Seaside safety for your dog


A stomach full of sand after a trip to the beach nearly proved fatal for Cockerpoo Ruby. Joanne Bednall reports.

Emergency veterinary treatment was the last thing Helen Stokoe expected after her beloved Cockerpoo Ruby had been enjoying some family fun at the seaside.

But when the seven-year-old dog was sick in the car on the journey home, and again that afternoon, Helen, from Consett, County Durham, became increasingly concerned. 

Noticing that Ruby had brought up a large quantity of sand, Helen, 59, realised that her dog must have swallowed it while playing ball on the beach.

“As the afternoon wore on, Ruby started to look more and more miserable; her eyes lost their sparkle and her coat lacked bounce,” explained Helen, who initially didn’t want to bother her local vet on a Saturday evening. 

Helen says she was horrified to discover how much sand Ruby had swallowed.

But after googling and discovering that sand impaction can be fatal, a worried Helen immediately called her nearest VetPartners practice, Prince Bishop Veterinary Hospital in Leadgate, and was advised to take her poorly pet straight in.

Following an X-ray, vet Amanda Foo was shocked to see how much sand was still inside Ruby’s intestines.

Ruby with vet Amanda Foo.

As the impaction was making the sweet Cockerpoo very uncomfortable, Amanda administered pain relief and fluids in an attempt to moisten the dry sand and encourage it to move through Ruby’s digestive system so she could pass it naturally.  

The black Cockerpoo was hospitalised overnight so staff could keep a close eye on her and continue the fluid therapy.
That amount of sand was very unlikely to move on its own and, if left untreated, would put Ruby at risk of a potentially fatal ruptured intestine.

“I was really worried when they said they’d be keeping her in,” continued Helen, who was told the following day that Ruby was finding it difficult to pass the sand.

“It was thought if I came and walked her, it might help. But she didn’t pass anything so I took her home on day release in the hope that familiar surroundings would encourage her to go.”

The plan worked, and after follow-up X-rays, Amanda was satisfied that most of the sand had left Ruby’s system. Within a couple of days, she was back to her usual fun-loving, playful, and friendly self.

“She was very lucky — at one point we thought we might lose her,” said Helen, who was extremely grateful for the treatment Ruby received at Prince Bishop Veterinary Hospital.

“When I saw the X-ray, I was horrified by how much sand she had swallowed — it was solid and had even caused a kink in her intestines. 

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“The team was very caring and I can’t fault how they looked after Ruby and made her better.”

Despite such a close call, Helen hasn’t ruled out taking her dog to the beach again in the future. 

Ruby enjoying  the beach with Theo before she became ill.

On this particular occasion, Ruby had been enjoying some family time with her owner’s son, Josh, his partner Sumara, and their 14-month-old son, Theo. The trio had been playing fetch — Ruby’s favourite game — on the shore at Seaton Sluice, between Whitley Bay and Blyth in Northumberland. 

“They were at the top of the beach and the dry, loose sand combined with Ruby’s saliva must have stuck to the tennis ball and gone into her mouth every time she picked it up,” said Helen.

“Next time Ruby goes to the seaside, we will find an area away from the beach to play, or use a smooth or airflow ball that won’t pick up sand so easily.

“I knew about the danger of dogs swallowing too much sea water but I never realised that sand could cause such a problem.

“I’d advise owners not to throw a tennis ball for their dog on the beach, or at least make sure it doesn’t get covered in sand.”

Take care on the beach.

Seaside safety

Prince Bishop Veterinary Hospital has issued 10 top tips to help owners keep their dogs safe on the beach.

1. Very hot sand can burn your dog’s paws, so try to go to the beach at cooler times of the day.

2. Short-haired breeds with pale fur and exposed pink skin are at risk of sunburn, so protect them using a sunblock designed for dogs, but don’t apply it too close to their eyes or nose.

3. Watch out for jellyfish in the water or washed up on the sand as they can give a nasty sting or cause vomiting. If your dog gets stung, call the nearest vet for advice.

4. Be very cautious if your dog is older, unfit, or not used to swimming, and watch for signs of them becoming exhausted, suffering from cramp, or struggling with the tide or large waves. 

5. Keep an eye out for rubbish, discarded food, and dead fish or birds, which can cause harm if eaten. Take a toy or some of your dog’s favourite treats to distract him or exchange for anything he might pick up.

6. If a fishing hook becomes embedded in your dog’s mouth, don’t try to remove it yourself as you could cause your pet even more damage. Instead, seek veterinary help immediately.

7. While not toxic, eating large amounts of seaweed can cause a blockage in a dog’s intestines. If your dog vomits or has difficulty going to the toilet, call a vet.

8. Be careful when exercising your dog in warmer weather as the risk of heatstroke increases at just 16 degrees centigrade. Flat-faced, large, and overweight dogs can overheat in temperatures as low as 12 – 15 degrees. 

9. If your pet is stung in the mouth or throat by a bee or wasp, suffers multiple stings, struggles to breathe, or collapses after being stung, take him straight to the nearest vet.

10. Vet Amanda Foo urges owners to ensure their dogs don’t drink too much sea water. “Because it contains a lot of salt, it can cause vomiting, diarrhoea, and dehydration. Drinking salt water can even be fatal, so call a vet if you think your dog has swallowed large amounts. Dogs can swallow sea water by accident when they’re swimming, while others might be tempted to drink it if they become really thirsty, so always take some fresh water and a bowl to the beach. It’s also really important to provide your dog with some shade.”