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Can All Animals Swim?

by Barry KuKes
The obvious question to ask is, “Do dogs, cats, and rabbits know how to swim?” Based on re-search, all these animals should know how to swim instinctively, but this is not always the case. Cats are said to be very good swimmers but are afraid of water because they have never been formally introduced. Kittens introduced to water at an early age adjust very well and could swim on a regular basis if allowed.

Rabbits are also good swimmers. According to all rabbits can swim as it’s a basic survival instinct. Most pet rabbits prefer to stay on dry land, but there are exceptions to the rule. Never force a rabbit to go into the water, as it can cause extreme shock. If a rabbit does enjoy swimming, there are health benefits to this activity, just like swimming benefits humans.

Out of the three types of animals, dogs seem to be the species that adapts to water the best, unless the dog’s name is Max. I have shared stories about my Golden Bentley and the loss of my Black Lab Bear, but I have another dog, a 9-year-old Golden Lab named Max. He was the original Ambassador Dog for Halifax Humane Society until this year when his hip arthritis escalated, and we had to force him into early retirement.

Max cannot swim. We have tried to teach him, but he just cannot do it. I have taken him into ponds (free of gators) and swimming pools (also free of gators), but he just flails wildly as if to say, “Help Me, Help Me!” I am right there with him, thank goodness, or else surely he would drown. He can’t distinguish the difference between a solid surface like a pool deck and the surface of the water. He walks right into the pool, unaware that he is about to go under, and then here he comes back to the surface, “Help Me, Help Me!” We do not have a pool, so Max is safe. If we take him to a neighbor’s home and they have a pool, we keep an eye on him, and I am always ready to dive in to save him.

I find his behavior very odd for a Lab that should love to swim. He had a sister who we got when we lived in Florida the first time, named Fiona. She was a Yellow Lab and spent more time in our pool than we did. We called her Ester Williams be-cause of how well she swam. She would go in the pool when we were just getting up in the morning. My wife would see ripples on the water and say, “that darn dog is wet again!” Fiona was always wet. Max, not at all.

The point of this column to make people aware of the swimming abilities of animals in our community. Most dogs should be able to swim, yet there are many like Max. Cats will accidentally fall into a swimming pool and scramble to get out. Rabbits will swim if they must, but they prefer dry land. What about squirrels, rats, otters, beavers, opossums, or raccoons? They all know how to swim and actually exceptionally well.
So the next time you see a dog, a cat, and a rabbit in a boat, don’t worry about them unless the dog is named Max. Re-member to adopt, don’t shop.

Barry KuKes is the Community Outreach Director for the Halifax Humane Society. You can reach Barry at 386.274.4703, ext. 320, or