Can a Labrador Drown, or Can They All Swim?

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Labradors are known for their love of the water, and they have a reputation for being excellent swimmers. But is it possible for them to drown?

Labradors are natural swimmers, but they can still drown. Their webbed toes, otter-like tails, and water-resistant coats are ideal for swimming. However, water can be dangerous even for great swimmers, so the risk of drowning does exist for Labradors.

In this article, we will look at whether being a Labrador in itself makes your dog a good swimmer, as well as what could cause a Lab to drown and how you can make sure the water is safe for your furry friend.

In this article

Can All Labradors Swim?

Labradors were originally bred to hunt waterfowl, which required them to be great swimmers. Even today, they have a reputation for being enthusiastic and talented swimmers. Their webbed toes and otter tails contribute to their natural abilities.

This assumption may lead you to conclude that all Labradors can swim. But is this the case?

Not all Labradors can swim, and not all want to. Reasons a Labrador may resist swimming include:

  • A lack of exposure to water.
  • A fear developed from a past experience. 
  • A simple personal dislike for water.

You can overcome these factors by acclimatizing your Labrador to water through training.

Are there different types of Labradors, and if so, are they all equally accustomed to water? In the next section of this article, I will answer this question.

American Labradors vs. British Labradors: Which Swims Better?

There are two main types of Labradors usually kept as pets; the American Labrador and the British Labrador.

While they are genetically the same animal, physical and behavioral differences have developed over generations and not all Labs have an equally strong swimming instinct. 

American Labradors may be stronger swimmers than their British counterparts. This fact is due to breeding. While the American version was bred for its physical traits, British Labradors were bred for their appearance. In some cases, they may have lost some of their passion for water in the process.

The American Labrador was bred for a type of competition known as a field trial, where owners would train dogs for physical endurance, such as speed and agility. 

Their British cousins, meanwhile, were bred as show dogs, judged mainly on their appearance.

So, while the American Lab remained physically fit and participated in trials that often included a water test, where owners would expect dogs to retrieve from water, the British version spent more time lounging around and looking pretty, becoming less accustomed to water as a result.

black lab swimming training

Reasons a Labrador May Drown

While dogs are usually natural swimmers, and Labradors are better at swimming than most, the same risks apply to Labs, as do any dogs when it comes to drowning. 

Here are a few ways your Labrador could end up drowning:

  • Your Labrador can’t get out of the water. Even if your Lab is a natural in the water, it could drown if it is in a situation where it can’t get out when it needs to.
  • Your Labrador has a medical condition. Conditions such as dementia, blindness, an irregular heartbeat, seizures, or arthritis could put your mutt at a higher risk of drowning.
  • Your Labrador swims too far from the shore. If your Lab swims too far out, there is a possibility it won’t be able to get back. Your dog would get too tired to continue swimming and potentially drown as a result.

Another reason your Lab could drown is due to inhaling water into its lungs. If any dog falls into the water and struggles to get out, they run the risk of secondary drowning, which can be fatal and would usually occur within three days of the incident.

Your pet would first seem normal but would later show signs of struggling to breathe, as well as lethargy and coughing.

The initial appearance of the dog may stop you from seeking veterinary care if your Lab has had a near-drowning experience. However, to be safe, you should take your Lab to the vet, where they should take X-rays and may prescribe a diuretic to decrease the amount of water on its lungs.

Labradors and Water Safety

While Labradors may be less at risk of drowning than some other breeds, you should still take the necessary safety precautions when your Lab is going for a splash. 

Here are four simple steps you can take to ensure your Labrador is safe in the water.

Make Sure the Water Is Safe for Your Labrador

Even the best swimmers aren’t invincible. If you’re taking your Lab to the ocean for a swim, strong currents will be as much of a danger to your best friends as they are to humans.

Another thing to be conscious of is how clean the water is. While dirty water may not lead your Lab to drown, it can be dangerous in other ways, causing disease if your furbaby ingests water. A good rule is that if the water is clean enough for you, it’s clean enough for your pet.

black lab swimming

Don’t Let Your Labrador Overdo It in the Water 

Much like kids and, let’s face it, some adults too, Labradors don’t always know their limits. 

Swimming for too long could lead to overexertion, which may put your dog in danger of drowning. Always ensure you have them rest frequently when having playtime in or around water.

Don’t Leave Your Labrador Alone in the Water

Even if your dog is water-bred and a great swimmer, you should supervise it when it swims, ensure it knows how to get out of the water, and don’t leave it alone for an extended period.

Labradors have a tendency to drink a lot of water, which can lead to water toxicity (hypernatremia), a potentially fatal illness. As they play, they often digest water, and if let too long, they can become severely ill.

So, it’s best to always watch as your dog plays to be sure they’re not taking in too much water.

Be Aware of Your Labrador’s Medical Status and Age

If your Labrador has a medical condition that could make it more prone to drowning, such as those mentioned in the previous section: dementia, blindness, an irregular heartbeat, seizures, or arthritis, be extra careful when taking your Lab for a swim.

If your dog is very young or very old, more care than usual may be needed when taking them swimming, as they may not have the strength to endure long periods in water.

How Do You Rescue a Drowning Labrador?

If your Labrador is drowning, I have found a couple of resources that explain life-saving actions that you can take in the absence of a nearby medical professional.

Please note that I have not performed these techniques myself and am not a medical professional. I cannot verify the accuracy of the content provided, and any questions about the processes should be directed toward the creators of the content. I simply thought it would be prudent to include the resources in this article in the event that someone discovered this in the middle of an emergency.

Here is a written explanation with visuals on what to do to save a drowning dog

Here is a video demonstrating how to perform CPR on a dog:


Your Labrador’s water-bred roots may make them less likely to fall victim to drowning than other breeds of dog; the risk still exists.

Knowing what could lead your Lab to drown and what preventative measures you should follow should go a long way towards ensuring that your Labrador’s swimming sessions will be happy and safe.