Animal Hospital
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Hours of Operation:

Monday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Tuesday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Wednesday: 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Friday: 8:30 a.m.-7 p.m.
Saturday: 8:30 a.m.-2 p.m.
Sunday: Closed

The beach is great but beware hazards for dogs

The summer is winding down but the weather remains beautiful. What a great reason to go to the beach with your dog — some of the beaches will tolerate pets. What hazards are out there and how do we avoid them?

Salt water

I have yet to see a case of a pet that has been exposed to excessive bacteria from salt water but it does pose another threat, that of dehydration. Salt water is hyperosmotic and acts as a purgative.

What that means is because of the high salt content of sea water it will actually draw fluid from the body into the stomach and bowels. This will not only lead to a very upset stomach (vomiting and diarrhea) but, in hot weather this will lead to a rapid dehydration with serious consequences. Remember to bring water from home and a bowl to pour it in to allow your dog to rehydrate.

Rocks, shells and refuse

A hazard of living on the North Shore of Long Island is that there are many rocks and shells that wash up on the beach, as well as refuse such as broken glass and plastic left behind by other beachgoers. This can cause two problems, cuts and lacerations on the pads of the feet and potential gastrointestinal obstructions.

Make sure if your dog likes to run on the beach and into the water that you consider some sort of dog shoe or bootee — a thin (but tough), breathable type of bootee with a tough, non-slip bottom. Also keep an eye on your dogs in case they decide to consume shells or rocks when sniffing around.

Infectious disease

There are many diseases that your dog can be exposed to but the most common I've seen in my career are Lyme disease and leptospirosis.

Many of the beaches have high grass and woods nearby. These are inhabited by deer and field mice (the two reservoirs of the deer tick which carries Lyme disease). Make sure to talk to your veterinarian about an effective topical flea and tick preventative (stressing tick preventative) that will still be effective if your dog decides to take a dip in the ocean. Also make sure your dog is current on his or her Lyme vaccination.

Leptospirosis is also a problem. Leptospirosis is a bacterial infection carried primarily by raccoons in the wild. It is also found in squirrels, foxes, opossums and other dogs that have been infected. The bacteria is shed in the urine of these species and gains access to your dog's bloodstream via the membranes of the mouth.

Once in the bloodstream the bacteria can travel anywhere the blood goes but tends to localize back to the kidneys. Finally, the bacteria passes with the urine to potentially infect other dogs. This bacteria can be treated with antibiotics but in some cases permanent kidney damage lingers even after the infection is cleared from the system. There is a vaccine but it has to be updated annually to be effective. Make sure to not allow this vaccine to lapse if you are bringing your dog to the beach.

Bite wounds

I wish I could say that all dogs get along but this just does not always happen. There are many dogs that feel the entire beach is theirs and do not wish to share. In those cases it is best to make sure that your dog stays on a leash and, if small, you can quickly pick it up to avoid an attack. If one sees an owner who just doesn't understand what a threat their dog is or does not care, I would suggest going to a different beach to avoid confrontation.

I hope this covers the most common hazards at the beach and how to avoid them. Now get out there and enjoy — just be careful.

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 13 years and is pictured with his son Matthew, as well as the newest member of the family, Jasmine, a Labrador retriever.

Matthew Kearns, DVM