Over the past 16 years I have built several swimming pools for owners who wanted a place for their dogs to cool off during our hot desert summers, or to satisfy the breed's natural tendency to want to swim. Some clients build pools for their families and, after all, the dog is part of the family. The pet becomes a swimmer and happy pool user. Did you know that in the Phoenix area, where people swim all year long, there are well over 300,000 swimming pools?
I have been asked many times about dogs in pools, so here are some key points to consider. These tips will also relate to other pets. Some of these concepts are more directed to those of you planning to build, and some are for those of you who already have a pool. While swimming is fun for both humans and animals, you should plan on how to keep your pet, your family, friends, and others who may use your swimming pool, safe.
One more thing -- those of us living in the Phoenix area know it is not uncommon to find a dead rodent, snake, or one of a variety of other drowned critters in the pool. You may want to take some precautionary action after retrieving them prior to jumping in for an afternoon dip in the pool.
General Comments About Pets in Pools - Sanitation Issues
An average size dog is equal to three humans in terms of the stuff they will bring along with them into a pool. If you have more than one dog in the pool, multiply that number by three and you will soon learn why you are using more sanitizer or chlorine than normal. The fact is, a dog will introduce fecal matter to the pool pretty regularly, along with insects, body oils, dirt, and who knows what else. This is especially true if they are primarily outside dogs. Animals always have small particles of fecal matter stuck in their fur. This fecal matter will contaminate the pool's water, potentially aiding in the transmission of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI's), such as E. coli, Giardia, Hepatitis A, and Cryptosporidium.
If you think that you and your kids never ingest any of that pool water, guess again. Those 'external additives' will raise pH more quickly and consume free available chlorine rapidly. Germs from other swimmers and unsafe water supplies can easily contaminate pool water, especially if it isn't properly disinfected. Contaminated recreational water can cause a variety of ailments and diseases, such as diarrhea, skin, ear, and upper respiratory infections, particularly if the swimmer's head is submerged. Large outbreaks of disease are rare and they don't typically happen in residential settings, but homeowners should be aware of just how contagious pathogens are when they are waterborne.
Considerations For Pool Owners With Pets That Swim - Before You Build
Swimming Pools are Closed Systems
With a few exceptions, most swimming pools are closed systems. In other words, the water in your pool passes through the piping system, through the filtration system, and back into the pool. Public pools must turn that entire body of water over at least one time every 8 hours. In public spas the turnover required is once every 30 minutes. Residential pools are only required to turnover one time in a 24-hour period. In Phoenix during the summer that just will not keep a residential pool sanitized and clean without heavy medication. I have been a proponent of installing 2-speed and variable speed pumps for the better part of two decades. Those customers that install those save thousands of dollars in utility bills, chemical bills, and all the while enjoying a polished, clean pool through proper filtration and the laws of dilution.
I will always be an advocate of "green" building practices, so even without the dog hair, I recommend large capacity cartridge filters. The addition of A & A Manufacturing's ECO-skimmer will trap most of the hair, as well as skim the surface of the pool in the most effective way, using very little energy when combined with a modern variable speed pool pump.
If a pool is operating properly, much of the debris that enters the pool will end up in the skimmer basket. The problem in thousands of pools is that they were built with inadequately sized piping and plumbing specifications, compounded by oversized pumps, and undersized filtration. The result is that the skimming action of these pools is very poor. Most pools have been built with a single pipe running from the main drain up to the bottom of the skimmer and then back to the pool equipment. This affords little opportunity for fine tuning the system and finding the sweet spot which every pool can have when plumbed and specified properly.
Tips For Pool Owners With Pets That Swim When The Pool is Already In
Your Dog's Skin
The composition of the skin of a dog is very similar to our own. They can get rashes, irritations, infections, and just about anything else we humans can get. Make sure you are rinsing your dog off just as you would after a swim. If you don't their skin will become dry. Red eyes, which we two-legged creatures get from under-chlorinated swimming pools, are a result of chloramines, the by-product of under-sanitized pools. Your dog can get the same red eyes, itching, and irritation.
If your dog sheds when it is not in the pool, imagine what will happen when it is in the pool! All that hair has to go somewhere, and a high percentage of it is not being caught by the skimmer. The hair and lint pot (part of most pumps) and/or the filter (sand, DE or cartridge) will end up with the majority of the lost hair. The type of filter you have will dictate the way you will get rid of it (cleaning or backwashing). I recommend keeping your dog's coat trimmed short if they will be in the pool often and brush them out regularly. Besides the effect on the pool's water chemistry, the fur of a dog will get caught in the pool equipment, resulting in more frequent service and/or replacement of parts. That means higher service and maintenance costs.
Egress / Ingress
You must be certain that your dog is willing to get in, and that it knows how to and is physically able to get out. If you are planning a new build or a remodel, I highly suggest a Baja/Tanning shelf and multiple benches strategically located around the pool. Animals are just as curious about the water as children are. If you do not take the necessary precautions, the pool can be a real danger to your beloved pet. When you train your pet to ride or sit on a boogie board or floating raft, will they know how to get out of the pool if they fall or jump off? Did you know that they make life vests for pets? Also, in the category of "I shouldn't have to say this but I will" is the fact that if you have pets you should always supervise them in the pool in case they get into trouble.
Chlorine / Chemicals
There has yet to be invented a better, time-tested, cost effective, proven way to sanitize swimming pools other than using chlorine, even though it has been decried as detrimental. Without chlorine and its benefits the world would not be where it is at providing clean, drinkable, life sustaining water. Bottom line: it is going to be around for a long time to come. The key to chlorine is proper management. The nasty odors you may have experienced, as well as the itchy red eyes, are in fact not a result of too much chlorine, but rather the opposite. Combined chlorine and chloramines is the enemy, not chlorine by itself. Chlorine's effectiveness is very much affected by other factors such as pH, alkalinity, hardness and temperature. I see pools regularly that have a pH higher than 8.0; at that point the chlorine is only about 10% effective. If you allow pets in your pool, the testing process is the same, but you should test more often. Make sure there is adequate Free Available Chlorine (FAC) so it can do its job and keep the pH level between 7.2 and 7.6 to maximize its effectiveness.
Kids and Animals
Let's face it, dogs have sharp nails. When they are in the swimming pool with the kids, their nails can be a hazard to swimmers. If you want to see a kid panic, wait until he gets inadvertently scratched on the ribcage or face. Infection and disease spread with an open wound. Make sure the kids and everyone else is comfortable with Fido or Spot in the pool with them, and tell the kids to notify you immediately if an accident happens. Keep those nails on the dog's paws trimmed.
Aside from safety relative to swimming and playing in the pool, make sure you check your swimming pool regularly to ensure that the water is healthy. A simple way to do this is to take a daily look into the pool. Is the water clear? Can you see to the bottom of the pool? Does the water look any different from how it looked the day before? Changes, such as cloudiness, mean that you need to test the water and take steps to improve water quality before anyone -- human or pet -- goes swimming.