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Summer Safety for Pets
The summer is a time for vacations, barbecues, parties, swimming, and simply enjoying the warm weather. The season is even more fun when your cat or dog can join you for the festivities.
But there are a few safety considerations when taking your four-legged friend along for summer activities. Let’s take a look at the dos and don’ts of including your pet in some summer fun.
Beach and Pool Safety
There is nothing better than lounging around a pool or swimming in a lake during the summer. Where else would you want to be when the temperatures start to soar? You and your pet can both cool off by swimming. If you own a Labrador Retriever or another water dog breed, you’ll have a swimming buddy by default! However, when your dog is around water or swimming, there are some precautions.
Make sure your dog knows how to swim
Dogs are not all born to swim (some don’t even want to try). If you know you’ll be around water and want to ensure your pup is safe, it’s a good idea to gradually introduce them to swimming before you hit the lake. It is also better to introduce your pet to water when they are younger.
Start by getting into the water with your pup and introducing them to shallow water. It will help your dog become more confident if he sees you in the water with him.
As your dog paddles with his front legs, gently lift his back legs to demonstrate how to float.
The most important thing is not to force it. Make sure your dog gets out of the water if he is nervous or scared. Keeping your dog relaxed during water time is essential.
Also important: Learn CPR for dogs in case of an emergency.
Always keep an eye out for your pet
Always know where your pet is when you’re near a body of water, whether it’s the backyard pool or the ocean. Many dogs do not enjoy swimming, and some breeds must be especially cautious when swimming (e.g., Bulldogs, Pugs, Shih-Tzus). These brachycephalic breeds have flat faces, short snouts, and large chests, making them tire out pretty quickly when they swim.
If you’re swimming in a pool with your dog, make sure he swims laps and doesn’t just lap up the water. A dog consuming excessive amounts of chlorinated pool water can experience nausea, vomiting, and esophageal erosion.
Stop your dog if you notice him trying to drink from the ocean. “Drinking a lot of salt water affects a dog’s blood sodium and can result in seizures,” explained Dr. Virginia Sinnott-Stutzman, an Emergency and Critical Care specialist at MSPCA-Angell Boston.
If you catch your dog drinking seawater, watch for any physical changes. “If your dog gets lethargic and almost seems dull like they’re on some sort of drug, then it might be worth getting their sodium level checked.” Providing fresh water helps your dog avoid drinking from the ocean, so if they do end up lapping up saltwater, the fresh water will help fix their sodium levels, added Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.
It is possible to get sick from the water’s salt, bacteria, and parasites. If your dog is swimming or playing in the ocean, in most cases, a few mouthfuls of salt water may only cause diarrhea. But stop your dog from drinking if you see them gulping down seawater.
You can prevent skin and paw irritation by rinsing your dog’s paws with fresh water after leaving the beach.
It is also important to monitor puppies carefully. Swimming may be exciting, but they’re still babies and will tire quickly.
Be aware of water conditions
You should keep your pup away from blue-green algae because the water can make him sick. “Cyanobacteria — or blue-green algae — can cause liver failure in your pet,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “Symptoms come on very fast and are usually vomiting and lethargy.”
Additional symptoms include:
It is becoming more common to find algae blooms on beaches and lakes, so it is crucial to do a little research before heading out. “Don’t just assume a pond is a place where your dog can drink,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.
She suggests proactive preparation before heading out to the beach for the day. Check online for news reports and your town’s beach or lake water quality updates. Often, toxic algae blooms appear as pea-green paint or slime on the water’s surface. The good thing is that an algae bloom has the advantage of being visible, so you really can’t miss it.
The algae film often concentrates along shorelines where animals may drink or swim. Take precautions before allowing your pet to jump into a body of water. And be sure to rinse your pet with clean water after he goes for a swim; the algae can stick to his fur and later be ingested if he licks himself.
Use a life jacket
In addition to keeping your dog afloat, dog life jackets make it easier for you to spot them in the water. If you are taking your pet out on a boat, you may want to consider purchasing one for them.
Image courtesy of Ruffwear
“Life jackets are necessary if you’re taking your dog on a boat or kayak,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “I see a lot of dogs on paddle boards with their owners, and because they might have just rented it casually, they may not think about needing a life jacket.” But especially on a craft like that, if they fall off, you’ll be tippy trying to get them on the paddle board with you. So you really want to make sure that they have a life jacket.
