Summer Means Extra Safety Precautions for Our Pets
By Carolyn Cockroft
Bio: An avid cat lover since childhood, Carolyn volunteers at King Street Cats in Alexandria. Her two cats, Marigold and Butterbean, run the household in Woodbridge.
It’s summer—time for vacations! But that doesn’t mean a break from protecting our pets. While safety is a year-round concern, warmer months present hazards that come with fun in and on the water, fireworks, outdoor sports, and cookouts. If pets are not carefully supervised, sun, heat, insects, plants, and water can turn a summer’s day into an emergency trip to the veterinarian.
Prevention plays a major part in enjoying summer with our pets. Here are some precautions to keep in mind.
Limit sun exposure. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in dogs and the second most common in cats. Apply a pet sunblock recommended by your veterinarian every 3 hours to areas sparsely covered by hair, such as bellies, ears, and around eyes (ingredients in human sunscreens can be toxic to pets).
NEVER leave your pet in your car. Just don’t do it, not even briefly. Even if you leave your car windows open, the temperature inside can still rise by 19°F in as little as 7 minutes, creating a deadly environment on a hot day.
Avoid the hottest parts of the day, and treat heat stress. Outdoor temperatures peak between 1 and 4 p.m. Dogs with short snouts and windpipes are especially at risk, because these features restrict their panting in humid weather. Take walks during early morning hours. Avoid hot pavements and keep to grassy or shaded areas. Keep your home cool, and run the air conditioning even when you are not home. Signs of heat exhaustion are heavy panting, dry or bright red gums, thick drool, vomiting, diarrhea, or wobbly legs. If these symptoms appear, don’t place your pet in ice-cold water, which can induce shock. Instead, move her to a cool place, drape a damp towel over her body, rewet the cloth frequently, and get her to the vet immediately. A dog’s normal temperature is 100°–103°F; 106°F or higher can be fatal.
Provide shade and plenty of clean water. Outdoor pets need a shady, dry resting area. Access to clean, cool water that is changed frequently is critical for avoiding dehydration. Lack of potable water will make an animal more likely to drink whatever is available from puddles or in a yard—water that may be contaminated with antifreeze or other toxic chemicals.
Prevent bites and parasites. Flea bites can cause anemia; tick bites can cause diseases like Lyme, ehrlichiosis, anaplasmosis, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Hookworms and heartworms thrive in summer and can infect animals through their paw pads. Heartworm disease is caused by mosquito bites and can cause permanent damage to the heart and lungs, or even death. Only one bite can infect your pet. Your veterinarian can recommend medications that protect pets against these parasites.
Be aware of potentially poisonous household items and foods. Outdoor parties and cookouts can expose your pet to many dangers. Warn your guests about the following:
- Charcoal briquettes grabbed by a dog from the grill can easily get stuck in the stomach, causing vomiting and requiring surgery.
- Table scraps can give your pet pancreatitis, causing severe abdominal pain or death. Corn on the cob and peach pits are also a huge no-no, because they can lodge in an animal’s intestines.
- Lilies (including daylilies and Asiatic, Easter, or stargazer varieties) and their pollen cause acute kidney failure in cats. If your cat is allowed outdoors, remove these plants from your yard, and never bring these plants inside. “Lilies are often part of a bouquet brought into the home,” says Dr. Allison Mayo of Dale City Hospital. “Sadly, just a leaf from such a gift can be fatal, in a short time, to your cat.” Other common yard shrubs, such as azaleas, are poisonous for both dogs and cats if eaten.
- Xylitol—an artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free products including gum and candies—can be fatal when ingested by dogs.
- Plant food or soils that contain insecticides can cause diarrhea, profuse vomiting, shock, seizures, and even death. Instead, practice composting—a safer alternative for your plants and your pet.
- Hide alcohol from curious pets who may get thirsty. Keep your pet’s bowl filled with fresh water.
Leave your pets home during the fireworks. July 5 is the busiest day of the year for animal shelters, according to the American Animal Hospital Association. Noisy Fourth of July fireworks and sudden sounds often frighten pets so much they escape from their homes. A 30-percent increase in lost pets is reported each year between July 4 and 6; sadly, only 14 percent are reunited with their families. Keep your pet inside and calm when celebrations begin. Have your veterinarian microchip your furry friend before July 4 so that your pet has a better best chance of coming back home should she run away. (In fact, microchipping is a good idea if you plan any outdoor activities throughout the year.) Clear the yard of any debris afterwards to prevent your pet from ingesting toxic chemicals from the fireworks.
Exercise water safety. Never leave your pet unsupervised near a pool or body of water. Use a brightly colored life vest to help your pet stay afloat and ensure she can be seen by swimmers and boaters. Be especially aware of sometimes invisible currents and riptides, which can sweep your pet downstream or out to sea in minutes.
Taking some preventative steps is the best way to keep your pet safe during the summer months. Accidents can still happen. Be sure to have your veterinarian’s phone number and the phone number and address of the closest emergency veterinarian programmed into your phone. And enjoy a safe, happy summer with your pet!
American Animal Hospital Association
ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435