Summer Pet Safety Tips
Why the Heat Is Dangerous
With summer knocking at our door, most of us are eager to get outside and enjoy the sun with our family, friends, and well, our pets too. But don't forget that with summertime fun also comes the real possibility of heat exhaustion and heat stroke for your canine and feline pals.
Did you know that there are two different reasons that your pet could get overheated? The first is probably what most people would think of when thinking of heat exhaustion or heat stroke and that is hyperthermia. Hyperthermia occurs when your pets are trapped in an unfriendly situation or environment, such as a car or beach on a really hot day. These types of situations can overwhelm your pet's ability to cool himself and lead to heat exhaustion or even stroke.
The other reason your pet could overheat is if your pet has a compromised airway/respiratory system. Bulldogs and other "flat-nosed" breeds are especially susceptible to this issue. Also, pets that may have a condition such as paralysis of the larynx will also have a harder time removing heat through panting. Many times these pets will actually get hotter from sheer exertion trying to cool themselves then their bodies will actually cool from the panting.
Remember that humidity also plays a big role in your pet's ability to cool themselves and fans do not work at cooling them the same way they do humans. Along with being sure there is shade for your furry friend to get out of direct sunlight on those scorcher days, you also want to make sure they have ways to stay cool or cool down should signs of overheating present themselves.
Frozen treats are a great way to help cool your pets internally and they'll love you for it too. Providing a wading pool, nearby creek or even a sprinkler or garden hose with cool running water is another fun way to help your pet beat the summer heat.
And don't forget, if you have a light-colored dog (with pink skin) you'll want to be sure to cover those less furry spots (like tummies, ears and nose) with sunscreen. They make several kinds for your pals. Should your pet get burned you will want to apply a thin layer of aloe vera twice a day over the burned area. (You may want to check with your vet to be sure the brand you are using is safe on your pet as ingestion in dogs can cause mild to moderate in toxicity).
Also, don't forget about the pads on your pal's feet. Many people assume they are tough and can withstand just about anything, but they are not bulletproof and hot asphalt or even scalding sand can burn and blister your dogs pads. Signs that your dog may have burnt (or very sore) pads are: refusal to walk any further or limping as you drag them along, constant licking or chewing at their feet, blisters or redness on their pads, or even part of the pad missing.
With a little common sense and attention to your pets' signals you can avoid issues of overheating, but should you suspect heat exhaustion (excessive panting, labored breathing, drooling, bright red gums, mild weakness), there are things you can do to cool your pet immediately:
- Apply ice (ice packs) to the groin area of your pet.
- Use rubbing alcohol on your pet's pads.
- Hose your pet down with cool water.
- Give your dog ice chips and/or small drinks of water.
- You can even offer them your water alternative or Pedialyte if you have some on hand.
Take care to notice your pet's body language as well as how you feel in the heat of the day and you will both get to enjoy many happy summer days together.
Keep Them Cool
Make sure that your pets have plenty of ways to keep cool (or get cool if they start to get overheated)—whether it's with shade, frozen treats, the hose or sharing the kiddy pool.
Just stepping into or standing in some cool water can soothe their pads and help cool them down. Be careful though, that you don't take them on hot asphalt, especially after their pads have softened in the water.
Don't forget the precious and all-important water. Your pets can get dehydrated very quickly so don't forget while you're sipping on your lemonades and ice water that your pets need plenty of cool, rehydrating liquids as well. Make sure it's fresh, clean and cool. Some dogs even enjoy ice cubes in their water.
You can also give your pet some water alternatives to help replenish any possible electrolyte loss while out exerting themselves in the heat.
- Ingredients for use in an electrolyte formula for your dog will consist of salts and sugars. These ingredients will help to replace the phosphorus, chloride, potassium, sodium, bicarbonate and calcium that gets drained during dehydration. Some natural sugars (do not use sugar substitutes—xylitol is toxic) can be used such as honey or table sugar. You will use either sea salt or baking soda as the salts in most electrolyte recipes (check with your vet for proper administration).
- Dogs electrolyte replacements are higher in sugar content than salt (they don't tend to lose sodium as fast as humans) and a common recipe would be a quart of water with a teaspoon of your salt choice and a tablespoon of your sugar choice.
Don't know if your pet is dehydrated? Here are a few signs to clue you in:
- Skin elasticity is gone (in other words you pull it and it doesn't snap back into place or at least not quickly).
- Dry gums
- Excessive drooling
If you notice these signs in your pet get them into a cool place and offer them liquids (and more preferably electrolytes) immediately, but do NOT let your pet gulp down a gallon of water at once. Ice chips or small sips of water are a better option.
Summertime Activities Poll
What summer time activity do you enjoy doing with your pet?
Everything seems so lush and green as summer gets under way, but did you know that many of those beautiful sceneries are full of toxins that could harm your pets? For example, plants, flowers, bushes of all kinds can have various levels of toxicity when ingested by your feline or canine companion. There's too many to list in this article, but I will mention azaleas and lilies as two that should be avoided in your yard (or at least kept under close watch when your pets are out and about).
If you notice drooling, diarrhea, or vomiting these could be signs your furry friend was nibbling on things they shouldn't have been near. (And lilies can be fatal to cats with just the smallest of quantities ingested, so please be aware.)
The plant food you use to feed your beautiful plants (rose and garden food) contain insecticides and other potentially deadly compounds. If your pet should get into a bag of this plant food they could suffer from extreme vomiting, diarrhea, seizers and even death so please be sure to know what you have lying within reach of your pets.
