Summer finally arrived this year, just in time for the Christmas holidays! There's nothing better at this time than to visit the beach with your dog. Don’t spoil a great day out though by being ill-prepared. We’ve produced a four-part blog to help you prepare and prevent harm and have fun with your pooch when visiting the beach, coastal rivers and waterways. So please - keep reading!
A fortnight before your beach visit, try to make sure you get these things sorted;
1. Invest in a Vest. Some dogs simply can't swim, so don't assume it comes ‘natural’ to all pooches. Our Scottish Terrier is naturally built like a Besser Block with baby quail legs – she just sinks. Not her fault! A life vest is lifesaving, especially in freshwater as dogs can easily tire with no salty-buoyancy;it's also, a must if out on a boat or where there's rough surf. Life vests are available through pet stores and online but good to get the right size fitted. Consider a vest with a handle on the top (like a briefcase) so you can pull Pooch from waters quickly, if needed.
2. Protect your Pet. Getting pooch complete parasite protection, from Paralysis Tick and Heartworm, is a must if going to the east coast of Australia and especially the beach;
a) Paralysis Tick found on beaches and sandy dunes along the Australian coastline – from the top of Queensland to Victoria. As the name suggests –paralysis occurs from the tick's toxin, affecting the animal's nervous system, and can be fatal within days of being bitten.
b) Heartworm found along the NSW coast and Sydney region, so it’s a good idea if travelling to these beaches to protect against it. Heartworm is a nasty parasitic roundworm spread by mosquitoes breeding in waterways, creeks and stagnant water. The bite transmits the parasite, infesting a dog's heart. Heartworm can cause permanent damage to the dog's heart and is fatal if left untreated. NexGard Spectra is a high-quality control that covers these – available in a tasty chew, it will begin to cover your pet within 24 hours of being taken. Alternatively, heartworm injections can be given by your local vet.
You’ll want a high-quality parasite preventative for best protection. It's best not to cheap out on parasite control as some cheaper supermarket varieties are not as effective against the tick toxin and not many for heartworm also. Visit your local vet to ask what’s the best and most appropriate Parasite Control for your pet.
3. Vaccinate Your Mate. Ensure your pet's vaccination is up-to-date. Annual vaccination covers for Distemper, Hepatitis, and Parvovirus which can be found down on the NSW coast, particularly in the summer months. Additional vaccinations include Kennel Cough and Leptospirosis (spread by rats), and coronavirus (don’t panic, it’s not the same as COVID-19).
4. Check Your Rego. Make sure your dog’s registration details are up-to-date. If Pooch should decide to ‘do a runner’ you’re going to want to make sure their microchip and registration details are up-to-date, so you and ‘lassie’ can be reunited. Most often overlooked details by pet owners are a change of mobile number and change of ownership details. It’d be heartbreaking if you couldn’t find your pet or be reunited with them simply because their Rego details hadn’t been updated.
Visit petregistry.com.au to check and update details if needed.
5. Go where you’re welcome! Only visit dog-friendly beaches. There are big fines and ungrateful sun-bakers awaiting your dogs arrival! There are ‘dog beaches in NSW where the pooch can romp all day long, or ones with restricted times when dogs can romp during set hours. Local councils (in the areas you're visiting) provide lists of beaches that pooch is permitted to romp and swim at. You can also find these dog-beach lists on council websites in places you plan to visit.
PART THREE of this blog provides links to Wollongong and Shellharbour council's dog beaches. Planning which beach you'll visit, and times you can visit, will save a lot of stuffing around and possible disappointment on the day of the planned beach romp.
On the exciting day of… what to Pack & Do.
1. Loo Bags. Pack plenty of loo bags to pick up after pooch has done their business on the beach. There are hefty fines for not doing the right thing and if that's not enough of a deterrent, it's very anti-social; no one likes ‘a dumper’ and it sets a terrible example for the kids. If you have plenty of loo bags, you can always offer some of your spares to any other owners who may have run out or forgotten. Sharing is caring!
2. Bring shade – no, not the ‘throw shade’ kind; We mean literally bring shade, like a beach umbrella or a beach tent. Dogs get very hot, too, and can get heat-stroke quickly and easily.
