Is Chlorine Bad for Dogs?

dog swimming after dog toy in pool

David Madison / Getty Images

Summer is here and it's time to go swimming! Humans are not the only ones who enjoy chilling out in a nice pool when it's hot outside. Many dogs love to cool off, play, and swim in the pool. But what about pool chemicals? Is chlorine bad for dogs? Are pools safe for dogs?

Is Chlorine Bad For Dogs?

The chlorine levels in a properly maintained swimming pool are relatively low and therefore not generally harmful to dogs if they drink pool water. Saltwater pools still have chlorine, but in lower levels than traditional chlorine pools. However, both the chlorine and salt content can affect dogs if consumed in excess.

What Happens If a Dog Drinks Too Much Pool Water?

Drinking excess amounts of chlorinated pool water can cause irritation to the gastrointestinal tract, leading to nausea, vomiting, and erosion of the esophagus. The risks are significantly higher if the chlorine balance is not ideal. This includes pools with too much or too little chlorine.

Occasionally, you may need to dog a chemical shock to the pool. Make sure your dog is kept away until the chemical balance is safe again.

If you think that reducing the chemicals is a good solution, think again! Improperly treated pool water can contain a variety of microorganisms including bacteria, algae, fungi, and parasites. These can affect you and your dog via accidental ingestion, inhalation, or contact with skin and mucous membranes.

In general, taking the occasional drink of pool water is unlikely to cause harm to a dog. In fact, humans inadvertently drink small amounts of pool water while swimming and rarely experience issues. However, your dog should not use the pool as a primary drinking bowl. Keep plenty of fresh, cool water around the pool area whenever your dog is out there.

Warning

Water intoxication is relatively rare but can occur after drinking too much water (from any source). If you suspect your dog has ingested major amounts of water, contact your vet for advice. If your dog is showing any signs of illness, get to the nearest open veterinary hospital.

Is it Safe for Dogs to Swim in Pools?

If your dog knows how to swim, then it is generally safe to allow your dog to swim in the pool. However, make sure you supervise your dog at all times. Even experienced swimmers can drown, including dogs.

It's important to know that not all dogs have a natural ability to swim. If you are unsure of your dog's swimming skills, keep a life vest on your dog.

Never throw a dog in the pool or force a dog to get in. Allow the dog to explore on his own and decide if he is comfortable. You may wish to gently lead him to the steps so he can figure out how to get in. Try luring him down the steps with a toy or just throwing the toy in the water. If he's comfortable, he will get in. If not, let it go.

While short to moderate swimming sessions are generally harmless, too much exposure to pool chemicals can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, and coat. This is usually more of an issue if the pool is chemically imbalanced or the dog stays in the pool for a very long period of time. To prevent irritation, hose your dog off with fresh water after he gets out of the pool to rinse away residue.

Some dogs enjoy being in the pool, but then panic when trying to get out. Steps may be hard to locate and pool ladders are very difficult for dogs to use. Guide your dog to the pool steps or, if available, a tanning ledge. Consider installing a special pool ramp to make it easier for your dog to leave the pool.

Are Saltwater Pools Better for Dogs?

Drinking excess amounts from a saltwater pool can lead to the same issues as traditionally chlorinated pools. In addition, consuming too much salt can lead to diarrhea or electrolyte imbalances that can quickly become life-threatening. Fortunately, pool water contains much less salt than the ocean, so it would take a large volume of pool water to be this dangerous.

Saltwater pools might be gentler on the skin and mucous membranes of dogs, especially those who have sensitive skin. However, it's still a good idea to hose off the dog after swimming in a saltwater pool.

Other Dog Safety Considerations Around Pools

If you're swimming in the pool, then it's probably hot outside. If your dog is hanging around outside the pool, then there's a chance of overheating. Make sure you protect your dog from heatstroke. Provide plenty of cool, freshwater and shade. Bring your dog into an air-conditioned home if you see signs of exhaustion.

Remember that the heat of the sun can cause the ground around the pool to become very hot, burning a dog's paw pads. This can occur on the pavement, concrete, tile, stone, and more. Test the surface with the back of your hand. If it feels too hot for you, then it's too hot for your dog's feet.

Running around a pool may cause your dog's nails to wear down. While this is convenient in terms of reducing the need for nail trims, too much friction can cause excessive wear to the nails, leading to pain and bleeding.

If you and your dog are swimming together, watch out for those claws. The motion of a dog's feet while swimming makes the claws more prominent. A swimming dog can seriously scratch people. Be careful, especially if these are children or elderly people around the dog in the pool.

How to Keep Your Dogs Safe From Pool Dangers

There are plenty of things you can do to keep dogs—and humans—safe when swimming in your pool. Keep your pool clean and the equipment well-maintained. Make sure to frequently monitor the chemical balance of the water. If you use a pool cover, make use it is a safety cover, not just a floating cover. Animals (and kids) can easily drown if they become trapped under a pool cover.

How Dogs Affect Your Pool

If you plan to let your dog swim in your pool, you will need to consider more than just the dog's safety. Having a dog swim in your pool can actually have a negative effect on your pool.

If your pool has a vinyl or plastic liner, then you should not let dogs enter. Their claws can quickly cause major damage that is expensive to repair.

Dog hair, dander, dirt, debris, bacteria, and even traces of fecal material on a dogs coat and feet will go right into the pool when your dog enters. This can clog or slow the pool skimmer and filter. If also alters the pH of the water, making chemicals less effective.

Many pool maintenance professionals say that the effect of one dog in the pool is equal to that of three people. You can slightly reduce this by brushing out the dog and hosing off the dog with water before the dog enters the pool. However, you will still need extra maintenance to keep the pool clean and safe.