What is Dry Drowning and how can it happen?

Also known as Water Inhalation.

Dogs (like humans) who inhale a small amount of water are at risk of something called dry drowning where the inhaled water irritates the lungs and causes swelling and fluid accumulation in the lungs leading to, in severe cases, a dog drowning the day after whilst stood on dry land.

Immediate death by drowning can occur when a dog inhales a large amount of water. Many dogs rescued from water inhale only a small amount, insufficient to cause immediate death, but enough to create serious breathing problems. The dog may appear to be fine at first but may develop respiratory difficulty later as the inhaled water begins to interfere with gas exchange in the lungs. These symptoms, called near drowning or submersion syndrome, can take as long as 24 hours after the original incident. 1-3 ml of water per kilogram of your dog’s weight will cause near drowning, while 4 ml per kilogram or more will result in immediate death by drowning. Symptoms of near drowning need immediate treatment and very severe cases can still end up being fatal. If your dog has fallen into water or you think he may have inhaled water, you should seek veterinary treatment even if there are no symptoms.

These are some of the signs you will see as submersion syndrome progresses. They should be treated as an emergency.

• Laboured or open-mouthed breathing

• Apnea (irregular breathing)

• Posture changes

• Weak pulse

• Loss of consciousness

• Hypothermia (body temperature below 28⁰ Celsius or 82⁰ Fahrenheit)

• Cyanosis (changes in the colour of mucous membranes)

• Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)

• Acidosis (blood PH well below 7)

How this can Occur

Dogs Falling into a swimming pool – swimming pools present a significant hazard to dogs. Most dogs will be unable to climb out of a swimming pool due to the high edge, unless they swim toward the steps; teaching your dog to find the steps in a swimming pool can help to save his life

Drinking from a hose – this is difficult for a dog and may cause him to accidently inhale water Mouth cleaned out with a hose – this may seem like a good idea if your dog has ingested some type of poison or toxic substance, but it can lead to other issues Inhaling water

Swimming in salt water – be especially cautious with salt water since a smaller amount can cause problems

Playing in water – especially games such as fetch and especially with a round object or an object they have to open their mouth wide to catch.


If your dog is showing severe symptoms of respiratory difficulty, the veterinarian will start treatment immediately without further diagnosis. Blood will likely be taken to measure PH and fluid levels which will help to determine the severity of the condition. A pupil dilation test could be used to check for fluid build-up in the brain. For mild symptoms without a known cause, the veterinarian may take radiographs or ultrasound to look for fluid in the lungs. These tests could also be performed after the immediate symptoms are stabilized if you are not sure what happened. Lung disease and some other conditions could cause similar symptoms. Describing the symptoms exactly as well as any incidents where your may have inhaled water will be helpful.


Immediately after removing your dog from the water, you should attempt to clear the airways. Perform CPR and mouth to nose resuscitation if he is not breathing. Wrap your dog in a blanket to keep him warm, but don’t constrict his movement or cover the mouth or nose. Get to a veterinarian as soon as possible. The veterinarian will administer oxygen immediately, either through a mask or via a ventilator if your dog is not breathing on his own. Oxygen treatment will need to be continued until your dog’s blood has reached a normal level. Sedation or tranquilizers will often be given to prevent stress and anxiety which can further weaken your dog. Fluid treatment and electrolytes are administered intravenously as necessary. Mannitol may be prescribed for cases where fluid in the brain has led to increased intracranial pressure. The veterinarian will monitor your pet’s body temperature and treat hypothermia as needed. Your dog will need to remain in a veterinary hospital until it is ascertained that all body systems have fully recovered. Regular heart rate and blood pressure tests will be necessary. The veterinarian may order other treatments as additional problems present themselves. Recovery will depend on the severity of the symptoms and the diagnosis of the veterinarian upon examination. Dogs with mild symptoms who are treated quickly can make a full recovery.

Prevention is the most effective form of management. Cover or gate all swimming pools and teach your dog ways to get out on his own. Install a dog ramp on your pool if necessary. Don’t leave running hoses unattended and monitor your dog whenever he is swimming or paddling, especially in salt water.

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