Keep your dog safe from hidden threats on the beach
MY dog Finzi loves exercising on the beach. In many ways, it’s ideal: long stretches of sand for her to gallop along, chasing the ball that I throw for her. Then when she overheats and needs to cool down, she can paddle in the shallow sea water. It seems like a safe, enjoyable place for a dog to exercise.
In last week’s news, I was reminded that there are sometimes unexpected hazards on the beach. Reports came in that “fat bergs” had been spotted on beaches close to Dublin, and that these could be toxic to dogs.
“Fat bergs” may be a new word for many readers, so I’ll explain. The expression is used to describe a congealed, solid, accumulation of fat and other debris. The most common place that fat bergs are seen is in sewers. Oily substances that people put down the sink or toilet sometimes turn solid as they cool down (for example, the fat that’s at the bottom of a pan used to roast a chunk of meat). This oil and fat joins together with other chunks of similar material in the sewerage system, with other solid debris such as baby wipes and nappies that really shouldn’t be flushed away. The result is a gigantic solid mass that can cause a serious obstruction of the municipal drains. A few years ago in London, a 10 tonne lump of the stuff, measuring 40 metres in diameter, was found blocking a major pipe: this took months to remove, and cost many millions to remedy.
Obviously, fat bergs of this size are not washing up on Irish beaches: the ones that have been spotted are more like “mini-fat bergs”, ranging in size from a golf ball to a small boulder, and resembling white chunks of squidgy candle wax. These have been tested in laboratories, and have been shown to be made up of palm oil. The authorities believe that the palm oil was part of a consignment which came off a ship in the English Channel about 18 months ago. Palm oil solidifies in cold water, and so does not disperse. As a result, fat bergs of this type have been turning up from time to time on beaches and coasts in England for the past year, and now they’re being seen on the eastern seaboard of Ireland too.
These fat bergs are an unsightly type of pollution, but worse than that, they are dangerous to dogs. First, the fat can act as a medium to absorb fat-soluble toxins, so that if dogs eat the stuff, they can suffer serious poisoning. And second, the simple act of eating solid fat can cause a fatal reaction in some dogs: in particular, this can provoke a dangerous condition called pancreatitis. Affected dogs suffer abdominal pain, with repeated episodes of vomiting, and even with treatment, many patients don’t survive.
The bad news is that dogs are attracted to fat bergs and they can scoff them before an owner knows what’s happening. It’s only later that the dog will fall ill and the owner will realise what has happened.
Fat bergs are not the only potential dan- ger on beaches: it’s common for all sorts of other debris to be washed up, and as scavengers, dogs are prone to rummaging through anything they encounter, chewing anything that seems remotely edible. I’ve often had to treat dogs for gastroenteritis caused by dogs eating anything from seaweed to decomposing fish.
I’ve also had to treat many dogs after they’ve become impaled on fishing hooks: fishermen now know to be careful to take care of their equipment, but sometimes, for different reasons, hooks end up mixed up with debris on the beach. A barbed hook easily lodges in a dog’s mouth or throat, and it can be difficult to remove.
I also had one memorable case which followed a dog eating an exotic fish that had washed up on the beach. It turned out that the fish was carrying a rare parasite known as a “giant kidney worm”. The dog suffered no ill effects at the time, but several months later when he fell ill, an ultrasound examination showed that he had a massive worm curled up inside one of his kidneys. The only way that a dog can pick up this worm is by eating certain types of fish, so there’s no doubt that his beach grazing was the source of the problem. The only possible treatment was surgical removal of the worm from the kidney, a major procedure.
If your dog is running on the beach, and they suddenly stop to sniff at an unidentified object that they’ve discovered, it can be difficult to stop them. The best answer is to train them to respond to a specific command: “LEAVE IT”.
When a dog has learned this instruction, you simply need to shout “LEAVE IT”, and even if they are thirty yards away, they will stop what they are doing and look up at you. You can then call them again, and they should run back to you, having safely left the dangerous temptation behind them. This skill isn’t just useful on the beach: there are many other occasions where it’s helpful.
It’s easy to teach the “LEAVE IT” command, and it should be one of the basic skills that’s taught to puppies, along with sit, stay, and “come back when called”. The details of how to do this are best explained in a training video: if you want to do this, Google “the leave it command” and you’ll find detailed instructions.
Dogs may love exercising on the beach, but make sure they do it safely.
The beach is an enjoyable place for dogs to exercise