Summertime, and the living’s easy—well, for the most part. For pet owners, the warmer weather and great outdoors can bring about some unexpected dangers. While you’re enjoying the season with your four-legged friend, keep in mind these safety tips from Dr. Lisa Bazzle, a board-certified emergency and critical care specialist at New York City’s Animal Medical Center.
Nobody likes mosquitoes—but the notorious summertime pests are particularly dangerous to dogs and cats, who can contract heartworm from the bite of an infected insect. What’s more, mosquito-related diseases are on the rise in the United States, with some scientists blaming a warming climate for an increase in the bloodsuckers. “Heartworm can be fatal in both dogs and cats,” says Bazzle. “Mosquitoes can survive in temperatures above 50 degrees—it’s one of the reasons I recommend using preventatives year-round.”
To keep your pets safe, use a preventative that protects against, fleas, ticks, and heartworm, and consult with your veterinarian to make sure the dosage is correct.
Fertilizers & Pesticides
The chemicals that make your garden look great can make your pets sick. “Many weed killers, fertilizers, and pest-control products can be toxic,” cautions Bazzle. “And unfortunately, the more toxic the chemical, the more palatable it seems to be to our pets.”
If you suspect your pet has ingested a fertilizer or pesticide, Bazzle recommends calling the Pet Poison Helpline or the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center—each has up-to-date information on common gardening products, which tend to change formulations frequently. A follow-up call and appointment with your veterinarian is also in order.
If your pets spend time in your garden, do an audit to ensure that you’re not growing any potentially dangerous plants, especially if you have a known nibbler on your hands. Plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, and tulips can cause gastrointestinal distress, says Bazzle, while lilies, sago palm, and foxglove can be acutely poisonous. If you’re concerned about your flowerbed, the ASPCA provides a list of poisonous plants.
One common household “plant” that frequently sends pet parents to the emergency room? Marijuana. “We see a lot of marijuana toxicity,” says Bazzle. “For the most part, marijuana affects dogs the same way it affects humans—they’re sleepy, lethargic, hypersensitive, and wobbly.” Although rarely dangerous, marijuana intoxication is distressing for pets, and veterinarians can suggest treatments to reduce the side effects.
Picnics and Barbecues
Cookout season brings about a ton of tasty treats—many of which are harmful to dogs waiting patiently under the picnic table. Watermelon rinds, corn cobs, rib bones, and kabob skewers can cause intestinal blockages, warns Bazzle, while wine and chocolate can be toxic if consumed in large quantities.
Another summer favorite, grapes, are extremely toxic to dogs and warrant immediate medical attention if ingested. “There’s no safe amount of grapes or raisins,” says Bazzle. “Even if your dog eats one, you should call your veterinarian.”
You know it’s important to wear SPF to avoid harmful UV rays. But did you know that dogs are also at risk of sunburn and skin cancer? If your dog is spending a significant amount of time in the sun or has a sparse coat, you should protect him with sunblock, says Bazzle. Just make sure you’re using a product that’s specially formulated for animals and is safe if ingested.
Boats and Pools
Although some pups love a good doggie paddle, others have no business being in the water. “Most people just assume their dog can swim, but this isn’t always the case,” says Bazzle. Never coerce a hesitant dog to get in the water, and be especially cautious if your dog is on a boat or near a pool—many dogs will panic if they fall in and suddenly find themselves in deep water. If your dog isn’t a strong and confident swimmer, make sure he wears a specialized life vest when near water.
You’re not the only one suffering from seasonal allergies. “Just like humans, dogs can be affected by pollens and different types of mold,” says Bazzle. While airborne allergens tend to cause respiratory problems in humans, most dogs will present with itchy skin. Your vet may prescribe antihistamines, steroids, or allergy shots to treat the symptoms, but Bazzle also recommends keeping your home as clean and allergen-free as possible with the help of air filters and specialized cleaners. “Having a dog with allergies is almost like having a child with asthma,” she says.
Come summertime, there’s nothing like a game of fetch on the beach with your dog. But before you toss a toy, make sure it isn’t full of sand—consuming too much sand can lead to a potentially fatal bowel obstruction, warns Bazzle. Rinse toys between play sessions with fresh water, and keep an eye on your dog at all times— as unappetizing as it sounds, some simply can’t resist snacking on sand.
Heat and Humidity
Is it too hot for you outside? Then it’s definitely too hot for your dog, especially if it’s humid. “Humidity affects dogs differently than humans,” says Bazzle. “They aren’t able to pant as effectively, which can lead to heat stroke.” Signs of heat stroke—which can be fatal and requires immediate medical attention—include an increased heart rate, heavy breathing, weakness, vomiting, and diarrhea.
When the mercury rises, decrease your dog’s activity and limit his time outside. If your dog does spend time in the yard, make sure he has access to plenty of shade and fresh, cold water. Even if the weather is reasonably cool, it’s never safe to leave your dog in a parked car, even with the windows cracked—on a 70-degree day, the temperature can reach 100 degrees in less than a half hour.