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Coastal canine care

YOU and your dog are headed to the beach - for a day, a few days at a pet-friendly resort or a week at a friend's beachfront home. What can you expect besides hot sand and salty water?

In a word: Wildlife.

Seagulls are found in large, loud flocks at nearly every ocean in the world. Sea stars (historically called starfish) are found on both coasts. Sand crabs feed where the waves break on the Pacific coast and horseshoe crabs live in the shifting sands of the Atlantic coast.

Here are some tips on taking dogs to the beach, and some fun facts about the other creatures you, your pet and your kids may encounter there.

Dogs at the beach

Remember to bring a leash, doggie pick-up bags, fresh drinking water and a bowl. And be aware that the biggest risk for a dog at the beach is salt poisoning from the water, said Dr Tina Wismer, medical director for the Animal Poison Control Center run by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Urbana, Illinois.

"Dogs who like to retrieve balls and other objects out of the water can ingest enough water to make them sick," she said. In fresh water, the games are the same but the problem can be drinking too much water, or water intoxication.

"The most common treatment of salt poisoning or water intoxication is intravenous fluid therapy," the veterinarian said.

Other things dog-owners should watch for: "Dogs can get sick from eating dead fish, crabs, or even bird feces," Wismer said. "If a dog ingests dead animals, or feces found on the beach, they may need fluids and antibiotics, depending on what and how much was ingested."

In some areas, jellyfish can show up in the water. Their stings can be very painful for both dogs and humans. "If a dog is stung by a jellyfish, pain medication could be necessary," Wismer said.

Some sea stars are also poisonous and can cause severe vomiting and drooling in a dog, she added.


Gulls will eat whatever they find wherever they find it, said animal expert Marc Morrone, host of Hallmark Channel's "Petkeeping with Marc Morrone."

"If a seagull can't go fishing, it will find something else and its babies will thrive. If a tern can't go fishing, its babies will die," Morrone said.

Baby gulls are about the same size as their parents, but remain brown for three or four years before turning white. In the spring, a red dot develops on the necks of parent gulls. "This dot is where babies peck to cause the birds to regurgitate their food. The dots go away by summer when babies no longer need to be fed by their parents," Morrone said.

There are several species of gulls: the California gull can be found on the Pacific coast from Canada to northern Mexico. The herring gull is the most common on the East Coast. Almost all gulls can live for decades.

"Don't feed seagulls," warned Carrie Wilson, a marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game based in Monterey. That will encourage them and they are already pests, she said. They are opportunists, she explained, waiting until you go in the water to steal food from your beach blanket.

Sea stars

Sea stars won't be found on the sand, but can attach to rocks, piers and pilings or around tide pools, said Kristine Barsky, a state Fish and Game marine biologist based in Ventura.

There are more than 1,800 species of sea stars and while the five-pronged versions are the most common, they may have as many as 40 arms.

"Kids always want to take them home but the minute you do they die," Barsky said. "They look good and thrive at the beach. As soon as you take them home, their color fades, they die and they smell bad."

Sea stars can regenerate their limbs and other body parts. They feed on clams or oysters by forcing their shells open with their suction cup feet. They also detect light through spots at the end of each limb.

Sand crabs

Sand crabs are used for bait, birds eat them and kids love to dig them out of the sand because they dig right back in, Barsky said.

They have pointy legs, but can only move backward. To eat, they burrow in the sand facing the sea with only their eyes and first antennae visible. As a wave passes over them, they uncoil a second pair of antennae that sweep through the water and filter out plankton. A sand crab can do this several times in one wave.

Sand crabs are about the size of a thumb and can be found all along the North American coast.

Horseshoe crabs

The horseshoe crab can be found on the Atlantic coast from Maine to the Yucatan, with the largest population in the Delaware Bay.

The horseshoe crab is more closely related to scorpions and spiders than crabs, according to marine biologists at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.

The crab has five pair of legs and 10 eyes, two on its back and eight others on its body and tail. Because of its hard armored shell, the crabs' only predator is the shark.


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