For many people, summers joys are wrapped up in hours by the swimming pool or days spent by the lake. Most humans must be taught to swim, but animals—at least some animals—are able to do it instinctively.
Animals that swim
Pigs tend to be very good swimmers. In the course of pig evolution, many breeds learned to traverse water to secure food, find better living conditions, or avoid predators. Want a real treat? Visit the Big Major Cay in the Bahamas to swim with pigs yourself.
Most spiders avoid water, but fishing spiders can stay under water for at least half an hour, storing air in the hair on their abdomen. Though large, most moose can navigate water well, too, swimming up to 6 mph and for as far as 12 miles. Surprisingly, hippopotamuses cannot swim. They float! Their copious amounts of fat make them buoyant, and they control their breathing and body position to stay afloat. When they do sink, they can hold their breath (for long amounts of time) and walk on the bottom until they reach shallow water levels and can come up for air.
So what about common pets? While cats are generally afraid of water, Asian fishing cats thrive in it. They happily swim to catch their dinner.
As for dogs, some do, some don’t! Water spaniels, golden retrievers, and Irish and English setters are natural swimmers, propelled by their strong limbs. Low-to-the-ground dogs such as bulldogs, dachshunds and boxers simply can’t get enough thrust from their short legs to stay afloat easily. But even if a dog has the physical composition to swim well doesn’t mean it will. Some dogs, like humans, may have a fear of water that keeps them on dry land.
Teaching your pet to thrive in water
If you want a water-friendly pet, you may be able to teach them to love water—or at least tolerate it. Start early, exposing your puppy or kitty to water at a young age. Introduce them slowly and gradually, starting in shallow water. Speak calmly to comfort them and offer rewards for staying in the water or swimming small lengths. You can toss animal toys into the water to get pets to venture further out. There are dog-friendly life jackets that are often very helpful in teaching a dog to swim (though life jackets are usually a hindrance for cats). Check your local pet store for more information.