And while we are on plant food let's talk about Blood and Bone Meal. These organic fertilizers are used in many people's gardens and while they don't contain chemicals the animal content may be very attractive to dogs and end up causing some problems like diarrhea and vomiting. If it also happens to be fortified with iron you could end up with iron toxicity. On top of that, bone meal can clump just like a little cement ball in your pet's intestines and then you have major issues on your hands including possible surgery for your pet.
Then there are the "plant invaders" like Cheat Grass, June Grass, and other invasive types of weeds. These invaders, usually more prevalent in late summer, can be a hazard because of their microscopic barbs that will allow them to burrow into your pet's fur, skin and even mucous membranes, but not be able to work itself back out.
How about mushrooms? Sounds harmless enough and some dogs love them, but the problem is that they are toxic and should be removed from your yard as soon as you see them pop up.
One last note of a hazard that is not usually found in the yard, but more likely in your driveway and along the street or in your garage is antifreeze. This poison needs to be kept in check year-round, but believe it or not during the summer it can be more of an issue since that's when cars tend to overheat and leak antifreeze more often. Pets seem to find it irresistible and it's poisonous in very small amounts, so it's up to you to keep an eye on this hazard.
Your yard can be both beautiful and pet safe with just a little preplanning and attention to your pet's whereabouts and activities. Keep them out of unfamiliar grassy areas that may be treated with pesticides or fertilizers and out of flower beds and you'll be one step ahead of the game in keeping them safe this summer.
Beat the Heat
So, you've taken care of keeping your pets cool, giving them plenty of water, keeping them out of poisonous areas of the yard/neighborhood, but have you considered the other animals that live outdoors?
Let's start with the most common: fleas, ticks and mosquitos. They can carry heartworm disease and are definitely prevalent in the warmer months. You should check your pets regularly and take care of any signs of these insects before they become an infestation. How about porcupines? These little buggers can be nasty and cause your pet a whole lot of serious problems and send you on your way to the vets instead of the cookout.
The quills on porcupines have these tiny one-way barbs on the shaft that makes it really easy for them to get into things (like your dogs skin, muscle, cavities and even puncturing organs), but not so easy to get back out. Quills left inside your pet can cause all kinds of infection and abscess that will not be pleasant for either of you.
Quill removal is not only painful but a delicate process (they can break off, etc.) and the removal should be left to your vet, who can also give anesthesia to reduce the trauma that will be involved for your pet otherwise, as well as relax the muscles and skin to allow for easier removal. If you pet does happen to come out on the short end of a meeting with a porcupine, be sure to minimize your pet's movement so they don't migrate further inward and call your vet.
Then we have snakes: What would your dog do if they encountered one? You don't want to wait until it finds a poisonous one to find out - train your dog to stay away today. (upcoming article on this topic).
And finally, let's wrap this topic up with the family favorite . . . the skunk. While most of the skunk's "danger" is in their awful smell, they may potentially harm your pet if the spray gets into their eyes. If they are in an enclosed area when sprayed or they corner and provoke the skunk, the skunk may use their very sharp teeth and claws.
Of course, there are other possibilities like stray dogs or cats or even a goose (yes, I've had a dog chased by one of those mean little buggers). So just be alert, as you should be when your pet is outside, and train your dog to stop on command and come when called and you'll be well ahead of the game.
Possible Summer Problems
The following list contains examples of dangers and/or negative situations your pet might face:
- Scorched paw pads
- Poisonous plants
- Insects and other critters
- Snake bites
- Skunk spraying
- Porcupine quills
- Thunderstorm and fireworks scares
- Unhealthy cookout eating
- Burning (from stealing from the grill)
- Getting lost while out and about
Don't forget there are so many more things that can be a danger to your pets during the summer months:
- Fireworks: can both scare your pets as well as cause harm if they get into them or are hit by them.
- Cookouts/grills: feeding your dog human leftovers is not always a wise decision. Make sure you know what foods your pet can safely eat and be sure not to overdo it (obesity is another killer of pets).
- Lakes, rivers, ponds, pools, and sinkholes: contrary to popular belief not all dogs can swim and even those that can swim can succumb to exhaustion in the water, get pulled under by currents, etc. and drown.
- Falling from open windows: with temps warming up many windows on upper levels of houses and apartment buildings are left open and if there is not a secure screen in place you can have your pet doing a nose dive to the pavement/ground below.
And the list goes on . . . look around you and I'm sure you will see many other opportunities for your pets to get themselves into trouble. But with a little bit of diligence on your part, training for both you and your dog(s), and a little knowledge in both the dangers and first aid and this summer can be a great one filled with lasting memories.
Your pets depend on you for guidance, love and to keep them safe from harm—do your part and your pets will be the better for it. Enjoy your summer and be safe!
Heat Stroke Signs and First Aid
Heat Stroke Signs
Heat Stroke First Aid
Apply rubbing alcohol to paw pads/pour water on the groin or femoral region/move to a cool place
Hose down with water/check for accidental ingestion
Bright red gums
Check other vital signs/arrange for emergency care
Move to a cool place/supervise/offer fluids
Summer Pet Safety Tips Video
Petfinder Offers Summer Pet Safety Tips
Join the Petfinder Foundation for this short video on three easy summer safety tips for your pet(s).
- Lots of water should always be accessible—fresh, cool water, sprinkler systems, ice cubes in their water, etc.
- Frozen treats are another way to help your pets stay cool or cool down.
- Don't overlook sunburn on your light-colored dogs—they can get sunburn too. Don't forget their noses!
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
© 2014 Jan Kelly