Why is My Dog Itchy After Swimming?

As dog parents that love spending time on or around the water, our dogs are very familiar with water activities. We taught our dogs to swim shortly after bringing them home, ensuring that they are comfortable around the water and able to swim to safety if necessary. But there are other hazards that a pup may encounter, including those that leave a dog itchy after swimming like swimmer’s itch.

Understanding these risks and taking steps to prevent them will allow both you AND your dog to enjoy your outdoor adventures.

Before you can give your dog the relief that he needs, you need to figure out the cause. In this article, we’re going to look at the most common reasons for a dog itchy after swimming including the possibility of swimmer’s itch in dogs and how you can prevent it.

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Why is My Dog Itchy After the Beach?

For many, the summer weather means that it’s beach time – and having a dog doesn’t change this! With a growing number of beaches offering dog-friendly spaces, there are many great opportunities to enjoy the sun and sand with your best friend by your side. But, if you notice that your dog is itchy after swimming, you may be second-guessing any upcoming beach plans. After all, no one wants to see their dog feeling uncomfortable.

There are several possible explanations for why your dog is itchy after swimming in the lake or other body of water.

One of the big concerns is the possibility of bacteria, algae, or parasites in the water. Anytime your dog is swimming outdoors, it is important to pay careful attention to the condition of the water that he’s in. Avoid overgrown areas, those that have visible algae growth, excessive cloudiness, unpleasant smells, or a strange coloring in the water. These are all signs that something is off and could lead to health problems.

In addition to itching, other signs that your dog was exposed to unsafe water include vomiting, diarrhea, excessive panting, difficulty breathing, or disorientation. If you notice any combination of these signs, contact a veterinarian. Some conditions, like blue-green algae poisoning, can quickly turn fatal if they aren’t treated.

Another possibility is that your dog could be reacting to the sand itself, or something in it. Sand that has built up in your dog’s coat could be irritating his skin, leading to itching. Your dog may also have been exposed to sand fleas. While serious infections from sand fleas are rare, they do often cause discomfort and skin irritation.

The best thing that you can do for your dog after spending time at the beach is to rinse him off to remove any sand, dirt, or unwanted parasites.  

Does Salt Water Make Dog’s Skin Itchy?

If you’re lucky enough to live near the ocean or take a trip to the coast with your dog, you may have the opportunity to go swimming in salt water. But this raises a couple of important questions. Does salt irritate a dog’s skin? Can saltwater make a dog’s skin itchy?

A quick dip in the ocean likely isn’t going to cause any problems for your dog. But spending too long in salt water can lead to trouble. Why? The salt can dry out his skin causing itchiness and irritation. However, it’s important to note that salt water can have a lot of benefits for your dog’s skin when it’s applied in moderation. It can even help to soothe itching as part of a larger home-salt therapy.

Limit your dog’s time in salt water and rinse your dog off with fresh water when his swim time is over.

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Can Dogs Get Swimmer’s Itch?

Swimmer’s itch is a skin rash that can be experienced by both dogs and people. It is the result of being exposed to small worm-like parasites called schistosomes that are often found in lakes and ponds. These parasites live in the bodies of snails or bloodstreams of ducks and waterfowl. In the larvae stage, they can be found swimming near the surface of the water looking for a new host. This is where your dog may encounter them while swimming.

But the question remains, can dogs get swimmer’s itch? If the larvae find their way onto your dog’s skin (or your own), there is a chance that they will burrow in. But they can’t survive on a canine or human host, so they will then die off beneath the skin causing irritation. This is the rash that we refer to as swimmer’s itch.

The rash will often appear within 12 hours of being exposed to the parasites and can last for up to 2 weeks. Each time your dog is exposed, the response that his body will have to the parasite will intensify making him more sensitive to the condition. If your dog is allowed to scratch and damage the skin, it can possibly become infected. This will require veterinary care. But, if it’s allowed to heal, there is no risk of serious long-term health complications.  

What Soothes a Dog’s Itchy Skin?

