April 16, 2020

Dry Drowning in Dogs: What You Should Know

Drowning occurs when a person or animal is completely submerged in water. The lungs can’t any oxygen and in turn, breathing functions stop.

But have you ever heard of “Dry Drowning”?

Dry drowning is different. It happens when water is aspirated into the lungs or other parts of the airway. If the water doesn’t make it to the lungs, the vocal cords can begin to spasm making breathing difficult. If water does make its way to the lungs, serious complications and even death can occur. The latter condition is actually called “secondary drowning” but it’s usually referred to as dry drowning, too. What makes dry drowning so scary is that it can “happen” hours after exposure to water. It’s something that affects all animals with exposure to water, from humans to dogs.

Dry Drowning Risks for Dogs

How does dry drowning happen? It can be brought on by a dramatic water event...or not. A dog whose head goes under the bathwater for just a moment is just as susceptible as a dog who actively jumps into the pool. In a lot of cases, dry drowning doesn’t look like much at all as the condition starts to take shape. Remember that dry drowning is caused by swallowing water. That’s it! Consider how large your dog’s mouth is and imagine what it feels like when you go underwater unprepared. For some, the instinct to gasp for air is unavoidable - if your dog has that same instinct, she could potentially swallow a great deal of water in one big gulp. 

How to Spot Dry Drowning in Dogs

If water has gotten into your dog’s lungs - this is known as pulmonary edema - it could take hours or in some cases even days for signs to show. A few of the symptoms to watch out for if you suspect your dog may have swallowed a lot of water include:

  • Coughing or hacking
  • Signs of chest pain
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Extreme lethargy (brought on by a lack of oxygen to the brain)

If you suspect your dog might be suffering from dry drowning or secondary drowning, take her to an emergency vet clinic immediately. Even if your pet doesn’t seem to be in duress, it’s good to have her looked at by a veterinarian just to be sure. Also note that dry drowning can happen as a result of swallowing sand, too. A dog who respirates tons of sand can suffer the same ill effects of secondary water drowning and should also be evaluated by a vet.

Protect Your Pet from Dry Drowning

The best thing you can do to protect your dog from dry drowning is to monitor her closely around water at all times. Even if she’s a prolific swimmer - in fact, especially if she’s a prolific swimmer! - you want to keep an eye on her so you can note when a swallowing episode might have occured. It only takes one dunk to dry drown. If your dog is around water frequently, invest in a fitted life jacket to ensure her head stays above water as much as possible. Even though most dogs can doggie paddle, their arms get tired too! Last but not least, always take “near” drownings seriously. Although dogs have a natural swim instinct, if you ever have to “rescue” your pet from the water you should watch her closely for several days afterwards to look for signs of secondary drowning.

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