3. Water. I know, it's crazy, but mammals shouldn't be trying to rehydrate from the salty ocean, it’ll make them sick! Take a bowl and plenty of clean drinking water for them to drink the fresh water (instead of the sea) at the beach.
4. Sunscreen. Dogs sunburn as well! Pink noses, pink skinned pups, and short haired, clipped dogs will burn in the hot sun. Check at your local pet shop about doggie sunscreens, if they love to swim you may have to reapply.
5. Pack an extra beach towel. You’ll thank us for this tip when you discover that you didn’t bring the entire beach home in the car. Scrub that beach back where it came from at the end of the day. Also, pooch will want to rest their toosh somewhere other than searing hot sand when at the beach.
6. Check the tide, currents and weather forecast. If it’s hot enough to fry an egg outside it’s probably best to wait until it cools off a bit before taking pooch out for a strenuous romp in the sand and surf. Sometimes a stroll in the morning or late afternoon is most sensible and it feels better anyway. Likewise, if those waves and currents are looking like they’ll shipwreck the Pasha Bulker back onto a NSW beach, and drag it back out to sea unassisted… probably not the best day for a little swim with the family pet. We recommend visiting the Bureau of Meteorology for weather forecasts http://www.bom.gov.au You can also contact the local surf lifesaving club at the beach you’re visiting, they’ll let you know the beach conditions on the day of intended romp.
7. Never leave your dog in a hot car. No way and never. It can kill your pooch very quickly so don’t even think about it.
Dog Friendly Beaches - NSW SOUTH COAST
A list of NSW South Coast dog-friendly ‘free range’ beaches are listed below for your convenience;
1. McCauley Beach at Thirroul, Wollongong
2. Little Austinmer Beach at Wollongong
3. Culburra Beach at Berrys Bay
4. Nelsons Beach in Vincentia, Jervis Bay
5. Collers Beach at Ulladulla
6. Cormorant Beach at Bawley Point
7. Currarong Beach, Currarong, Shoalhaven.
Always look for the signage which tells you what sort of park/beach it is there;
• Green zone beaches for places your pooch can go free-range.
• Orange zone means it’s timed, so pooch can visit off-leash in limited times.
• Red zone means dogs are not allowed.
In the Wollongong area; This link has maps, explains rules, has off-leash parks list, and more.
Shellharbour Council does not have dog-friendly beaches but do have a list of dog-friendly spaces on their website: https://www.shellharbour.nsw.gov.au/things-to-do/parks-and-playgrounds/dog-friendly-spaces
Currarong Beach - Have a look at this link for beach information.
AFTER ALL, WE'RE IN AUSTRALIA... What could go wrong? (special ‘seal’ section)
WARNING. Although comprehensive, fact-checked and all-true, the following advise may cause alarm to anyone that tends to catastrophise. We've spent a lot of time trying to work out the 21 things that could possibly go wrong at the Australian beach, but if you'd rather not know (ignorance is bliss, they say), then simply don't read it. Just don't say we didn't try and warn you…
1. Saltwater is not good for anyone to drink, except fish. For some weird reason dogs love drinking salty seawater, but ingesting too much can make them very sick and cause health issues. Try to discourage pooch from sculling the sea. Likewise, don’t let them drink any other water that’s about other than the fresh water you have provided them in a clean drinking bowl. Stale stagnant water can be full of germs and nasties.
2. Sand flies. Ouch! They cause terrible sting and blisters if bitten by one. You can use Aerogard on the pooch but just avoid their face, and shoo those sand flies away.
3. Mosquitoes. Yes, they bite dogs too! Mozzies are where Heartworm comes from, so try to avoid being near where there are lots of mozzies and make sure your dog has been covered for Heartworm at least a week prior to your beach visit. Heartworm injections are available at the Vet, covering for a year. NexGard Spectra does cover for Heartworm in either 3 or 6 months options along with all-wormers and Flea and Tick treatment.
