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How Cold is Too Cold for a Golden Retriever to Swim?
Most dog owners are aware of the risks and signs of heatstroke, however, many are not aware of the risks of hypothermia and frostbite. While their fur coats provide some insulation, dogs are still susceptible to cold. But how can you tell what is too cold for your furry friend?
When the water temperature is below 50 degrees F it is too cold for your dog to swim in. If you don't have a way of reading the direct temperature, stick your hand in the water, if it's too cold for you then it is too cold for your dog.
Factors That Affect Cold Water Tolerance
Knowing the water temperature is the first step in assessing if it is safe to let your dog swim. However, it is still essential to consider other factors that can change your dog's water tolerance.
- Wind Chill - When the wind blows against your dog's skin it takes away the heat building there as your dog's body tries to regulate its temperature. So, while the water might be okay for your dog to swim in if there is a high wind chill your dog is at a higher risk of hypothermia after their swim.
- The dampness of Air - Checking the humidity in the area you plan to swim in is a good idea before setting out on a cold water adventure. If the air is over-saturated with water molecules, your dog will have a more challenging time drying off as the water will not evaporate off their coat.
- Cloud Cover - You've probably noticed the temperature dropping on cloudy days. This is due to a lack of direct sunlight. Swimming in an area with high cloud cover will cause your dog to dry off slower since the sun is not out to aid in warmth and evaporation.
- Length of Swim - Your dog should not swim in cold water for longer than 10 minutes. The more prolonged exposure your dog has to the cold water, the more likely they will develop hypothermia and frostbite. Golden Retrievers have thick double coats designed to keep water from infiltrating down to their skin. If your dog spends a long time in the water, it will soak through its fur and make contact with skin that is not meant to be cold and wet.
- Age & Health of Dog - Puppies and older dogs should not be exposed to cold temperatures, so cold water swimming is definitely out of the question. You should also consider your dog's health. For example, dogs with heart issues, liver problems, or thyroid issues should not swim in cold water as it can cause more problems.
Taking Care of Your Dog After a Cold Swim
If you decide to let your dog swim in cold water, it is essential to take care of them afterward to prevent hypothermia and frostbite.
- Dry your dog off with warm towels as quickly as possible and put them in a warm environment, such as a car or indoors.
- Encourage your dog to drink warm liquids such as chicken broth or warm milk. Doing this will warm your dog from the inside, which will quicken the warming process.
- Wrap them in a blanket. If your Golden Retriever is small enough, wrap them up like a puppy burrito. This will warm them from all sides.
- Use a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel and apply it to your dog's abdomen. Make sure it is wrapped in a towel and does not directly touch the skin as it can burn the skin. You can also use a warming pad, just set it on the lowest setting.
- Check their temperature every 10 minutes for 15-30 minutes after they get out of the water. You can stop the warming process when their temperature is between 101-102.5F; if it rises above, that immediately stops the warming process. If their temperature does not rise, seek veterinary attention immediately.
What to do if you Suspect Hypothermia or Frostbite
The most significant risk of letting your dog swim in cold water is hypothermia and frostbite. However, when caught early, hypothermia and frostbite are not life-threatening.
Hypothermia is caused by prolonged exposure to cold temperatures. According to PetsMD, if left untreated, coma and heart failure may occur.
Signs of Hypothermia
Your dog may be hypothermic if they display any of these symptoms:
- Stiff muscles
- Pale/gray gums
- Stumbling or lack of coordination
- Fixed and dilated pupils
- Low heart/breathing rates
How to Treat Hypothermia
If you suspect your dog is or is becoming, hypothermic try warming them with the steps listed above. If their temperature does not rise in 30 minutes or continues to lower, take them to the veterinarian immediately.
Veterinary Centers of America defines frostbite as a damage caused to skin and other tissues due to extreme cold. Frostbite usually occurs on the ears, tail, and paws.
Signs of Frostbite
- Swelling of affected areas
- The affected area is cold to the tough
- Brittle feeling
- Pain, when the affected area is touched
- Blisters or skin ulcers
- Pale skin with a bluish-white hue
- Ice forming around affected areas
- Areas of blackened or dead skin
How to Treat Frostbite
- Once you start to warm the area, DO NOT STOP, refreezing can cause more damage.
- Apply a warm towel to the affected area
- Apply warm water to the affected area (not above 108F)
- Avoid massaging or rubbing the affected area
- Don't give or apply medication without a veterinarian prescription
- And DO NOT try to reheat with a blow dryer or direct heat; the area must be thawed out gradually
As the regions defrost, they will redden; take your dog to the vet immediately if they become dark. You should take your dog to the vet soon after suspecting frostbite for medications for pain relief and antibiotics to prevent infection. Once healed, do not expose the area to extreme cold as it is now more susceptible to getting frostbite again.
I do not recommend letting your dog swimming in cold water. If you decide to take your dog swimming, limit their water time to 10 minutes or less, and pay attention to other factors that could affect your dog's cold water tolerance before you decide to swim.
Make sure you thoroughly dry and rewarm your dog after they swim and cold water, and pay close attention to signs of hypothermia and frostbite. If you notice any of those symptoms, seek veterinary attention immediately to prevent long-term damage.