After a long, cold New England winter, summer is a welcomed change. It’s a time for local cookouts, trips down the Cape, and backyard pool parties. But when temperatures increase, the dangers to our beloved dogs and cats can too. To keep your pet safe, you have to be prepared. Care.com interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Rozanski, associate professor of clinical sciences at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and section head for emergency medicine at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals, for tips on preventing accidents and safeguarding your pet during the summer months.
Dehydration and Heat Stroke
Dehydration and heat stroke are very real threats when the dog days of summer are upon us. Animals should always have fresh, clean water available, whether it’s summer or the dead of winter. Carry portable water bowls on walks. Bring them on your Maine vacation or long car rides down the Cape (you never know how traffic will be!). Short-nosed dogs, like pugs, Japanese chins and bulldogs, darker-colored pets, animals that are overweight or ones that have thick coats (like Himalayan or Persian cats), are especially prone to heat stress. Watch out for these symptoms:
•Refusal to eat
•Decreased skin elasticity (Gently pinch your pet’s skin near the shoulder up into the shape of a tent; if the skin is slow to snap back, your pet may be dehydrated.)
Don’t worry if your dog pants. “It’s how they cool themselves,” says Dr. Rozanski. “The hotter it is, the more they will pant.” Other ways to cool your pup? Fans, ice packs, frozen treats, ice cubes, kiddie pools and sprinklers. Your kids and dog will have a blast.
What should you do if you think your pet is dehydrated? “If they seem weak or off-balance, cool them with a hose or wet towels and get them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible,” recommends Ronzanski.
We have all been guilty of it. You leave the dog or cat in the car to run a quick errand inside a store. But in the summer months or if the temperature is above 65 degrees, stop this bad habit. “It’s too great a risk to your dog’s health and should not be done,” warns Dr. Rozanski. So keep your pet safe and bring them inside with you.
Ever heard the expression, “It’s so hot, you can fry an egg on the sidewalk”? Things like black pavement (or asphalt) can get very hot and can harm your pets’ paws. “Think about what you’re walking on,” says Dr. Rozanski. “If you wouldn’t like walking on it with bare feet, try to limit your dog’s time on it too.”
Talk to your dog walker about what routes to avoid in the summer. Stay away from asphalt or rough pavement, pick softer routes and schedule walks for cooler times of the day.
And what about booties? “If you think your dog will tolerate them, give them a try—but many really don’t like them,” says Dr. Rozanski. Plus, common sense tricks, like walking in the shade, can replace the need for booties, so try that before paying for something your pup may not like.
Pools and water
Despite what YouTube may tell us, cats and rabbits don’t like to swim. “I believe most of the animals [in the videos] are not enjoying it,” says Dr. Rozanski. And not all dogs have mastered the doggie paddle. Some may not like water and certain breeds like pugs and terriers may have trouble swimming. So before you bring Fido to the beach or pool, buy a flotation device (yes, dogs can wear floaties too!) to keep your pup safe. If you are planning a boating adventure off Gloucester with your dog this summer, make sure he doesn’t jump overboard, which can be dangerous for animals. And never try to force your pet into the water.
If you luck out and your pet enjoys splashing around, always rinse off after a swim. The chlorine, salt and bacteria in pools and lakes can be harmful. Animals should also have a shady area nearby where they can cool off and access to fresh water, as drinking salt water and pool water can cause health problems.
More time spent outdoors means more potential encounters with slithering serpents. Most snakes in New England are harmless, but sometimes a snake’s bite is worse than your dog’s bark. Protect your pet (and the rest of your family) by keeping your yard tidy—snakes love to hide and tall grass and piles of junk are perfect spots.
Remind kids that if they see a snake—no matter if it’s poisonous or not – they should back away and leave it alone. “If your dog is inclined to chase wild animals, get him or her into the house until the animal goes away,” advises Dr. Rozanski.
If your cat is allowed to go outside, do a quick surveillance of your yard beforehand to make sure the coast is clear. Unfortunately, a cat or a small dog can be a perfect-size meal for some snakes.
