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Labrador retriever digging a hole in the sand on the beach.

It’s summertime, and what could be better than a day at the beach with your best canine pal? You pack lots of fresh water, a towel, and a tennis ball, and you’re ready to go! But suppose each time your dog retrieves that tennis ball on the beach, it becomes covered with sand. Before you know it, your outfielder has swallowed a decent amount of those tiny particles. So, what’s the problem?

Dogs who visit the beach are in danger of what veterinarians call intestinal sand impaction. This condition can make dogs very sick and is potential life-threatening, typically requiring emergency veterinary intervention.

Particles of sand are very tiny, but when they get wet, they become heavy and compact into a solid lump. Any sand your dog swallows naturally becomes wet – and if there’s enough of it, the result can block the entire intestinal tract.

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How Can That Happen?

You may not see your dog actually chowing down on a pile of sand, but you may notice your pal:

  • Grabbing a wet, sandy tennis ball over and over.
  • Digging a big hole to lie in as the sand flies up in his face.
  • Licking the sand off of his paws and body.
  • Gulping down salty, sandy water.

Usually, swallowing just a little bit of sand won’t really hurt your dog. But add all of these activities together, and before you know it, you and your dog may have a big problem.

Symptoms of Sand Impaction

How can you tell when your enthusiastic playmate has swallowed too much sand? If you’ve gone to the beach and you see the following symptoms, you need to get your dog to a veterinarian right away.

  • Restlessness
  • Panting
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Abdominal pain
  • Hard mass in the stomach area
  • Constipation

Treatment

According to Dr. Jerry Klein, AKC chief veterinary officer, the veterinarian will ask you questions about your dog’s activities, will examine the dog’s abdominal area, and most likely do an ultrasound or x-ray. Your dog may need to receive medication for pain and IV fluids to help pass the sand that is lodged in the GI tract. This can require hospitalization. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.

Prevention

There are several steps you can take to prevent your dog from ingesting enough sand to be dangerous. These include:

Watch your dog closely at the beach. If you see him gobbling up the sand, tell him to “leave it.”

When you go to the beach, consider taking toys that won’t absorb as much sand as a tennis ball, for example a plastic Frisbee.

Take plenty of fresh water and be sure to make it available to your dog at all times. Don’t allow him to drink the salt water. In addition to swallowing sand, he’s at risk for developing saltwater poisoning.

When you leave the beach, bathe or hose off your pup as soon as possible. This will remove the sand from his coat and feet, prevent him from licking it off, and also make him more pleasant company.

Other Risks for Your Dog at the Beach

Dogs love the beach, and we love having them with us. In order to make sure the experience is a good one, , keep the following risks in mind (in addition to sand impaction and saltwater poisoning):

Heatstroke Since dogs don’t sweat like we do, their body temperature can shoot up dangerously high on a sunny day at the beach. It’s best to leave them inside during the hottest part of the day and bring them out in the morning or evening. Provide shade and fresh, cold water at all times.

Sunburn Some dogs are at a greater risk for sunburn than others. Hairless breeds and dogs with white coats are more susceptible, however. it’s not safe to share your sun lotion with your dog. Dog sunscreen and shade are necessities.

Hot Sand We’ve all walked on sandy beaches in bare feet and had to hot-foot it to the water as fast as we can. If the sand is too hot for your feet, it’s also too hot for your dog’s paws. Dogs can burn and blister their pads on hot sand.

Jellyfish According to the Pet Poison Helpline, “It’s best to keep your dog away from jellyfish. If your dog does come in contact, immediate veterinary attention is necessary. This can cause acute respiratory distress, dry eyes, urinary retention, and cardiac arrest. Ingestion of dead jellyfish will likely cause vomiting.”

Strong Currents Many dogs are natural swimmers, but some may need to learn to swim. And any dog can be carried out by a strong current. Consider using a doggy life vest to keep your dog afloat if he gets into trouble.

Seaweed Don’t let your dog eat wild seaweed at the beach. Dry seaweed can contain toxins and will absorb water and swell inside the stomach, which can cause a blockage and result in emergency surgery.

If there’s a beach calling to you, and local laws allow your dog to accompany you there – taking the time to plan and being a responsible owner will contribute to a joyful experience for both of you.

Even young, healthy puppies can get sick or hurt, and pet insurance may be able to help manage the stress and expense of treating them. Basic Accident and Illness coverage offered by AKC Pet Insurance may provide reimbursement for treatment related to a range of common accidents, illnesses, and injuries. Additional policy add-ons even offer reimbursement for treating chronic conditions.

Related article: Taking Your Dog to the Beach: Tips & Safety
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