Pets, Places, & Things, Points on Pets

Outdoor Options for Your Pets

Outdoor Options for Your Pets

By Steph Selice

It’s summer, and what better time to enjoy being with your pets than when you’re on vacation or just relaxing? There are lots of options to share good times while keeping your pets safe outdoors, as well as great indoor activities for some pets that let them enjoy sunshine and fresh air.

Dog Days of Summer

Most dogs love being outside, and not just in our backyards or on neighborhood walks. Alexandria is one of the most dog-friendly places in the U.S., so exploring our city together offers you exceptional fun, including 5 fenced dog parks that allow pets off leash, and 12 unfenced dog-exercise areas. [For websites and venues mentioned in this article, please see the Resources list.] Strolling with your dog through Old Town will introduce you to the many local businesses that cater to dog lovers and their pets. There’s even a Canine Cruise on the Potomac.

When you want to travel together, U.S. National Parks offer great options, because many welcome dogs. Shenandoah National Park is dog friendly and has almost 500 miles of trails you can hike together, some quite close to the Blue Ridge Parkway. All of the park’s campgrounds allow dogs. Many Virginia state parks and beaches are also dog friendly, along with hundreds of other outdoor venues across the country. Dozens of national hotel chains allow dogs, and some even welcome cats and other pets.

Cats and the Outdoors: Indoor Alternatives

Though some cat people enjoy walking their pets on leashes, in vest-style carriers, or with wheeled walkers or strollers, most veterinarians and feline specialists would discourage anyone from letting cats outdoors. They believe the dangers to your cat’s safety and health from disease, accidents, or unknown people and animals outweigh any benefits. So when the weather turns warm, what are some good cat-friendly alternatives?

Keeping cats happy means giving them plenty to look at and play with. Cat enclosures and window boxes or buildouts are one way to give them a sunny window on the world. Many websites offer enclosures for sale. Others have design options for creating an inexpensive oasis for your cat, attached to a back door, patio, deck, or window, including fun runs, tunnels, and tents.

A comfortable, well-ventilated space or ledge with plenty of sunlight and a view of bird feeders, critters, and the outdoors is ideal. If your cats seem bored or crave attention, set aside more time to play together. Consider offering treats like catnip, which is easy to grow in full sun. A scratching post or cat tree rubbed with catnip, along with interactive toys, will help even a cat who’s used to going outside find plenty of fun indoors.

Other Pets and the Outdoors

The risks rabbits, other small mammals, and birds face outdoors include animal predators, humans, poisonous plants, pesticides and fertilizers, and disease. Being outside is often stressful for small animals, who are intensely aware of their wider surroundings. Vets and small animal specialists no longer recommend outdoor hutches or cages: any rabbit home needs a solid roof and walls, plus a strong door lock. But well-made enclosures can give your pet a safe way to be outside during the day and in your company. Birds also need space to stretch their wings and exercise. An outdoor aviary can be safe (under supervision) while giving your pet room to enjoy sunlight, new sights and sounds, and fresh air.

Enjoying the Outdoors Safely Together

  • Few animals can ignore the noise, lights, and smells of fireworks. Shelters report a big increase in lost pets every July Fourth, so keep your pet inside. If she’s spooked, talk with your vet about medications, behavior modification, distractions, or working with an animal behaviorist.
  • Your pet may need sunscreen but shouldn’t use (or eat) yours. Ask your vet about sun protection.
  • Summer grilling is a blast. But some human food (and all alcohol) is toxic for pets, as are charcoal briquettes, lighter fluid, grill cleaners, and bug sprays and liquids. Cook out safely knowing where your pets are and what they’re playing with and eating. (You can still share treats!) And have your vet’s number on hand as backup.
  • It’s best to never leave your pet alone in your car or let him ride untethered or on a flatbed. Leaning out of car windows is cute but unsafe. Keep an eye out for anything inside your vehicle within reach that could be poisonous or dangerous.
  • Pools (and open water). Pools are fun for dogs (and some cats and rabbits!). But pool water and chemicals are unsafe for them to swallow. And no pet should be around a pool (or running at the beach) without a supervising human to share the fun. Out on the water, make sure your dog has a life jacket and that you have first-aid kits onboard: one for humans, one for pets.
  • Breathing issues. Persian cats and bulldogs, Pekinese, and pugs with brachycephalic syndrome, and other pets with asthma or allergies, have increased risk of breathing problems when it’s hot and humid. Watch for changes in breathing, including wheezing, coughing, panting, drooling, or differences in breathing sounds.
  • Sunstroke/heatstroke. Most animals can’t cool down the way humans do. Keep your pet cool, out of intense sun for long periods, and well hydrated with cool (not cold) water. If your dog or cat is panting, drooling excessively, or has bright red gums, take her inside. Use cool water and cool, wet towels and fans to lower her body temperature. And call your vet.

Getting Ready: Talk with Your Vet

Before heading outdoors, make sure your pets (including indoor ones who might wander off) are microchipped and wearing collars or IDs. Ask your vet about immunizations and parasite prevention, including flea and tick treatments. You can enjoy the outdoors more knowing your pets will, too.


Dog-Friendly Activities in Alexandria


Dog-Friendly Travel


Cat Enclosures and Catios




Homey Spaces for Rabbits


Steph volunteers with King Street Cats in Alexandria and lives nearby with her husband and their two cats.

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