“There really aren’t safety classifications and recommendations when it comes to life jackets for dogs,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. The MSPCA-Angell specialist suggests testing the life jacket before using it. “Put it on your dog, make sure it’s a good fit and that they’re comfortable.”
If you have access to a pool, test the life jacket to see if it’s buoyant enough. “It may look like a good life jacket, but it might not have enough buoyancy to keep your dog afloat. Or if the buoyancy is in the wrong place, they could flip them over and make them more likely to drown,” Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.
The veterinarian also suggests sticking to reputable brands Ruffwear. “This isn’t the time to buy fashionable outerwear,” she said. “Just because it looks cute or trendy doesn’t mean it’ll help your dog.”
Watch what your dog eats
When dead fish and crabs wash up on shore, dogs may be interested in snacking on them. While they may look tasty for your dog, the creatures may contain deadly toxins that can make them sick.
Sand is another thing that some dogs end up eating at the beach. It is often accidentally ingested when digging in the sand or repeatedly picking up beach toys. Sand impaction can occur if a dog swallows enough sand and requires immediate veterinary assistance. “Sand just shrink wraps in the colon,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “Treatment for ingesting sand includes administering mineral water or oil enemas to help push the sand through.” Vomiting, dehydration, and abdominal pain are signs of this severe condition.
Editor’s Note: These tips can also double for dealing with thunderstorms.
Image courtesy of American Humane
What would summer be without fireworks on July 4th? While the loud booms, crackles, and flashing lights delight us, your pet thinks otherwise! Some pets are not fazed by fireworks, while others panic as soon as they hear them.
Fireworks can be downright scary for your pet. Animals have a keen sense of hearing. It’s four times more sensitive than ours—so what we hear at 20 feet, a dog can hear at 80 feet.
Also, pets don’t understand the random sounds and lights caused by fireworks, so they perceive them as a threat. “It’s difficult to deal with noise phobias like fireworks and get your dog to stop being afraid of them because you can’t create the stimulus to train them,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman.
You can do a few things if your pet suffers from a fear of or aversion to loud noises.
Maintain a calm demeanor. “Keep your demeanor calm,” suggests Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. Chances are, if you’re cool as a cucumber, your dog will mimic you and calm down. A dog is intuitive and can sense fear or discomfort in humans, especially in their owners. If you’re frightened or stressed out, your dog will see your reaction to the loud fireworks and assume that he should also react that way.
Additionally, don’t change the way you speak to your pet. Sometimes when we see our dogs afraid or stressed, the first thing we want to do is talk sympathetically to calm their nerves. Instead, maintain a matter-of-fact tone, as if nothing unusual is happening. Also, avoid saying “It’s okay” and reassuring your pet that things are fine. Your positive manner will come across as praise (and you don’t want to praise them for being scared).
Create a safe area for your pet. Put your dog’s bed and favorite toys in a small room in your house and close any windows that may be open to muffle the noise. It also helps to block any outside light with shades or curtains. If your dog is crate trained or enjoys sleeping in his crate, encourage your dog to go to his crate (he may just head there on his own). Turning up the volume on the TV and playing music are great distracting tools.
Image courtesy of the Humane Society of Navarro County
Sometimes medication helps. The market is flooded with anti-anxiety solutions for pets, from CBD oils to over-the-counter sedatives. “There are also prescription medications, including heavy sedatives, specifically designed to deal with thunderstorms and firework phobia,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. She suggests the FDA-approved SILEO™, a low-dose dexmedetomidine oromucosal gel. It’s applied between the dog’s cheek and gum, allowing transmucosal absorption. “SILEO is a sedative-hypnotic that we use to induce anesthesia—it puts your pet in a state where they just don’t care.”
Always talk to your veterinarian before trying any medication on your pet. They will have a good idea of what your pet can handle and recommend the best option.
Sometimes compression clothing helps. If you want to avoid medication, try using a compression shirt or vest. ThunderShirts are popular and available online. The pressure from the shirt helps release pheromones or hormones that are calming to your dog. Alternatively, you can swaddle your pet in a scarf or fabric bandage.
A tired dog is a calm dog. If you know when the fireworks display is starting (or when there’s a storm approaching), it may help to take your dog out for a run or exercise to tire him out. Exercise reduces anxiety and stress, so he may be able to handle his fears more effectively the first fireworks bang is heard.