4. Blue Ringed Octopus. Okay, we’re not being #OTT, they are still definitely out there, maybe just not at Bondi. Blue Ringed Octopus (from genus Hapalochlaena) consist of 4 (yes, four!) highly venomous octopus found in tidal pools and coral reefs on the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Found at NSW beaches in and near rock pools, they grow to 20cm, dark brown to dark yellow/tan and blue rings in the eye spots - with bright blue rings appearing when provoked. They are lethal to humans and pets. They contain Tetrodotoxin (like Puffer Fish). A powerful neurotoxin that is in the Octopuses saliva. Although bites are rare, if bitten death can occur in up to 30 minutes and there is no known antidote. Although naturally shy and nocturnal creatures, they may be found in the day, so, please discourage the inquisitive-pooch from running about in the rock pools. These places also often have broken, exposed oyster shells, which can cause painfully deep cuts.
5. Blue Bottles. The pretty cobalt blue jellyfish may seem fun to pop, but please don't! The sting of their tentacle is very painful, and it leaves a very red inflammation at the sting site, but it’s not fatal. However, sometimes dogs ingest blue-bottles – in which case hind limb paralysis can occur, and veterinary attention is needed for your pooch immediately. Check with surf lifesaving clubs prior to your visit or check the beach on arrival for signs of blue bottles on the shoreline.
6. Sharks. Not being an alarmist, but our beautiful coastlines and waterways are also home to some of the world’s biggest (and hungriest) carnivorous fish. Some common-sense rules need to apply; Don't let the pooch go for big dips at sunset and sunrise, when sharks prefer to feed, and try not to let pooch swim too far out in the surf or waterways. (Sharks are also in our rivers and just as hungry).
7. Sea Eagles. It has happened. If the pooch is of the very-small-variety, please consider as a precaution that - although Sea Eagles have superb eyesight - they realise your little pooch is a valued member of your family. They see something edible and swoop. (These magnificent native Birds of Prey are protected and have massive talons and killer beaks, so maybe don’t try to ‘take them on’). Just a precaution, keep your little beloved nearby and keep a cautious and peripheral eye on the sky.
8. Paralysis Ticks. This nasty parasite’s toxin can render animals (and humans) with fatal paralysis, with pets deteriorating within 24 hours. These ticks are ubiquitous on the Australian eastern coastline; Local vets see paralysis tick bites most often in summer months, and as early as August and as late as May – so year-round protection is the best protection. The tick season normally runs through to Autumn, so protecting your pet throughout spring and summer (6 months) is important. Coverage won’t stop a tick from jumping onto your pet and having a nibble, but the tick will likely just fall off your pet and the toxin won’t paralyze and kill your pet. The cost of parasite control is between $80 to $180, depending on the weight of your pet, whereas treatment in hospital for paralysis tick could cost between $1500 to $3000, without guarantee of your pet surviving tick toxin. You’ll find ticks in the sand at NSW beaches, as well as in sandy dunes and scrubby coastal bushland. The Australian Paralysis Tick Advisory Panel recommends year-round use of tick prevention products for all dogs and cats that are living in, or travelling to known paralysis tick regions such as the NSW coast. Please ask us about what is the best product for your pet (ranges include Nexgard, NexGard Spectra, and Bravecto).
9. Snakes. Again, unless you’re at Bondi (in which case pooch should be strutting on the promenade with leash) avoid your pooch from roaming about in grassy areas, sand dunes and along nice warm pavements, where the snakes are likely to be. If you suspect or know your dog may have been bitten by a snake, get them to a local vet immediately to treat envenomation.
10. Sea Snakes. “OMG, there’s snakes in the water, too?” Unfortunately, Mother Nature blessed Australian shores with snakes coming out of everywhere, even the water. NSW has 11 (not a typo; eleven) species of sea snakes, and one ‘sea krait’ just for fun. Good news is they’re rarely seen, a bit vagrant (i.e. not territorial), except for the yellow-bellied sea snake (Pelamis platurus) which is abundant. They’re all venomous but a bit on the shy side. Best to just make sure that your pooch doesn’t approach one, even if they’re washed up on shore dead. The sea snakes like to frequent muddy estuaries and reefs/coral reefs in subtropical to tropical parts.
