Top 5 Summertime Pet Safety Tips

By Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Summer holds so many opportunities for fun for people and pets, but potentially life-threatening dangers lurk around any corner. Sun exposure, temperature changes, festive foods, and holiday celebrations all harbor dangers for our companion animals.

As the primary keeper of your pet’s day-to-day health, here are my top keeps (recommendations) to ensure your canine or feline suffers no ill effects during the dog days of summer.

1. Keep Your Pet’s Environment Climate Controlled
Summertime’s higher temperatures create serious pet-health risks. Dogs and cats primarily clear heat through their respiratory tracts (trachea and lungs) and skin, as they can’t sweat like we humans. Therefore, most pets don’t adjust as well to hot or humid environments.

Young, old, ill, overweight or obese, and brachycephalic (short-faced, like the English Bulldog and Pug) pets have an especially challenging time acclimating to heat and humidity.

Summertime climates put pets’ at greater risk for hyperthermia, which is an increased body temperature beyond the normal upper limit. Dogs and cats have a higher resting temperature (100-102.5 +/- 0.5 F) than people. Depending on a pet’s ability to adjust to heat, body temperature increases above the normal range can cause mild to serious health issues occur within minutes. Prolonged hyperthermia leads to lethargy, vomit, diarrhea, organ failure, prolonged blood clotting times, seizures, coma, and death.

Regardless of the season, provide air circulation and climate control so your pet stays cool both at home and during vehicular travel.

2. Keep Your Pet Well-Groomed for the Summer
In addition to just keeping your pet looking good, skin and coat care are crucial to maintaining normal body temperature. A well-groomed coat allows for air circulation at the skin surface and heat transfer out of the body.

Most dogs and cats are adorned with a thick coat of hair, but a realistic risk for sunburn exists during summertime months or for pets living in perpetually balmy climates. Pink-skinned, light-colored, and thin-haired pets should wear sun protection or be kept in the shade.

The ears, nose, and other areas of exposed skin can be covered with pet-appropriate clothing or a pet-safe sun screen free from salicylates and zinc oxide, both of which are toxic if ingested. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen is the only product currently on the market that meets the Food & Drug Administration’s standards for safety for dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends sunscreen application at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.

3. Keep Your Pet’s Exercise Limited to During Cooler Hours
Avoid exercising pets during times when then environment is excessively hot or humid. Temperatures are coolest during dawn, dusk, and evening hours, but such times should be avoided in regions where mosquitos or biting insects thrive.

Providing rest, shade, and hydration at least every 15 minutes during exercise helps ward off hyperthermia and dehydration. If your pooch refuses to run or walk, never force continued activity and schedule an examination with your veterinarian.

4. Keep Festive Foods and Drinks Away from Your Pet
Although barbecues provide festive fun for people, they hold many dangers for pets.

Grilling should always occur at a height above that which your pet can reach by standing on four limbs or two. Ground-level hibachi grills put your pet in the direct line of danger. Depending on the type of heat exposure and duration, pets may suffer first, second, or third degree burns.

The delectable aroma of barbecued foods strongly attracts curious canine palates ready to smell or taste. Foods left out for preparation or serving are also easy targets. Keep food out of reach of your canine or feline companion and use sealed containers to prevent “counter surfing” and episodes of dietary indiscretion.

Consumption of food and beverages commonly found at summertime gatherings can cause serious digestive upset for pets. Bones, fat (animal skin, cheese, desserts, nuts, etc), fruit (currents, grapes, raisins, etc), meat, vegetables (onion, chives, etc), salt, sugar, spices, chocolate, alcohol, and other ingredients all have potential to cause health problems.

Clinical signs of digestive tract upset include vomit, diarrhea, deceased appetite, lethargy, and more. Pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), kidney or liver damage, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, and other ailments can occur pets eat foods served at barbecues.

Always well-inform your guests of pet-safety party guidelines and make sure the rules are abided by.

5. Keep Your Pets Away from Fireworks
Never let your pet have access to areas where fireworks are set off. Indoor, quiet, cool, and isolated rooms of your home are more suitable spaces for pets during firework displays. If needed, use a sturdy crate to confine your pet to prevent escape attempts through open or screened doors or windows. Put on the television or play pleasant music at an audible level to mask firework wounds.

Tired pets need their rest and are less-prone to exhibit anxious behaviors (vocalizing, panting, pacing, hiding, salivating, inappropriately defecating or urinating, escaping, etc.), so exercise your companion canine in the hours leading up to firework events.

If needed, use a veterinary prescribed anxiety-relieving drugs (Alprazolam, etc.), over the counter medications (Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride= Benadryl), or natural products (Rescue Remedy Pet, etc.) to relieve stress associated with fireworks and confinement. Always consult with your veterinarian about the appropriate use of any products having a sedating effect for your pet.

With the proper safety measures, you’re bound to have a fun and memorable summer with your pet.

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