Proper identification is a must. It is not uncommon for pets to run in a panic when they hear fireworks (or thunder). “They instinctively want to den when they feel unsafe,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. Proper identification is crucial in such a situation. Your dog’s collar should include ID tags with your name, your dog’s name, and your phone number (some tags also have room for a location and/or address).
You can also buy a GPS tracking device for your dog. There are various trackers on the market (and they can be on the expensive side). Still, whenever your pup runs away, you can easily track him using your mobile phone.
Having your pet microchipped is a good idea, but it won’t help if he runs away. Microchipping your pet is often misunderstood. Microchipping is not a tracking device. Getting your pet microchipped will only be useful if someone finds your lost pet and brings him to a veterinarian so they can scan the chip to find you, the owner. A microchip is useless if the dog is never seen by a human and brought to a veterinarian.
Feline friends get frightened, too! Cats can and do have noise phobias, though they are less common. Cats tend to hide when they are frightened. If you’re at home and watching the fireworks, ensure you find your cat before the fireworks begin. If the cat is in a room with a door, close the door.
Summer Heat Safety
Spending time outdoors with your pet is great, but the rising temperatures can sometimes limit your outside enjoyment. Heatstroke can be a risk for your four-legged friends in the summer. “We see a lot of dogs coming into Emergency and Critical Care with heatstroke or heat exhaustion on that first sunny day of spring or that first sweltering afternoon in the heat waves of summer,” explained Dr. Sinnutt-Stutzman.
It’s safe to say if you feel the heat, your pet will feel it even more. But summer can be safer for your pet if you know the risks of high temperatures and how to help him.
Know the warning signs of heatstroke
When the temperature rises, dogs and cats have difficulty dissipating heat because they have furry bodies. When they can’t cool themselves, their core temperatures rise rapidly, resulting in heatstroke. Knowing the signs of heatstroke can help prevent your pets from suffering from it.
If you find that your pet is suffering from heatstroke:
Immediately take your pet to a shady, cool area. Angle a fan directly on them if you have one. Rectal thermometers help track your pet’s temperature.
Offer cool water to your pet, but don’t force them to drink if they don’t want to.
Put a cool (not ice cold) wet towel under your pet’s armpits and around their groin. Apply water to the tips of their ears.
You should take your pet to an emergency veterinarian facility as soon as possible. This isn’t a “just in case” situation. Your pet needs to be treated by a vet even if you can get them out of the heat and cool them down with wet towels. Your pet’s life could be at stake.
Keep your pet cool
Dogs and cats regulate their body temperature by panting and sweating through their paws. Cats lick their fur to keep themselves cool, covering themselves with saliva.
Some breeds of animals have a more challenging time adjusting to extreme heat than others. Persian cats and Pugs, which have flat faces, are more susceptible to heatstroke because they can’t pant as effectively as other breeds. It is best to keep these breeds in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible, especially if they are elderly, overweight, or have heart or lung conditions.
Always have fresh, clean water on hand. A hot or humid day can quickly result in dehydration. Pets can suffer urinary, kidney, and gastrointestinal issues if their hydration is not maintained correctly.
A pet who is dehydrated may have the following symptoms:
Dry gums or mouth
If your pet’s gums are glossy and wet, they are well hydrated. If they seem sticky and dull, it’s a good chance your pet is dehydrated.
Delay spending time outside. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and temperature before taking your dog for a walk. Walks and hikes should be postponed if it’s scorching. The best time to walk your pet in the summer is early in the morning or later in the day when it cools down.
If you must take your pets outside, ensure there is a shady area for them to get out of the sun and take care not to overexert them. Heatstroke can occur when outside temperatures rise above 80°F (27°C) and humidity increases above 90 percent.
Along with hot temperatures, pet owners should also consider the temperature of the ground, particularly pavement. Have you ever noticed how hot it feels as you get closer to the ground? That’s because it is! And because your pet walks close to the ground, its body heats up quickly, and its paw pads can burn. “We see dogs whose paw pads get burned or peel off from walking on hot asphalt,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “Dogs have thick pads, so they don’t feel it as much and won’t know immediately. So, it’s possible to get significant burns before they feel it.”
