January 5, 2018

The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

The Top 5 Benefits of Swimming for Dogs

by Dr. James St. Clair. Posted in Everyday Health, Rehabilitation

Have you ever witnessed the pure joy of a lab belly-slamming into a lake after a tennis ball, a border collie cooling off in the ocean on a hot day, or a Newfoundland proudly saving his human companion from the backyard pool – even when they don’t actually need saving? Many dogs love to swim, but when it comes to dog exercise, the go-to activities are usually walking, running, or playing fetch. Just like humans, dogs enjoy variety, and there’s no better way to get it than with swimming.

Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for your dog – and for you! It does wonders for overall health, providing an aerobic workout that also tones and strengthens muscles. And since swimming is low impact, it can be especially beneficial as therapy for dogs who are rehabilitating from an injury or surgery, have joint problems, or are older or overweight. Plus, diving in with your canine companion can be a great way to foster the bond you two share.


Here are five reasons your pup should take the plunge:

1. It Improves Overall Health

Swimming is one of the best, most complete forms of exercise for your dog. Just one minute of swimming equates to four minutes of running! It provides numerous health benefits, including strengthening the heart and lungs, decreasing inflammation, increasing metabolism, and improving circulation which helps keep the skin and coat healthy. Plus, moving their limbs against the resistance of the water uses every major muscle group, improving overall tone and strength. All this adds up to a healthy, happy dog who can run, play, and have fun for longer with less risk of injury.


2. It’s Joint-Friendly

Swimming is low-impact, non-concussive, and non-weight bearing, meaning it allows your dog to enjoy all the benefits without putting stress on their joints and tendons. When submerged, the water takes on most of your dog’s weight, supporting their body and relieving their skeletal system from the stress of jarring impacts that can occur when exercising on land. Furthermore, swimming gets dogs moving in a different way than they usually would on solid ground, which improves their range of motion. All these advantages make swimming an especially-beneficial form of exercise for dogs with joint disorders such as arthritis or dysplasia, and wonderful rehabilitation for pups who are recovering from orthopedic or neurological injury.


3. It’s Stress-Relieving

Not only is swimming great for your dog’s physical health, it also improves their mental wellbeing. Just like humans, dogs need mental stimulation in the form of play, fun, and varied activities that differ from the norm to help them stay sharp and happy. Swimming allows dogs that are usually restricted to exercising on a leash the freedom to get out all their pent-up energy without feeling restrained. Plus, a happily worn-out dog is more likely to look forward to going home and sleeping, allowing them to reap the restorative benefits of a good night’s sleep.


4. It Can Be Pain-Relieving – Warm Water Swimming

Swimming in warm water can be an excellent form of therapeutic exercise for dogs, aiding in the recovery process by strengthening joints, facilitating circulation, and helping fortify muscles. Not only is the warm water pain-relieving, it also promotes blood flow and helps to warm up muscles quicker, reducing the risk of further injury. If you don’t live in a warm climate or have a heated pool, many cities have rehabilitation facilities with heated pools for recovering pets.


5. It’s Great for Overweight Dogs

In the case of overweight dogs, it can be difficult to provide them adequate exercise on land without overworking already-stressed joints and muscles. With the water supporting most of the dog’s weight, swimming is a great way for overweight pups to burn calories and improve their metabolic rate without the risk of injury. Together with a balanced diet, swimming can help bring heavy dogs back down to a healthier weight.


What If My Dog’s Not a Natural-Born Swimmer?

While it’s true that some dogs are more naturally inclined towards swimming than others, most can learn to have confidence in the water when it’s taught with loving care. Approach teaching your pup to swim with the same patience and reassurance you would when teaching a child. If your dog seems apprehensive about entering the water, let them acclimate to the idea at their own pace and offer rewards in the form of treats, praise, or affection to further encourage the desired behavior.

You can begin with a small amount of water – such as a few inches in a kiddie pool – and gradually increase the depth until your dog feels comfortable being submerged. You can also try gently luring your pup into shallow water with a reward, progressively moving further out until they come willingly into deeper water. If they seem unsure of what to do once submerged, try cradling them under their belly (without restraining them) and guiding them through the water encouragingly until they get the hang of swimming on their own. If you make it a pleasant experience, your dog will quickly learn that swimming is something to look forward to.