If you notice that your dog is itching excessively, you may be on the search for some form of relief. Not only is itching a sign that your dog is uncomfortable but repeatedly itching an area of his body could cause damage to the skin and create an opportunity for infection. The sooner that you stop your dog’s itching, the better.

Herbal Tea Soaks

One easy at-home treatment is to encourage your dog to soak in a bath of herbal tea. There are several herbal teas that will work to reduce inflammations and soothe your dog’s irritated skin. Our girl Daviana suffers from a skin-related condition that has left her with incredibly sensitive skin. It’s not at all uncommon to see her feeling a little uncomfortable after a day at the lake.

The solution? A green tea soak. Fill the tub with warm water and several green tea bags. Allow them to steep for a few minutes before removing the tea bags and encouraging your dog to climb in to soak. If your dog is uncomfortable with the idea of relaxing in the bath, you can always put on a bathing suit and climb in with him. Having you there can be comforting, and the green tea isn’t going to cause any problems for your skin.

Oatmeal Bath

Another common solution is to draw an oatmeal bath for your dog. Grind plain oatmeal into a powder and sprinkle it into a tub of warm water. Like the green tea soak, you may have to relax with your dog in the tub to encourage him to stay. Another alternative is to make a paste with the ground oatmeal and a little water and then apply the paste to the irritated areas on your dog’s body. This is great for smaller, localized itching.

Anti-Itch Shampoos

There are many great anti-itch shampoos on the market that can help to soothe your dog’s skin and provide the immediate relief that he needs. A favourite in our home is the Burt’s Bees for Dogs Natural Itch Soothing Shampoo with Honeysuckle. There is also an Itch Soothing Spray from Burt’s Bees that is designed to compliment the shampoo, easing any itching that may come up between baths.

Consult Your Veterinarian for Assistance

If none of the above solutions are providing your dog with relief, you may need something stronger than can be accomplished from home remedies. In these situations, it’s best to talk to your veterinarian. They may be able to provide you with a medicated anti-itch shampoo or topical solution. This will also give them the chance to check for any signs of infection and provide medication for that if required.

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How to Prevent Swimmer’s Itch

Now that we’ve determined that swimmer’s itch can be painful and uncomfortable, you may be wondering how to prevent swimmer’s itch in your dog. The only guaranteed solution is to keep your dog out of the water. Of course, that means giving up the fun that comes with water-related activities like swimming and paddling. The good news is that there are steps that you can take to prevent problems before they start.

Avoid Bathing Before Heading Out

When you bathe your dog, you strip the natural oils that protect his skin and coat. This will leave him vulnerable to issues with salt water or environmental irritants. Besides, he’s going to come home smelling like lake water (or ocean water) anyway. The best solution is to hold off and save bath time for after his day of water-related fun.

Choose Swimming Spots Carefully

Pay attention to the signs of a high-risk area before letting your dog dive in. Public pet beaches are often regulated and may provide a clear warning with posted signage if there is a known problem. The parasites responsible for swimmer’s itch are found in shallow bodies of water with a lot of weed growth. If you are heading out into a lake area with a weedy shore, stick to approved swimming spots or swim off a dock that extends past the weeds.

Dry Your Dog Off Immediately After Swimming

Always bring a towel along when heading out on the water. This will allow you to dry your dog off immediately after swimming. Doing so will remove potential irritants including troublesome parasites. There are many convenient travel towels available that pack up in small carry bags to throw in your hiking pack or beach bag.

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Should You Bathe Your Dog After Swimming?

In most situations, rinsing your dog off after a day of swimming is more than enough to prevent any problems or complications. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t give your dog a nice bath after a day at the lake. Especially if your dog regularly suffers from dry or sensitive skin. Bathing your dog is a great way to not only free his coat from any irritants but also to trade in that wet lake dog smell for something fresh.

Have you ever encountered a situation that left your dog itchy after swimming? We’d love to hear your story and what solution you found in the comments.


  1. Bring gallons of water to rinse pet after swimming.
    I also carry lint rollers after walks, picks up ticks, or?

    1. Yes, link rollers are a great way to grab any ticks that may be loose on the skin. But make sure you still check for any that may have had a chance to latch on as well.

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