If a pet is bitten by a snake, its face and head will become swollen and “you should call your vet right away,” urges Dr. Rozanski. The ASPCA also has a guide on snake bite and safety prevention.
Grooming is especially important in warmer New England weather. Brush your pet more often during the summer to get rid of excess or matted fur, which can weigh a pet down and contribute to overheating. And it depends on where you live and the type of animal you have, but “if they seem uncomfortable because of their thick coat, for example dogs may pant endlessly, consider taking them to a groomer,” says Dr. Rozanski. Never cut too closely though, as a coat protects your pet from the harsh summer sun.
Buzz. Buzz. It may not be a pleasant sound to us, but it can cause your pet to investigate. And while curiosity may not kill the cat (or dog), it can get them stung. So what should you do? “Often—nothing,” says Dr. Rozanski. If there is a lot of swelling, call your vet who can suggest an office visit or prescribe an over-the-counter medicine. Some OTCs are harmful to pets though, so never dispense them on your own.
And watch how your pet responds to any swelling. If they are very irritated, they may scratch the stung area, pulling out the fur. These “hot spots” make your pet look bald. Bring your pet to the vet right away if you notice this behavior or these spots.
With all of the time your pet will be spending outdoors, one of the biggest dangers is ticks. During the summer, Dr. Rozanski recommends that you or your Boston dog walker checks your pet for ticks at least once a day and look thoroughly after walks or trips through wooded areas. “Ticks can be harder to find on thicker coat dogs,” she warns. “And dogs are often more affected than cats are.”
What should you do if you find a tick? Look through the ASPCA’s guide: How to Remove a Tick from Your Pet. Once it’s removed (usually with tweezers), “try to save it in an airtight container,” suggests Dr. Rozanski. “Then ask your vet if you should bring it in for testing.” Ticks carry a number of diseases, including Lyme disease, but symptoms are often hard to spot. Dogs may be tired or feverish, or become lame. So also talk to your vet ahead of time about effective tick medication, and only use products that are made for your type of pet.
BBQs and family cookouts
Everyone loves a cookout, especially your pet, who gets to feast on table scraps. But a little of this and a taste of that can be bad for pets--and not just for their waistlines. Some surprising foods, such as grapes, onions, garlic and raisins can be toxic to dogs if consumed in large quantities and should stay off their menu. Grapes and raisins are safe for cats, but keep onions and garlic away from them, says Dr. Rozanski.
Watch out for these BBQ favorites that can pose a problem for your pet.
•Barbeque: This slow-cooked delight can cause non-delightful diarrhea in dogs.
•Corn on the cob. Dogs often have difficultly digesting corn cobs and this barbeque staple can be a choking hazard.
•Fruits with pits. Peaches, avocados and other pitted fruit can be choking hazards.
•Food with bones: Squeaky bone that’s a toy: great. Real bones in food: not so much. Even things like bone-in wings can be very dangerous for your pet, as they may splinter and hurt their GI system, sometimes even piercing their bowels. Avoid the emergency room by not feed your pet anything with bones.
•Foods with toothpicks or skewers: An overlooked toothpick or splinter can pierce or make a hole in the intestines.
•Ice cream: A little of any flavor is fine for most dogs. Try some, but it may not agree with all dogs, especially if they have sensitive stomachs. Just like people, some dogs can be lactose intolerant.
And what about everything else on the table? “Table scraps and treats should be kept to less than 10 percent of a pet’s diet,” says Dr. Rozanski. Boneless chicken, hamburgers and hot dogs are okay, but limit them to small quantities. As you know, most pets eat anything and everything, so keep an eye on what they’re indulging in.
Talk to any guests, especially kids, before summer parties. Politely remind them if your pet has a special diet, is allergic to anything or if there are any foods on the table that could cause a health problem. You want to enjoy the party too, not spend it looking after a pet with an upset stomach.
These dangers may sound scary, but a little preparation and watchful eye is all you need to take the heat off your summer. Get more hot weather tips from the ASPCA.