Where and When Should I Take My Dog Swimming?

There are a number of ways for your dog to enjoy the water – diving into the local pond or creek, taking a dip in the ocean, or joining you in the family pool. Even if you are without an outdoor swimming spot or a backyard pool, many areas have swimming facilities exclusively for pets.

To prevent your pup from taking in too much saltwater or chlorine, always provide an ample supply of fresh water before and during their swim. Also remember to rinse them off after a swim, cleaning out the ears and snout, to avoid irritation to the skin or eyes, or discoloration of the coat.

The amount of time your dog can safely spend swimming varies depending on their physical fitness, overall health, and breed. When swimming, the main thing to keep in mind is to ensure your dog does not become overtired. Some dogs will naturally protect themselves from over-exertion by stopping when they’re tired, but others may push themselves to the point of exhaustion which can be dangerous when swimming. Keep water and food close by, and ensure your dog takes plenty of breaks.


A Note About Safety

Whether your dog is an experienced swimmer or a first-timer, you should always keep safety in mind. Never leave your dog unsupervised or lose sight of them when they are in the water, and ensure there’s an easy exit point available such as a gently sloping embankment, beach, or ramp. Be sure to teach your pup where these exit points are – they won’t always know on their own – and in a backyard pool, train them where and how to use the steps. In the open water, beware of fast moving currents, surf, and undertow.

It’s also a good idea to purchase a canine life vest, especially if your dog does not display the most natural aquatic ability. Your pup should always have a life vest on if you are not within reach of them. Dogs with shorter legs or a lower body fat percentage may have a more difficult time staying afloat and can especially benefit from the extra buoyancy a life jacket provides.

Just as swimming is an excellent way to get fit for humans, it’s also an amazing form of exercise, mental stimulation, and healing for our canine companions.

Best People Food for Arthritic Dogs + 5 Natural Recipes from Dr. James St. Clair

Who hasn’t heard the famous Hippocrates quote, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be thy food”? Although we usually think of this as applying to us humans, it’s just as relevant for man’s best friend. And it especially holds true if your canine companion is suffering from arthritis.

Here at TopDog Health, we believe food is food. There are no special “dog food” crops – it’s simply “people food” that has been processed, packaged, and marketed in a different way. And with the exception of a few harmful foods to avoid, there are a variety of “people foods” that can bring a world of benefits to your arthritic dog – safely and naturally.

Here are our favorite inflammation-fighting people foods for your arthritic dog, plus three simple recipes to help ease their joint pain naturally. But first, let’s look at the real culprit behind your dog’s arthritis pain…

Inflammation: An Arthritic Dog’s #1 Enemy

For a dog suffering from arthritis, increased inflammation = increased pain. When your pup ingests something that causes an inflammatory response in their joints, this causes the tissues to swell, which then puts painful pressure on the nerves. Luckily, there are several natural solutions to decrease inflammation in your dog’s joints.

While processed dog foods can contain refined ingredients, added sugars, and harmful preservatives, and anti-inflammatory drugs can have harmful side effects, nature provides an arsenal of inflammation-fighting powerhouses to get the job done – naturally. While we often think of these ingredients from nature as “people food,” they are both safe and extremely beneficial in managing your dog’s arthritis pain. 

Best “People Foods” for Arthritic Dogs

Whole Foods

  • Fiber-filled veggies: Sweet potato, acorn squash, pumpkin
  • Antioxidant-packed fruits: Blueberries, cherries, peeled apple, cantaloupe
  • Vitamin-rich veggies: Broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini
  • Leafy greens: Spinach, kale, collards
  • Fatty fish: Salmon, mackerel, tuna, sardines
  • Lean protein: Chicken, turkey


  • Omega-3 oils: Fish oil, green lipped mussel oil
  • Coconut oil (mix in with dog’s food or use to sauté dog’s veggies)
  • Flaxseed oil (drizzle over dog’s food)

Herbs and Spices

  • Fresh ginger root
  • Turmeric (fresh root or powdered)
  • Cinnamon
  • Parsley (bonus = breath freshener!)