Press the back of your hand against the surface of the pavement for about seven seconds—this is an excellent way to test the heat. If the surface feels hot to your hand, it’s too hot for your pet to walk on it.
Give your dog a haircut. It is common for dogs to shed their coats at the beginning of summer in preparation for warmer temperatures. However, daily grooming keeps them cool by removing any excess hair (this also helps cats).
You may want to have your long-haired dog groomed regularly (plus, it prevents ticks from infesting your dog). Even though grooming your dog is essential, do not shave them. “Their fur is insulating, helping them cool down and regulate temperature,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “So if you have a dog with a double coat like a Husky, it’s okay to use a Furminator to get that undercoat out. But definitely don’t shave them.”
Invest in some pet sunscreen. Your pet’s fur naturally protects them from burning. Still, it’s a good idea to buy sunscreen (meant for dogs or cats, not humans) and apply it to areas most exposed to sunlight: the bridge of the nose, tips of the ears, around the groin, and inside the thighs. In general, any place where your dog or cat may have light pigmentation.
If you’ve spent the day outdoors or in the woods, take some time to check your pet for ticks before you head home. The more time your pet spends outside, the more likely they will pick these creepy crawlies. Our blog article looks closely at ticks and how to prevent them.
Nothing is better than an outdoor party or a backyard BBQ in the summer. While the food being cooked tastes great for us, some of it isn’t the best for our pets.
Ensure your guests do not feed your pets any “people” food. If your dog (or cat) is visiting all the guests at your party (i.e., begging for food), it’s difficult to keep track of where they are and what they are eating.
Keep away alcoholic beverages
If your pet consumes alcohol, it will cause intoxication and lead to alcohol poisoning if they drink too much (though not common).
Even though your dog may not want a sip of your beer, they might enjoy lapping up fruity punches and cocktails. The pre-made mixers used in cocktails and punches may contain Xylitol. This artificial sweetener can be harmful to dogs.
Mind your grilling activities
Chances are, whenever you cook on the grill, your pets (primarily dogs) will be attracted to the food you’re preparing. Avoid letting them lick up the fat that drips from the meat since it is rich in oils that can lead to pancreatitis.
When using a charcoal grill, keep your dog from eating the coals. Even though charcoal is not poisonous, large pieces may cause obstructions and choking if consumed by your dog.
Human food and snacks
Many pet owners know that their pets should avoid certain foods: raisins, chocolate, garlic, onions, etc. Listed below are some common BBQ foods that can be dangerous to pets.
Bones. Sharing your grilled steak or chicken wings with your dog during summer is not a good idea. Dogs can choke on bones, especially chicken bones, which can cause serious damage to their mouths, throats, and intestines.
Raw meat. Salmonella and E.coli bacteria can be found in uncooked meat, which can harm dogs (and humans).
Hot dogs. Hot dogs may taste good to us but aren’t good for your dog. Hot dogs contain seasonings like garlic, onion powder, monosodium glutamate (MSG), sugars, and sodium nitrate, which have been linked to cancer. A hotdog link can contain up to 600 mg of sodium, which is way too much for your dog. Lastly, hot dogs are a significant choking hazard!
Corn on the cob. It’s not the corn itself that’s the problem—it’s the cob. “This is one of the worst obstructions that dogs can get,” explained Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. “If the dog swallows it whole and doesn’t chew the cob, it doesn’t break down.” Sometimes the cob will come out in the dog’s stool, but it’s rare. “Dogs seldom pass corn cobs—they just shrink wrap down and cause an obstruction most every time.” Instead of letting your dog chew on a corncob, give him a safe, dog-appropriate treat to gnaw on.
Salty snacks. Popcorn, pretzels, peanuts, and potato chips are common party foods, but they’re too salty for your pet. Seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and fever are signs of sodium ion poisoning.
Ice cream. Most commercial ice creams are dairy-based, so it’s best to avoid giving dogs a taste. Look for dog-appropriate ice cream treats at the supermarket instead.
When planning a trip with your pet, there are many things to consider. High temperatures, traffic, and busy airports make summer travel especially challenging. So, to help keep everyone happy during summer excursions, we suggest following these tips.
Always plan ahead
Vacationing with your pet takes a little more planning than usual. “You really want to think through every activity of your trip,” said Dr. Sinnott-Stutzman. Think about where you’re going, how you’re getting there, and what is needed to keep your pet healthy and happy.
