep your dog swimming pretty throughout pool season.

What Cholorine Is and Does

Chlorine, a disinfectant added to water in swimming pools to neutralize potentially harmful bacteria, is a naturally occurring chemical element. It's also the active ingredient in household bleach and therefore has similar, although milder, effects on human and canine skin and hair. Chlorinated water can strip skin and hair of natural oils, and can fade or change a dog's coat color, sometimes lending it a greenish tinge. This astringent effect can also dissolve the protective wax inside ear canals, thereby increasing chances of infection. Even though tap water also contains chlorine, the concentration is much greater in swimming pools, so dogs should be discouraged from drinking it.

Coat Care for Diving Dogs

A little extra effort on the part of their humans can keep water-loving pups presentable, comfortable and healthy throughout the pool season. Author Eve Adamson, writing for the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, recommends spritzing your dog with a coat conditioner, preferably one with sunscreen, before his first daily dip. After he's been drydocked for the day, give him a thorough rinse with cool water to wash pool chemicals off his coat. If he has a medium to long coat, applying more conditioner, followed by a comb-out, will discourage the formation of intractable tangles. Once a week, a full bath and conditioning treatment can help slough away any chlorine residue and restore luster to his coat. Omega-3 fatty acid supplements can also help promote a gleaming coat from the inside out, says Adamson.

Ear Care for Dog Paddlers

The inner ears of pooches who clock a lot of pool time may never have a chance to dry out thoroughly between dips, thereby creating conditions perfect for infectious organisms to flourish, a particular concern for floppy-eared dogs. That's why the day's post-swim shower routine should include drying the insides of your dog's ears with a towel or cotton balls. Weekly or monthly treatments with an ear wash formulated for dogs can also help discourage infections. If you notice your dog shaking his head or scratching at his ears more than usual, or if you see signs of inflammation in the ear canal, consult your vet.

Keeping Dogs Safe When Swimming

Some breeds take to the water naturally but others really aren't built for buoyancy. Short-legged, broad-chested breeds such as bulldogs, corgis and pugs, and large-boned, heavily muscled breeds like American Staffordshire terriers, need to expend so much energy to swim that pool play may neither be fun nor safe for them, wrote dog trainer Stephanie Colman in the August 2012 "Whole Dog Journal." Skinny dogs such as greyhounds and whippets don't have enough body fat to help them stay afloat. However, any dog so inclined can happily splash around in the pool while wearing a well-fitted life jacket, Colman says.

Pool Safety Tips

Since not all dogs are instinctive swimmers, some have to learn from experience that all four legs need to be in play before swimming occurs. If you put your hands underneath your dog's tummy to support his back end in the pool, it won't take long for him to figure that out. Never leave your dog unsupervised in the pool area. When your dog is swimming, watch carefully for signs of fatigue; if you see them, fish him out. Make sure he knows how to use the steps to climb out himself. Swimming is excellent exercise for helping overweight dogs slim down, but out-of-shape dogs will tire quickly -- so take it slow. Guard against unauthorized solo swims by securely fencing off the pool area.

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