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Every year when spring rolls around, my clients ask the same questions:
“I’ve seen our dog drinking pool water every day this week. Is that OK?”
While chlorinated pool water won’t have an obvious effect on your dog in the short term, it’s not good for him in the long term. Backyard pool water contains not only chlorine but also its toxic by-products. Many pool owners add algaecides and other water-cleaning chemicals that are not meant to be ingested by humans or dogs.
Symptoms of Chlorine Poisoning in Dogs
Swimming pools are a great way for dogs to exercise and have fun, but there are a lot of things that can go wrong. Swimming can irritate skin and ear allergies and infections, drinking way too much water can cause a dangerously low blood sodium level, and overexcited dogs sometimes aspirate water into their lungs. Of course, drowning is a terrifying possibility for any animal.
Most dogs only drink a little pool water and won’t have any immediate problems. But some of the symptoms that stem from drinking too much pool water or contact with concentrated chlorine products include:
- Severe ulceration in the mouth
- Decreased appetite
- Weakness (rare)
- Trouble breathing (from inhaling concentrated chlorine)
Pool Chemicals Are Not Safe for Dogs to Drink
Most backyard pool owners add multiple chemicals on a regular basis to keep the water clear and free from bacteria. People use algaecides, water clarifiers, and metal sequestrants thinking no one would ever actually drink them. Dogs never seem to get the memo, though!
Here are some common pool chemicals that can be avoided with the TFPC method discussed below. Please note that while all of these are technically safe for use in swimming pools, they’re not intended to be ingested. I personally wouldn’t want any of them in my drinking or bathing water!
Chemicals Found in Pool Water
- Aluminum sulfate
- Boron sodium oxide (B4Na2O7), pentahydrate
- Copper carbonate
- Disodium salt of ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid dihydrate, diammonium sulfate
- Quaternary ammonium compounds, benzyl-C12-16-alkyldimethyl, chlorides
Is Drinking Swimming Pool Water Bad for Dogs?
Chlorine is used to sanitize the water in most swimming pools. Without it, most pools could become very unsafe due to bacteria growth. It doesn’t take much chlorine to kill bacteria, but it takes a lot to keep algae at bay.
Outdoor pools are much more likely to grow algae than indoor pools due to sun exposure. Controlling algae growth requires either maintaining a higher chlorine level or adding algaecide to the water. It’s a matter of debate which option is better.
Drinking swimming pool water in small amounts is not harmful to dogs in most cases. It’s not good for your dog to drink a lot of water from the pool! Chlorinated pools contain disinfection by-products called haloacetic acids (HAAs) that have been linked to cancer and birth defects in humans. According to WebMD.com, 90% of HAA exposure results from the ingestion (drinking) of pool water, the other 10% is through skin absorption.
HAAs are byproducts of disinfection so it would seem dirtier pools or recently “shocked” pools would contain higher levels of HAA. The WebMD article also states, “In a properly maintained pool, any risk is likely to be very small.”
Use Less Chlorine in Your Pool for Your Dog’s Sake
Is swimming pool water safe for dogs? Chlorinated pool water is certainly not intended for consumption but dogs ingest a fair amount of water just playing, not to mention a dog drinking pool water on purpose. You may not even realize what’s in that water-especially if you don’t do your own pool maintenance.
I learned from a website called TroubleFreePools.com that swimming pools can be maintained using only a few relatively safe “chemicals”: baking soda, muriatic acid, borax, and bleach. They call this the TFPC method (Trouble Free Pool Care). With careful attention, I was able to stabilize the water chemistry in our pool without using high levels of chlorine, algaecide or other hardcore chemicals.
Can Dogs Drink Pool Salt Water?
Another option that can help minimize chlorine needs is a saltwater chlorine generator (SWCG). This is a device that generates a consistent level of chlorine from regular salt. So a saltwater pool still contains chlorine, just less of it.
A more constant level of chlorine put out by an SWCG means chlorine levels don’t have to be raised as high to sanitize a saltwater pool. The end result is the amount of toxic chlorine by-products should be lower in a salt water pool.
Less chlorine in the water is a good thing where your dog is concerned. And since the amount of salt in a saltwater pool is similar to the amount present in human tears, it shouldn’t cause a problem if your dog takes a few sips.
The amount of salt in a “salt water” pool is not enough to cause major symptoms in dogs who take a few sips. Theoretically, if a dog is drinking large amounts of water from a salt water pool and no fresh water, he could develop hypernatremia. Symptoms of hypernatremia include increased thirst and urination, abnormal behavior, weakness, fast heart rate as well as upset stomach and weight loss.
The bottom line is that so-called salt water pools still contain chlorine in addition to salt. The amount of salt in a salt water pool will not cause problems unless a dog drinks a large amount of it and has no access to fresh water.
Natural Swimming Pools for Dogs (& Humans)
If you want to really improve the situation, consider a installing natural swimming pool. In this setup, plants and natural filter materials are used to clean the water. Dog drinking pool water? No problem because there are no chemicals in it! However, you may have to get used to some slimy algae as part of your swim.
I think this would be a very cool option, although don’t think I could pull it off in my subdivision lot! I guess in some ways I’m lucky my dogs don’t swim in our pool. They prefer lakes, streams and mud puddles.
How to Stop Your Dog from Drinking Pool Water
Short of fencing off the area, getting a dog to stop drinking pool water can be challenging. And I don’t know of any way to stop a dog from drinking pool water while they’re swimming.
You can, however, make a project of training your dog not to drink from the pool when she’s not swimming. Keep several large bowls of fresh tap water near the pool so your dog will drink from those instead.
Watch her closely every time she goes outside. Just when she gets ready to sip from the swimming pool, tell her “no” and direct her to drink from the water bowl. If she does 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 her go outside unless you’re monitoring her!
So, is chlorinated pool water OK for dogs to drink? A little bit probably won’t cause major illness, but the chemicals and chlorine in your pool make it a bad source of drinking water.
Rinsing your dog with plain, clean water from a garden hose or in the bathtub after swimming in the pool is a good practice. And make sure to get them completely dry after swimming to avoid skin problems.
Educate yourself about swimming pool care, buy a good pool test kit, and minimize the chemicals put into your pool. By checking the pool water daily during swim season, you can catch problems before they get out of control, requiring harsher chemical use.