Pet-friendly accommodations should also be considered when making your vacation plans. Also, keep in mind: Do you plan to engage in any non-pet-related activities? Or eat at restaurants that don’t allow pets? Do not assume that a place or activity will allow your pet. It is best to call ahead and make arrangements in advance. Ensure you check with hotels, restaurants, bars, places to visit, and activities before arriving. Bringing your pet on vacation is pointless if you’re going to leave him behind in a hotel!
Traveling by car
Humans are in the front seats. You should not let your pet roam the car while you are driving. It is dangerous for pets to be left loose and a big distraction for the driver.
A carrier is a good idea for cats, as well as for dogs. Restrain carriers with a seat belt; this prevents them from bouncing or sliding. Pet stores sell restraints and seat belts but they haven’t been proven to reduce accidents or protect pets from injuries.
Keep the window up and the AC on.If it’s hot outside, keep cool with the air conditioner in your car. We’ve all seen a car drive by with a window down and a dog’s head is sticking out, enjoying the breeze. However, this is not a safe idea and puts the dog at risk of being injured by flying debris. And it should go without saying, never let your pet ride in the back of an open pickup truck.
Plenty of pee breaks.Be sure to stop frequently to let your pet out, stretch their legs, and go potty. You’ll benefit from it, too! Be sure your pet is leashed and wearing the appropriate ID tags on their collar when you let them out of the car.
Never leave your pet alone in the car.It doesn’t matter if you’re just stopping for a quick snack. Any time spent within an enclosed vehicle is too long in the summer heat for your pet. Even if the temperature outside is 72°F (22.2°C), your car can reach 116°F (46.7°C) in just an hour. You wouldn’t want to sit in a car at that temperature, so don’t make your pet do it.
Traveling by plane
It is sometimes necessary to fly to your destination. Airlines only allow a limited number of pets per flight, and if your pet is traveling internationally or as cargo, flight preparation can take months. You should book your pet’s flight ahead of time, especially if they are traveling in the cabin with you.
Here are some tips for flying with your pet:
Check with your airline.Make sure your breed isn’t restricted. Most airlines impose weight and size restrictions, and some breeds can’t fly at all. These breeds include Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Pugs of all kinds, Boxers, Shih-Tzus, Mastiffs, American Bullies, Pit Bulls, and American Staffordshire Terriers.
Get health approval from your vet. Before taking your pet on a plane, ensure it is healthy enough to fly. It’s very stressful for your dog or cat to fly, even more so when he is alone (without you) in cargo. A veterinarian’s health certificate is usually required by airlines to verify that your dog or cat is healthy.
Buy an airline-approved crate.You may already have a crate if you have a dog or cat at home. However, certain airlines require pets to travel in special airline crates.
Sizing. Depending on your airline, you may need to meet specific requirements. Crates should provide your pet with plenty of room on all sides. For international travel (and sometimes domestic flights), the standard crate size equals your pet’s height plus half the length of his leg.
Nuts and bolts. Plastic fasteners are not allowed, only metal. Some pet crates are held together with metal bolts and plastic caps, which are permitted.
Single metal door. In most cases, airlines prefer kennel crates with a single metal door rather than plastic doors that fold in the middle.
Sufficient ventilation. Crates with two ventilated sides (along with a door) are required for domestic flights. All four sides of the crate must have air holes for international travel.
Food and water dishes. A water and food bowl must be attached to the inside of the front door.
Document info and feeding instructions. The crate should contain your pet’s information, including his name, medication, your phone number and address, your final destination, flight number, and contact information for someone at your destination. You should also attach your dog’s feeding and care instructions and a bag of food to the top of the crate. Again, each airline is different, so double-check to ensure you include everything required.
Secure the crate door. Crates must be zip-tied shut to prevent the doors from opening during flight.
“Live animal” stickers. This sticker should be placed on all four sides of the crate. Most airlines will give you the stickers, so call ahead of time if you don’t already have some at home.
Ask to board early
It’s always good to ask! Before your flight, getting yourself and your pet situated can take some time, and having a few extra minutes can help you both stay calm.
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Summer is the perfect time to spend with your family, including your pets. With a little planning and prevention, our four-legged friends can enjoy the outdoors and summer getaways right along with us while staying safe and healthy at the same time.