Pets Onboard

Published in the November 2011 Issue March 2019 Feature Brandon Barrus

Houseboaters are often pet people, and why not? Both owning a pet and owning a houseboat usually mean you spend time outside, and both require a certain level of maintenance that is paid off and then some in the end. The trick, however, is that combining these two loves can be difficult. If you're planning a boating trip and want to bring along Sparky, do you know how to prepare in order to keep both your houseboat and your pet safe?

Well, for starters, ensure that your marina even allows pets. You don't want to arrive and be told you can't bring Tippy along. While you're on the phone, ask about their policies, as many locations require that you keep pets on a leash and not leave them alone. Even if you never planned on enjoying a houseboat cruise without your dog, it's good to know what you can and cannot do.

In addition, check with your boat insurance company to see if your pets are protected. With Progressive’s Pet Injury Coverage (, your vet bills are covered up to $1,000 if your pets are hurt in a boating incident.

Outfit your pets with up-to-date ID tags with your cell phone number, marina address, and slip number. If there’s room, consider including the fact that you’ll offer a reward for their safe return. Most people are kind at heart and will return someone's lost dog if given the ability and information required to.

Bring along copies of your pets’ health records and vaccinations. Some marinas and camping spots require this kind of documentation.
Take the time to pack a bag so you’re prepared for anything. Stock it with things like cleaning supplies, a towel or travel bed so your pets have a place to sleep, portable bowls, food and water, a pet first aid kit and lots of toys.

For safety, fit your pets with a personal flotation device or life jacket before you head off to the lake. Find one with a lifting handle to make it easy and safe to lift your pets from the water. Give them time on land to get used to wearing it.

Animal Onboard

Be sure to store away any potentially toxic or dangerous materials, like cleaning supplies, fuel, hooks, and others. You don't want to have to visit the vet while on vacation. And give your pets a helping hand with a ramp that helps them get onboard and off, both from the dock and from the water.
Protect your pets from the heat by providing shade and plenty of water, and wash any outdoor decks with cool water to protect their paws. While you can put on a pair of sandals when the mid-day sun gets unbearable, as far as I know you can't find flip-flops for puppies.

Watch For Wooziness
If your pets are overly tired or disoriented, seasickness might be to blame. Some vets recommend giving them ginger or medications like Bonine or Dramamine. Ask your vet before giving your pets anything, and always follow the recommended dosing guidelines.

Follow these suggestions when taking your pets with you on the houseboat and maybe, just maybe Mr. Fuzzy won't have reason to chew every piece of furniture you own when you get home.


Additional Tips By Heidi Ganahl, CEO and founder of Camp Bow Wow

1. Pets Need A PFD (Personal Flotation Device)

Just like humans, your dog may not be the best swimmer. Even if he can swim well, Fido may not be able to avoid exhaustion or hypothermia if he falls overboard. PFD’s are made just for dogs and can be found at most pet stores. In order to guarantee your dog’s PFD takes care of him, make sure the PFD fits Fido securely. Allow Fido time to practice swimming with his PFD so that he can become comfortable with it before getting on the boat.

2. Pets Need SPF

Just like humans, Fido can get extremely sunburned, especially if he has light-colored hair. Dog sunburns can cause the same problems as that of humans: peeling, redness and even cancer. Skin cancer in pets is much more prevalent than one would assume, so purchasing pet-friendly sunscreen can go a long way in protecting Fido’s health during your boating adventure. Places that are easy to forget, but prone to burning are: inside the nostrils, tip of nose, around your dog’s lips and the inside of ears for dogs with standup ears.

3. Don’t Assume Fido Is A Nautical Pup

Dogs often prefer stationary areas, like their beloved dog bed. Placing Fido on a moving boat may be a stressful experience if he is not properly prepared. Before the big boating day, introduce Fido to the boat and allow him to become acquainted with it while it is still immobile. Next, start the boat’s engine. The loud noise will probably be unfamiliar to Fido and hearing it will help him adjust. Next, bring Fido onto the boat and take him on a short ride. So that Fido will begin associating his PFD with the boat, it is a good idea to have him practice swimming in it after the boat ride.

4. Fresh Water For Fido

Be sure to keep Fido hydrated by bringing fresh drinking water onto the boat. A water bottle that can squirt water directly into Fido’s mouth is a good way to hydrate him during a bumpy boat ride. As Fido may not know how dehydrated he really is, he might not beg for water on his own. If necessary, initiate his water consumption.

5. Don’t Have TOO Much Fun In The Sun

Excessive sun exposure can cause heat problems for Fido, like heatstroke, if not given a break from the heat and sun. Boat surfaces made of fiberglass are prone to getting extremely hot when in direct sunlight, and Fido will absorb that heat through the pads in his feet. Be sure to establish a shaded area where Fido can retreat when he is feeling overheated. Depending on where you’re boating, a dip in the water can be a great way to cool him down.

6. Fido Will Need To Relieve His Bladder

If possible, designate a spot where Fido can urinate while on the boat. Pet stores sell great Wee-Wee Pads or doggie potties that look just like a patch of grass. Having one of these options onboard for Fido to use will help him know where to go and it is easy cleanup for the owner.

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