3 Natural Recipes for Your Arthritic Dogs

Here are three simple recipes using the inflammation-fighting foods above to help decrease your dog’s joint pain and manage their arthritis naturally.

Recipe #1: Sautéed Ginger Salmon and Veggies

Natural Recipes for Arthritic Dog


  • 1 tsp coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1/2 can (3 oz.) skinless, boneless salmon, drained
  • 1/2 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/2 inch fresh ginger root, peeled and diced.


  1. In a small nonstick pan, heat the coconut oil over medium heat.
  2. Add the broccoli and ginger and sauté for 3 minutes.
  3. Add the spinach and salmon and cook until heated through, about 3 more minutes.
  4. Let cool slightly before serving to your pup.

Recipe #2: Chicken and Veggie Slow Cooker

Arthritic Dog Natural Recipes

Recipe adapted from


  • 2 1/2-3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs and breasts
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • 2 cups zucchini, cubed
  • 2 cups cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (no seeds!)
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil


  1. Place chicken in the crockpot and add water so that it just covers the meat. Then, add sweet potato, zucchini, cauliflower, and apple.
  2. Cook on low for 8-9 hours.
  3. When finished, drain off excess liquid, add coconut oil, and stir to mash (or place in a food processor).
  4. When cooled, scoop daily servings into individual ziploc bags and freeze. Each night, remove one bag from the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost overnight.

Recipe #3: Anti-inflammatory Dog Biscuits

Anti-inflammatory Dog Biscuits

Adapted from


  • 4 cups quick oats
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seeds
  • 1/4 cup blueberries
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 egg


  1. Preheat oven to 350ºF.
  2. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and mix together.
  3. Add blueberries, water, and egg, and mix until combined.
  4. Knead for about 3 minutes. Dough will be sticky.
  5. Let dough sit for 15 minutes to dry.
  6. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough out flat to about 1/4″ thick.
  7. Stamp out biscuits with a cookie cutter and place on a parchment lined baking sheet.
  8. Bake at 350º for 30 minutes.
  9. Store in an airtight container for 1 week on counter, 2 weeks in fridge, or 3 months in freezer.

Recipe #4: Turkey Blueberry Kale Medley

Arthritic Dog Natural Recipes


  • 4 lbs lean ground turkey
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil
  • 3 cups kale, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1 cup blueberries
  • 1 large or 2 medium apples, peeled, cored, and cubed (no seeds!)
  • 5 eggs


  1. In a large pot over medium heat, sauté coconut oil and ground turkey until turkey is browned.
  2. Add all other ingredients except eggs and add water to just cover.
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer for 10 minutes or until turkey is fully cooked through, stirring every few minutes.
  4. Remove from heat and stir in the eggs, mixing thoroughly.
  5. Let cool and then drain off any excess liquid.
  6. Scoop daily servings into individual ziploc bags and freeze. Each night, remove one bag from the freezer and place in the fridge to defrost overnight.

Recipe #5: Easy Sweet Potato Chews

Natural Easy Sweet Potato Chews

Recipe adapted from


  • 3 large sweet potatoes


  1. Preheat oven to the lowest possible setting (usually around 175ºF).
  2. Slice one top off the sweet potatoes (for easier balance when slicing).
  3. Using a sharp knife or mandoline, cut 1/3 – 1/2 inch thick lengthwise slices of each sweet potato.
  4. Lightly grease two baking sheets using coconut oil or olive oil. Arrange sweet potato slices flat on the sheets.
  5. Place sheets on the top racks of the oven. Leave to dehydrate in the oven for about 8 hours, or until sweet potato chews are dried and shrunken but still a tad moist and pliable.
  6. Cook less time for softer, chewier treats and more time for drier, tougher treats.
  7. Store in ziploc bags, packed as full and airtight as possible, for up to 6 months.
  8. Give to your pup for a healthy treat that will keep them occupied!

There you have it – the best simple, natural, and effective foods to help decrease arthritis pain in your dog, without any nasty side effects. So get cookin’ with these inflammation-fighting powerhouses – your pup (and their joints!) will thank you.