11. Sea Lice. Not technically lice, but small larvae from jellyfish, ‘sea lice’ are tiny, transparent (2 to 3 millimeters long) larvae that release inflammatory, stinging cells which cause irritation, itching and blisters on skin. They get trapped in hair (and togs) when swimming. If there are Sea lice on our beaches, you’ll probably hear about it by the lifeguards or other swimmers scratching like mad. If your pooch is bitten, wash the affected area with fresh water (Sea lice will wash away) and apply a strong hydrocortisone cream to any inflammation, 2 to 3 times a day for 1 to 2 weeks. This cream is available from veterinarians.
12. Puffer Fish. (family Tetraodontiformes) These little ocean fish are lethal, alive or dead, to humans and animals. Dogs can be inquisitive garbage-guts at the beach, there have been instances where puffer fish have washed up dead on shorelines, or left aside from a fisherman’s catch, dogs have picked up the dead fish ,with lethal consequences. Australia has over 57 species of puffer-fish, all containing a toxin called Tetrodotoxin; one of the deadliest natural poisons, it is 1200 times more poisonous than cyanide. The toxin is in the skin and internal organs of the puffer fish and remains in the fish even after they die. Each puffer has enough poison on average to kill 30 people. Dogs can show signs of poisoning within 10 minutes; vomiting, excessive drooling, lethargy and dullness, followed by dilated pupils, trembling, muscle tremors, blue-coloured gums and seizures. Symptoms will quickly progress to paralysis, difficulty breathing, coma, leading to death. Don’t touch a puffer fish, even if it’s dead, and keep your pooch well away if you see one washed up at the beach.
13. Sunburn and Paw Burn. Your dog’s paw pads are susceptible to burn when the ground is too hot. Surfaces that can burn their pads include searing hot sand, hot bitumen and pavements, hot anything they walk on. If you can fry an egg on it, it’s too hot! Avoid letting pooch walk during the middle of the day on hot days, instead aim for early to mid-morning and late afternoon strolls. If you are worried that the ground or sand is too hot for them to walk on, try carry them (if possible) to cooler, shady surfaces or grassy patches. If you suspect their pads have been burnt, flush with cold water and apply a cold-press. Get them to a vet as well, as burned skin can quickly become infected. As a preventative measure you can get Foot Booties from pet stores, which will protect the paw pads from hot surfaces (if your dog tolerates wearing them). Likewise, your pooch can suffer from Sunburn just like humans. Whilst sunscreens are great at protecting pink noses and skin from sunburn, the best protection is avoiding searing hot sun in the middle of the day, when UV Rays are their strongest. Again, aim for morning and late afternoon exposure which is better for everyone during Summer!
14. Rips and Closed Beaches. Always check the currents and for changing conditions at the beach. Rip currents are a strong, narrow stream of water that moves from the shore into the ocean. They can appear suddenly and are dangerous, dragging people and dogs out into the ocean quickly. Did you know that the calmest part of the surf is often where the Rip current is? This is why many unsuspecting people end up needing to be rescued. Big waves dumping on the shoreline have also been known to drag people and pets out to sea. If the beach has a Closed Sign, that means it’s a no-go-zone for that day, because the conditions are simply too dangerous for anyone to be there. There would be nothing worse than watching Pooch wash away to sea like Wilson the basketball in Castaway.
15. Garbage and Washed-Up-Stuff. Now, this seems obvious, but sometimes we have to state the obvious. Please don’t let your pooch eat litter from around bins, or garbage washed up on the beach. And especially, don’t let them get hold of any dead fish and jellyfish. They can get very sick, eat discarded bones which can be very dangerous, or if they eat, bite or lick a jellyfish it can cause allergic reactions to the skin or mouth, or bring on gastrointestinal reactions.
16. Goannas (or the ‘Lace Monitor). ‘Varanus varius’ is a carnivorous Australian tree-dwelling lizard about 2 metres long and weighing up to 20kg. We’re not sure what they were doing with lace to get their name, but these giant Jurassic-type walking lizards are everywhere on the NSW South Coast (Jervis Bay and Durras Lake) and further north at Crowdy Bay. They love hanging around campgrounds scrounging for food and feeding on small mammals and bird eggs in scrubby bush. They climb trees quick and run even faster. Generally shy, if felt threatened by inquisitive dogs they may try to defend themselves; their bite is nasty, and they have very sharp claws. As they’re reptiles you’ll see them when they’re more active between September and May.
