Drowning and Near-Drowning in Pets

Pet Safety around Swimming Pools
Nov 29, 2023

With summer and swimming pools on most people’s holiday itineraries, drowning in pets is a sad but real tragedy. Dr Elle Burton-Bradley, Veterinarian, The Village Vet talks us thought what is necessary to know and signs to be aware of. Please share this with friends and family you know who has a pool so they too, can be informed in case of an incident this summer.

What is near-drowning (secondary or dry drowning)?

Near-drowning, dry drowning or secondary drowning happens when a pet’s head is submerged underwater, and they aspirate (inhale) water. 

Water and debris in the lungs can cause pneumonia (lung infection) or even fluid being secreted into the lungs (pulmonary oedema). Even small volumes of water interfere with gas exchange in the lungs and cause secondary problems. As little as 1-3ml of water per kilogram of body weight will interfere with lung function.

Saltwater inhalation is generally more severe than fresh water as the salt causes the body to secrete more fluid into the airways further exacerbating breathing difficulties.

What are some signs of near-drowning?

Pets can appear normal after a near-drowning incident, with signs developing up to 24 hours later. Common signs include:

  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Panting or difficulty breathing
  • Lethargy, weakness, collapse or loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or disorientation
  • Pale or blue-tinged gums
  • Cool extremities or shivering

If your pet has been submerged in water, seek veterinary attention immediately. Keep your pet warm with a blanket and position their head below their body to help clear liquid and debris from their airways. 

Pets that have experienced near-drowning incidents can appear fine and then deteriorate over time. Do not hesitate in seeking veterinary attention for any near-drowning incident, even if your pet appears normal. 

What to expect when you take your pet to the veterinary clinic

Depending on the severity of your pet’s condition, a staff member will triage your pet on arrival. 

Your pet will be provided with oxygen support and will receive treatment for shock, which may include sedation, antibiotics and IV fluids (a drip).

Further diagnostics will be required to allow your veterinarian to evaluate the severity and extent of your pet’s condition. This could include x-rays (radiographs), chest ultrasound (TFAST), and blood testing.

If your pet is not breathing, CPR will be commenced. 

Depending on the severity and extent of your pet’s condition, they may be transferred to a specialist hospital for ongoing treatment.

How to minimise the risk of drowning and near-drowning in pets

All animals are at risk of drowning and near-drowning. Young puppies, geriatric pets and those with concurrent illnesses are at higher risk.

  • Avoid playing with toys and balls in water
    • Pets can inhale water when playing and fetching
  • Restricting access to pool areas (fencing)
  • Exit points in your pools, for example ramps or steps
    • Many pets are lost due to exhaustion from being unable to exit a body of water, rather than not being able to swim
  • Pets should be supervised at all times when they have access to bodies of water
  • Teaching your pets how to swim and the location of the exits to your pool

Any near-drowning incident is a potentially life-threatening emergency. Veterinary attention should be sought immediately.

For further information see below




  • Dr Elle Burton-Bradley BAnVetBioSci (Hons I) DVM, Veterinarian, The Village Vet
  • Powell, LL (2009) Drowning and Submersion Injury. In: Small Animal Critical Care Medicine. Ed. Silverstein DC & Hopper K. Missouri, USA: Saunders Elsevier.

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