The Risks of Dogs Drinking Pool Water & How to Avoid Them
Swimming pools are the delight of many dog’s lives. Even if they don’t jump in to swim, dogs get a kick from running around while their humans play in the pool. And some dogs seem to believe the pool is nothing more than a big water dish made especially to quench their thirst.
Have you ever stopped to ponder if it’s okay for them to drink pool water? As a responsible pet parent, it’s important to consider the potential dangers and take the necessary precautions.
While dogs drinking pool water in small quantities won’t be harmed in most cases, in some situations, it can lead to unpleasant (or even deadly) consequences. Chemicals used to clean pools and contaminants present in the water can make your dog sick.
In this article, we’ll dive into the specifics of dogs drinking from pools and provide you with all the information you need to keep your pup safe. So, grab a towel, get comfortable, and read on to find out what you need to know to keep your pup healthy and happy while enjoying their pool time.
Chemicals in Pool Water
Chlorine is the most common chemical used to sanitize the water in residential swimming pools. Without it, micro-organisms quickly turn pools from beautiful blue to swampy green.
The concentration of chlorine in most pools is typically around 1-3 ppm. The Environmental Protection Agency has a standard for drinking water that allows chlorine levels up to 4 ppm. So you can see why sipping a bit of water from a well-maintained pool is not harmful.
But there are other chemicals in your pool that are not great for dogs. Disinfection by-products called haloacetic acids (HAAs) have been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans. According to WebMD.com, 90% of HAA exposure results from ingesting pool water, the other 10% is through skin absorption in humans. There’s no reason to believe the same hazards don’t affect our dogs.
HAAs are byproducts of disinfection so dirty or recently “shocked” pools have higher levels of HAAs. But a properly-maintained pool will have a much lower level of these harmful sanitation by-products.
Symptoms of Chlorine Poisoning in Dogs
Most dogs only consume small amounts of pool water and won’t experience any immediate issues. But if a dog drinks excessive amounts of pool water or comes into contact with concentrated chlorine products, they may experience the following symptoms of chlorine poisoning:
- Severe ulceration in the mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Weakness (rare)
- Trouble breathing (from inhaling concentrated chlorine)
- Itchy skin, rashes, hot spots
- Ear inflammation
- Eye inflammation
Infectious Diseases and Toxic Algae
Warm water is a haven for all sorts of organisms that can make dogs sick. The Centers for Disease control list the following as threats to humans that can also affect dogs:
- Bacteria–E. Coli, Legionella, Pseudomonas aeruginosa
- Parasites–Giardia, Cryptosporidium
- Viruses–Hepatitis A, Norovirus
- Mycobacterium–Nontuberculous mycobacteria
In addition to these infectious agents, unclean pool water can grow a type of deadly blue-green algae. The toxins in this strange algae cause extreme liver toxicity and often result in death.
Factors to Consider When Evaluating Pool Water Safety
As a former pool owner myself, I can tell you that pool maintenance is not exactly easy at all times. You have to constantly check the pH and sanitizer levels to keep them in balance. The CDC actually recommends pool owners check these twice a day!
When a pool is not well-maintained, micro-organisms can multiply quickly. Even if the water looks clear, there can be dangers lurking there.
And swimming dogs just add to the burden of bather waste the sanitizer has to counteract. So you have to keep your chlorine level higher to try to keep it in the safe range. The chlorine level may need to start at 5 ppm or more in the morning just to keep it from dropping to zero on a hot sunny day. Dogs that drink this kind of high-chlorine water habitually could develop digestive upsets.
Before you let your dog swim in a pool, ask some questions about how it is maintained. Do you trust that it is adequately sanitized? If the chlorine level is kept on the higher end, it’s even more important to keep your dog from guzzling a lot of the water. You should also rinse them with fresh tap water when they finish swimming to minimize skin irritation.
It goes without saying (I hope) that you should not allow your dog to swim in or drink from a dirty swimming pool. Even if you’re not sure if the pool is maintained properly, it’s best to keep your dog away from it.
How to Stop a Dog from Drinking Pool Water
Short of fencing off the area or covering the pool, stopping a dog from drinking pool water requires training and patience.
You can make a project of training your dog not to drink from the pool. Keep several large bowls of fresh water near the pool so your dog will drink from those instead.
Watch your pup closely every time they go outside. Just when they get ready to sip from the swimming pool, tell them “leave it” and direct them to drink from the water bowl. If they do as you ask, make a big deal out of it with praise and treats.
Most dogs can learn not to drink from the pool with this positive reinforcement training in a few weeks. The key is consistency–don’t let them go outside unless you’re monitoring their activity!
Can Dogs Drink from Saltwater Pools?
Saltwater pools use a device that creates chlorine from salt. This means that there is still chlorine in the water, but less of it compared to traditional pools.
The amount of salt in these pools is similar to the salt content in human tears, so a few sips shouldn’t cause any harm. However, if a dog drinks large amounts of water from a saltwater pool and doesn’t have access to fresh water, they may develop hypernatremia, which is an electrolyte imbalance. Symptoms of hypernatremia include increased thirst and urination, abnormal behavior, weakness, a fast heart rate, upset stomach, and weight loss.
In conclusion, saltwater pools still contain chlorine, but the amount of salt in the water is unlikely to cause problems for dogs unless they drink a huge amount and don’t have access to plain water.
- Chlorine is the most commonly used chemical for sanitizing swimming pools, with a concentration of 1-3 ppm which is similar to the drinking water range.
- Sanitation by-products called haloacetic acids (HAAs) in pool water may be toxic, with a higher risk in dirty or poorly maintained pools.
- Excessive consumption of pool water or exposure to concentrated chlorine can cause symptoms of chlorine poisoning in dogs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and skin irritation.
- Pool water can contain harmful micro-organisms and toxic blue-green algae that can make dogs sick.
- To keep dogs safe while enjoying pool time, it is important to consider the pool maintenance and to minimize their exposure to high-chlorine water and contaminants.
- Training and providing alternative water sources can also help prevent dogs from drinking an excessive amount of pool water.
photo credits: Gloria, Elliott Rubin
- Do Pools Expose Swimmers to Potentially Harmful Chemicals? (2011, July 29). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/news/20110729/do-pools-expose-swimmers-to-potentially-harmful-chemicals?+page=1
- Lutz, J. K., & Lee, J. (2011). Prevalence and antimicrobial-resistance of Pseudomonas aeruginosa in swimming pools and hot tubs. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 8(2), 554-564.
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations. (2023, January 9). US EPA. https://www.epa.gov/ground-water-and-drinking-water/national-primary-drinking-water-regulations
- Water Treatment and Testing | Healthy Swimming | Healthy Water | CDC. (n.d.). https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/residential/disinfection-testing.html
photo credits: Gloria, Elliott Rubin, Lottie