My dog, like most labs, loves to swim (actually, she’s incredibly lazy and prefers to wallow in the water, not actually exert herself). Many dogs like her often go into swimming pools in the summer, which leads to the question "Is this an infectious disease risk?"
The honest answer is we don’t really know. The reasonable answer is the risks are pretty low, especially when a little common sense is exercised. You are probably more likely to get a pool-associated infection from another person than a dog, although the risks are not zero. A dog is probably less likely to defecate in the pool than an infant or toddler!
Various infectious diseases such as cryptosporidiosis, norovirus infection and E. coli O157 have been linked to swimming pools – all associated with transmission from people. As with most infections, the very young, elderly, immunocompromised and pregnant women are at higher risk.
Like many things in life, there is some degree of risk associated with letting the pooch go for a dip in the pool, but you have to consider the risks and benefits together. The overall risk of infection from swimming with a pet in a well-maintained pool is quite low. The risks is probably even lower in a household pool (where dogs would have access) compared to a heavily-used public pool. Good general practices can reduce the risks further. Chlorine can kill most (but not all) possible causes of infectious diarrhea, but it doesn’t work instantly. If someone or something contaminates the pool, there is a window of opportunity, that may last minutes to hours, for transmission of infection. However, some pathogens can survive for days in a pool, if not more. Therefore, chlorination is useful but not fool-proof.
- Keep dogs that have vomiting, diarrhea or skin infections out of the pool. Dogs that have had diarrhea should probably be kept out of the pool for a couple weeks.
- Don’t allow dogs known to be shedding infectious agents like Salmonella and Giardia in the pool. Some healthy dogs shed these organisms and it’s certain that infected dogs go into pools with no problems, but if you know that a dog is shedding an infectious agent it shouldn’t be in a pool.
- Don’t allow dogs that have fecal staining of their haircoat in the pool.
- The same rules should apply to people. People with diarrhea should stay out of the pool since they are probably a greater risk for transmitting disease. It has been recommended that people not use a pool if they’ve had diarrhea in the past week.