Home » Blog » Bilharziasis 101: Why Should You Stop Letting Your Dog Swim In Rivers, Ponds, And Lakes?

A white dog standing on a marshland

Dog owners usually love taking their dogs into different bodies of water to play and swim. Letting dogs swim is an excellent recreational activity and exercise for every canine. However, bringing your pups on vacation on rivers, ponds, and lakes may await various diseases and infections, such as a flatworm called bilharziasis.

Even though it is delightful to let your dog have a great time with pools of water, dog owners, volunteers, and foster parents must still remember that it is dangerous for canines to get exposed to dirty waters. Little do we know, a short time of playing with infected waters can lead to severe illnesses.

Why Is It Dangerous To Let Your Dog Swim In Rivers, Ponds, And Lakes?

A border collie running in the water with a twig on its mouth

Swimming can indeed bring various benefits to a dog. However, taking them to lakes, ponds, or rivers can put them at risk. Here are some complications your dog may encounter while swimming:

  1. Drowning – When your dog does not know how to swim, water can get into its lungs, leading to drowning. It may also cause inflammation and infection to your dog’s body organs.
  2. Infections to blue-green algae – Accidentally drinking dirty water may lead to blue-green algae infection, causing mild irritation to severe liver failures.
  3. Exhaustion and dehydration – When exposed to heat without enough hydration, dogs may feel exhausted and dehydrated.

Aside from these complications, the most severe disease a dog can have from swimming in lakes, ponds, and rivers is catching bilharziasis. 

What Is Bilharziasis?

A brown dog in the water, holding a stick on its mouth

Bilharziasis, or also known as schistosomiasis, is a parasitic infection from a flatworm called Heterobilharzia Americana. Usually, it comes from infected freshwater snails or raccoons. Moreover, it may also come from minks, deers, opossums, beavers, and coyotes in some cases.

This parasitic infection may affect any dog, significantly those fond of swimming in various bodies of water. Once a canine catches this disease, it may experience debilitation or, worse, fatal effects. 

How Can Bilharziasis Be Transmitted To Dogs?

Two dogs standing near the lake

Different hosts of H. Americana may contaminate any bodies of water, which any animal can drink. Aside from that, the infected water may also penetrate to a dog’s skin, starting the parasite infection.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bilharziasis?

 A brown dog lying on a bed.

Since infected dogs may not show specific signs of bilharziasis, it may be challenging to identify if your pet gets infected with it. Additionally, some symptoms may also be different in some animals.

However, here are some well-known indications of catching this parasite infection:

  • Coughing
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Anorexia
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Hypersalivation
  • Weight loss
  • Anemia
  • Dermatitis
  • Hypocalcemia; and
  • Debilitation

How Can Bilharziasis Become Diagnosed?

A dog standing on rocks in a creek

Since some symptoms of schistosomiasis are insufficient, veterinarians may only detect this infection by performing a direct saline smear test. Your veterinarian will take a stool sample from your pet dog and examine it to see parasites in it.

Aside from that, your dog may also undergo an ultrasound and X-ray on its organs. If there are enlargements of the spleen, lymph, intestinal tracts, or liver, your dog must have caught schistosomiasis. 

Moreover, microscopic examination of mesenteric veins and scrapings of the intestinal mucosa and liver tissues may also help detect adult worms’ presence.

How Can You Treat Bilharziasis?

Man giving medicine to a Siberian husky

Unfortunately, treating this parasitic infection may be challenging because cystic fibrosis and skin lesions may develop before symptoms appear. The time you spend on the diagnosis and tests may also contribute to lengthening the infection period without treatments.

Nonetheless, once your dog gets diagnosed from the animal hospital, you will need to make them take anti-worm medication. The best treatment includes three takes daily of Praziquantel (10mg) for two days and one of Fenbendazole (24mg) every day for seven days.

With the correct treatment and medication, your pup may fight against schistosomiasis.

How Can You Prevent Bilharziasis?

A golden retriever lying on the ground near a beach

The best way to prevent schistosomiasis is not to let your dog get in contact with infected water, especially canals, rivers, ponds, or lakes. It will also help if you bring your own water bottle to avoid drinking from dirty pools of water.

However, if you still want to have the best time of your life with your best friend, you may take them to the beach instead! Saltwater may include antibacterial properties where pathogens cannot live. With that, it is safer to have a vacation in places with saltwater.


A woman and a dog inside a tent near a body of water

It is an excellent idea to let dogs have fun, but their health must always be safe and prioritized. Every dog owner must never forget to take precautions before letting their dogs play to prevent possible conflicts. Remember that you can always have the best swimming playtime without putting your dog at risk.

If you wish to help dogs or other animals deal with different matters about pets, you may become one with Doobert! You may sign up as a volunteer or a foster fur parent to animals worthy of your love and rescue. You may also get help from volunteers if you encounter complications.

With proper care and love for animals, everyone can be at ease when having fun!