Summertime fun part 2 – sand and sea

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The beach can be a great place to walk or run a dog.  Fresh sea air is exhilarating in the summer and many dogs love running in the sand and chasing balls out in the waves.  It’s a great place to be getting some exercise but as pet owners, we need to be on the lookout for potential problems as well.

A romp in the sand can potentially lead to gut problems.  Sand impaction is not a lot of a fun and is occasionally seen in dogs after playing at the beach.  It is not as though most dogs set out to eat half the beach, but picking up balls, sticks or other toys off the sand, digging for interesting smells or other activities can result in a belly full of sand.  Many owners are not even aware that their pet has eaten a significant amount of sand until they see the radiographic evidence.

You can imagine what a cup full of sand looks like in a bowl of water, how heavy it is and how quickly it sinks to the bottom.  As the water is drained out, the sand congeals and runs as a sludge from the edge of the bowl.  In the gut, that is exactly what happens.  The sand compacts and will sit in the intestine, prevent normal gut movement and cause the pet to feel nauseous.

Summer Bummer: Sand Impaction  By Ann Hohenhaus, DVM

The large white loop reveals the hidden sand impacting in the gut

Most dogs with sand impaction present to the vet with vomiting and dehydration.  Without appropriate care, recovery can be very slow and death is a possibility if there is enough sand impacted in the gut for a long enough time.  Intravenous fluid therapy is often vitally important to treat the dehydration and fluid lost from vomiting as well as to hydrate the gut and improve movement of the intestine.  Horses with sand impaction are often given certain types of oils to help loosen the sand and get it moving, however, these mineral oils can have a particularly nasty effect on the airways if they are vomited up.  Horses can’t vomit (truly!) so that is rarely an issue, but aspiration pneumonia from mineral oils in dogs can be devastating.  The alternative is lactulose, a synthetic sugar substance that can help with constipation.  Aspiration pneumonia from vomiting lactulose is still not going to be nice but probably will have a better outcome than mineral oils in the lungs.

It can take days to get the sand moving and out and it can cause a lot of irritation along the way, not to mention the discomfort of actually defecating the material out of a soft fragile anal sphincter!  Ouch!  So lots of fluids, lots of pain relief, and hopefully at the end of it a happy and more comfortable pooch.

The other common issue we see, in terms of what dogs like to ingest at the beach, is salt water ingestion, which can potentially lead to salt toxicity.  The milder forms are not such an issue and I will never forget the day many years ago that I took my young dog to the beach.  She decided salt water was for drinking, and an hour or so later (just to show how rapidly salt water can pass through the gut) she had the nastiest watery diarrhoea I had ever seen.  Picture a hose turned on from her rear end!  She was fine after relieving herself, however, care needs to be observed that there are no ongoing gastrointestinal signs following this type of situation.  Any ongoing vomiting or diarrhoea after the beach needs to be assessed as there may be another underlying cause.  And any signs of depression after a day at the beach should be addressed also.  There may be a toxin involved, or it may be that your dog has drunk enough salt water to cause salt toxicity.

Salt toxicity needs to be treated carefully, particularly if the pet is dehydrated and more importantly if it has been more than 12-24 hours since the inciting event occurred.  Providing too much of the wrong fluid too quickly to rehydrate these patients can cause severe neurological damage which may be permanent.  The mechanism is complicated to explain, but essentially it has to do with a disparity that can develop in the sodium levels between the blood and the brain with a result that the brain tissue can swell inappropriately if too much low sodium fluid is provided too quickly.  The important message from this for the pet owner at home is that if they think their pet is dehydrated from 1-2 days of poor or inappropriate fluid intake careful rehydration is extremely important.

Many dogs love the beach and careful pet ownership extends to keeping a close eye on their behaviour and actions by the seaside.  And don’t think this is the last you’ll hear from beach -> next up, near drowning episodes!

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