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Pet Peeves: Boat Safely with Pets

Swimming and boat safety tips for your pets.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Pet's are a part of the family, so it only makes sense that we take them on our adventures and work to make sure they stay safe.

“Pets are members of our families and we are eager to bring them wherever we go and that includes boating,” said Dr. Kim Egeler, board certified veterinary surgeon at BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Grand Rapids. 

“Whether boating on a lake, ocean or river, we hope families will make sure to take both their own personal safety as well as the safety of their furry friends into consideration.”

Federal law requires recreational boaters to have a sound-producing device like a bell or air horn, flares, fire extinguisher, enough life jackets for every person on-board and a throwable flotation device. The Coast Guard also recommends for people to have a VHF-FM marine radio, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), a de-watering device and a first aid kit.

In addition to those general safety requirements and suggestions, veterinarians from BluePearl Veterinary Partners recommend these basic precautions when boating with pets:

  • Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are life-threatening to both people and pets. Make sure everyone, including your pets, has access to a shaded area on the vessel to get out of the sun so they do not overheat. 
  • Pets need access to ample fresh drinking water when on a boat to keep their body temperature in the normal range. 
  • Make sure engines are not engaged while people or pets are in the water. 
  • Give your pets a break by pulling them into your lap or giving them a secure spot to lie down. Being on board can be tiring, especially for older pets, due to the movement of the boat. Your pet may become fatigued and, therefore, susceptible to injury due to the constant movement and balancing they have to do.  
  • Careful with a leash. If you want to keep them from moving around in the vessel make sure the leash is short enough to keep them out of trouble, especially being able to jump overboard while the boat is moving. 
  • Consider purchasing a life jacket or other pet-safe flotation device.  
  • Dog life jackets with handles on the back and chest harnesses with handles are great so you can help them get back in the boat shout they end up in the water intentionally or unintentionally.  
  • Pay attention to your pet when you are accelerating and decelerating the vessel quickly, for example when pulling water-skiers or wakeboarders. These are times when unknowing pets can easily fall overboard 
  • If your pet loves to swim, ensure there is an easy access point for him or her to get on and off the boat to prevent fatigue or injuries. And always stay close to your pet while in the water.  
  • You may want to look into products to help them get back into the boat on their own · http://www.doggydocks.com/
  • Don’t forget to take the occasional shore break so you pet can relieve itself. 

“Most importantly, we want to make sure people and their pets spend every day on the water safely,” said Egeler. “Lastly, if there is a pet emergency, please seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.”

BluePearl's specialty and 24/7 Emergency hospital is located in Grand Rapids on "Medical Mile" just east of Fuller at 1425 Michigan St. NE. You can visit their website here.

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