I originally wrote this post in May 2012:
Warm weather and longer days mean spending more time outside enjoying our backyards, beaches and local parks during the summer. Include your pets in the fun, too. Just be aware of some necessary safeguards.
Heat & Sun
You know not to leave a dog in a car on a hot day, but it bears repeating. Even on mild days, the inside of a car can become deathly hot in minutes. The risk for dogs and cats is heatstroke, which can cause permanent organ damage and death. Our pets don’t have efficient means to cool their bodies down. They pant and they can sweat a little through their paws, but that’s it. The best advice is to keep them from overheating in the first place: provide plenty of shade and water; limit exercise on hot days; and leave them at home during car errands. Symptoms of heatstroke include panting; lethargy or staggering; drooling; fever (over 104°); vomiting; dark/bright red tongue and gums; and seizures. If you suspect your dog is suffering heatstroke, immediately call your veterinarian.
Think about your dog’s feet on hot pavement. Although their pads look calloused and tough, dogs can receive painful burns on their pads. If your dog starts limping or chewing/licking his feet, check for wounds or discoloring on his pads. Contact your vet to treat the burns.
A less apparent risk in the summer heat is sunburn. Both dogs and cats are vulnerable to sunburn – especially those with short or no coat. Sunblock can help dogs, if you are careful about the formula (currently Epi-Pet Sun Protector is the only pet-safe sunscreen with FDA approval). But sunblock can be toxic to cats. Manufacturers are working to develop a cat-safe sunscreen, but it is not yet available.
Certainly water is a part of summer fun. There’s no better way to cool down. Not all dogs are born swimmers, though. Put a life jacket on your dog when spending time on a boat, beach or poolside. If you have a pool in your backyard, be sure there are dog-friendly steps for your dog (see Resources). Backyard water features can also be drowning hazard to small dogs, so block your pup from that part of the yard.
Creating garden spaces that you love can also be safe for your pets. A few plants can be toxic to pets. Avoid the following in gardens that pets can access: rhododendron, azalea, oleander, lilies, rhubarb, certain mushrooms, and cocoa shell mulch. Some lawn and garden products should be off limits to dogs and cats, as well: fertilizers, insecticides, bait pesticides and fungicides (pet-safe formulas are available as alternatives); and blood and bone meal which many dogs find appetizing.
Here are a few additional precautions to take:
- Antifreeze: hot cars may leak radiator fluid and antifreeze is super toxic to pets.
- Pests: fleas and ticks can sicken your pet, so consider flea and tick prevention medication. Use mosquito repellent carefully. Your dog may be OK with anything safe for a baby, but cats metabolize chemicals into toxic substances. Talk with your vet about mosquito repellent, if needed.
- Falling: cats are known for their uncanny balance, but falling accidents do happen every year from upper story windowsills and ledges. Make sure windows screens are secure.
Prevention is the best remedy
This column isn’t meant to scare you into keeping your pets inside 24-7. A little forward thinking and some precautions will ensure a safe and healthy summer for everyone in the house. Go out and have fun with your pets!
Resources at your fingertips
Pool Steps for Dogs: http://pawsaboard.com/PoolPup.asp
Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435
Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private in-home training for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2012, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC