Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on July 19, 2018

July 19, 2017 -- For Christopher Taylor, Monday, July 9, was supposed to be a fun day in the sun with his Labrador retriever, O.G.

After a day full of classes and studying, Taylor took O.G. to Honeymoon Island, a dog-friendly beach in central Florida.

“He was like any other Lab. He loved to play in the water, loved people, and was a big old goofball,” Taylor told WebMD. “We were swimming and having a good time. We took breaks, and I made him drink fresh water, but we just stayed out too long.”

Later that night, his dog started vomiting and had diarrhea, something that had happened after other beach trips. But by Wednesday, the pup wasn’t eating and was lethargic.

“He would just wander around the apartment. He would walk into a corner and stare at the wall. I’d call his name, and he would not even acknowledge me,” Taylor says.

Taylor rushed O.G. to the vet, but unfortunately, it was too late. He discovered that his canine companion was dying of saltwater poisoning.

O.G. was severely dehydrated and had brain damage, according to the veterinarian. While at the vet’s office, the dog had a seizure due to brain swelling.

“They put him on a standard IV and tried to get some electrolytes back in him, but he wasn’t really responding to that. The last-ditch effort was a drug called mannitol, which reduces swelling in the brain. But the vet said if he doesn’t respond well to the mannitol, there’s nothing we can do for him,” said Taylor.

Heather Loenser, DVM, the senior veterinary officer for the American Animal Hospital Association, says that fortunately, saltwater poisoning is not common.

Loenser says that when sodium builds up in a dog’s body, it can cause brain swelling, seizures, and death.

When the body has too much salt, its cells release their water, attempting to balance out the salt content in the blood. This causes brain cells to shrivel, triggers seizures, and leaves your dog severely dehydrated. According to the Pet Poison Hotline, the most common signs of saltwater poisoning include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, lack of appetite, and lethargy.

“The body works very hard to regulate the balance of salt and water. Dogs can also drive their body’s salt content too low if they drink too much fresh water when swimming in a lake or pool,” says Loenser. “If your dog’s behavior changes after swimming in either fresh or salt water, take him to the vet immediately for bloodwork.”

Taylor, 29, met O.G. when he was just a puppy. Reminiscing, he told Tampa TV station WFLA of O.G.’s “wide, curious, loving eyes and flopping ears that bounced in the wind.” The pair had been together for 7 years.

Be Prepared for Summer

If you need a vet while traveling with your pet, visit to find a veterinarian’s office in your area.

Even if you aren’t planning a beach trip with your dog, the summer can be dangerous for your pup.

Loenser says that heatstroke is highly common in summer months, especially for “squished face” breeds, like bulldogs, Boston terriers, or pugs, and older large breeds, such as Labradors, goldn retrievers, St. Bernards, Newfoundlands, and shepherds.

Here are tips for keeping your pet cool:

Provide lots of fresh water and shade.

  • Water should be put in a large bowl that won’t get knocked over.
  • Keep your dog inside when you aren’t at home, and make sure your home stays cool with air conditioning and fans.
  • Go on walks during cooler hours of the day.
  • Hot asphalt can burn paws.
  • And dogs with thin coats could get sunburned.
  • Make sure to bring a bowl and fresh water when exercising.

Watch out for ticks and fleas.

  • Keep critters off your pets with veterinary-approved sprays, topicals, or shampoos. Regularly inspect your dog after being outside.

Make homemade iced treats.

  • Peanut butter popsicles are easy to make and can help even out your dog’s internal temperature.

Invest in a body cooling mat.

  • Body cooling mats are made to absorb your dog’s heat and lower their body temperature. Cover the mats in water, and they generally stay cool for around 5-7 hours.

Ask before you shave

  • A dog’s coat can keep your pet warm in the winter, but did you know it also acts as a cooling device and prevents sunburn in the summer? Before you decide to shave or trim your dog, ask a veterinarian what’s best.

If you have a dog with a squished face, you may have to take extra precautions.

These dogs “cannot regulate their body temperature as efficiently because they can’t ‘blow off the hot air.’ Walk or exercise these dogs in the coolest parts of the day: morning or evening. Also, many of these dogs cannot swim well and should always wear a well-fitting doggie lifejacket if around a body of water,” says Loenser.

If you think your dog may be overheated, look for these signs:

  • Panting
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Excessive thirst
  • Lethargy

Move your pet into a cool area. Apply cold towels to their head, neck, and chest. Run cool, not cold, water over them. Loenser says that cooling an overheated dog too quickly may put them into shock and cause blood clotting. Let the dog drink small amounts of cool water, and take them to a vet.

Show Sources

Christopher Taylor, owner of O.G., Tampa, FL.

Heather Loenser, DVM, senior veterinary officer, American Animal Hospital Association, New Jersey.

Pet Poison Hotline: “Salt.”

WFLA: “Dog dies from saltwater poisoning at Tampa Bay area beach.”

Wag Walking: “Salt Poisoning In Dogs.”

American Animal Hospital Association: “Keep it cool for pets on warm days.”

The Humane Society of the United States: “Keep Pets Safe in the Heat.”

American Kennel Club: “Keep Your Dog Safe From Fleas and Ticks With These 10 Prevention Tips.”

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