17. Cane Toads. (Oh Lordy! It never ends…) The giant Neotropical Toad ‘Rhinella marina’ are an introduced feral and noxious species. Found in open forests, grasslands, swamps, beach dunes, farmland and suburban areas of the Northern Territory, Queensland and Northern NSW. However, in early 2021, reported sightings included parts of Sydney, Central and mid-North Coasts of NSW (in other words, they’re everywhere… Streuth!), possibly travelling down in vehicles. Cane Toads are poisonous at all stages to humans and animals, including egg and tadpole stages. They have poison glands on their shoulders which secrete toxins, present everywhere on the Toad back. To become poisoned the toxin must be ingested or absorbed through mucous membranes (eye, nose or mouth), such as licking, picking up by mouth (by dogs that is), or biting. Dogs are particularly susceptible to poisoning as they will likely bite or lick the toad out of interest. Poisoning will lead to vomiting, seizures, difficulty breathing. And cardiac arrest. It’s important to flush the exposure area with water and seek urgent veterinary treatment. Cane Toads are mostly active at night, so if you’re in an area known to have Cane Toads, keep your dog inside during the night and be vigilant.
18. Fur Seals. Arctocephalus pusillus doriferusare the plump Aussie puppies-of-the-sea. They have sweet brown eyes, long backward-facing whiskers, cuddly rolls and big, bear-like teeth. They are the largest of all fur seals.They live on the east Australian coastline; on pebbly beaches, rocky islands and ledges - you’ll find them anywhere from Bass Strait through to Mid-North NSW coast. They’re everywhere at Jervis Bay and Narooma, particularly on Montague island and on Narooma’s Breakwater, Bar Rock and Wagonga Head. Males (bulls) weigh up to 350kg and females 120kg, but don’t’ be fooled by the hefty appearance - these sea-pups, unlike other seals, use all four limbs and move fast. They can be very aggressive if threatened, especially during breeding season (October to December) and when their pups are near. They’ll bark, grunt and growl or other times just swim away. Pusillus doriferus are a protected species so best to just keep the pooch well away.
19. Eels. Generally found in waterways, although non-venomous, eels can bite. Eel blood is poisonous, so if your dog does come across one, even if dead/discarded, don’t let them eat it or pick it up.
20. Ciguatera. Not an exotic little Cuban cigar, but a food-borne illness (food poisoning) caused by eating fish contaminated by ciguatera toxin – of which toxins are concentrated in the fish organs. It affects both humans and animals – like your pet dog. Symptoms include nausea, pain, cardiac and neurological symptoms. Poisoning comes from eating any reef fish, Barracuda, Grouper, Red Snapper, Moray Eel, Amberjack, Parrotfish, Hogfish, Surgeonfish, Kingfish, Coral Trout, and Sea Bass. Just be mindful of eating these fish and allowing your dog to tuck into the leftovers.
21. Crikey! A final note on travelling to beaches up ‘North’ and the Top End. Many places still have wild Dingo populations. A spectacular, ancient lineage of dog found in Australia, Canis lupus (dingo) is native to the beaches in northern places like Fraser Island. ‘Fraser’ is part of the great Sandy National Park in Queensland, so domestic pets are prohibited on the island other than assistance dogs. If you take your pooch onto the island there’s tough fines. Plus, being more wolf than dog, Dingoes won’t accept Pooch as one of their kind (and it could become pooch’s last playdate). Along with Cane Toads, the dreaded Taipan snake, Crocs all year round, Box Jelly Fish and impressive Cyclones to dodge, there’s so much to see and do up ‘North’… but don’t expect to meet Yowies or Drop-Bears, these aren’t real.
If you've survived reading our cataclysmic-thesis on ‘all the things that could possibly go wrong on NSW beaches (and beyond)’ and if you think we’ve missed anything please get in touch and let us know, so we can add it to our comprehensive list. Also, we understand you may now feel like never leaving your home ever again, singing ‘find a happy place to pooch; try not to stress… Australia's beautiful! Just be prepared, be responsible, be vigilant and be sensible, and you'll have tonnes of fun at the beach with pooch this Summer!
© Copyright Mittagong Veterinary Hospital, 2021.
Image attribution Mittagong Vet, Wiki-Commons, iStock.