Summer. Shorts and tee shirts, flip flops, barbecues, long hikes in the woods and lazy days at the beach. Summer is the promise of endless possibilities, shedding worries as we embrace the warmth of the sun on our skin. But the ‘dog days of summer’ can actually be a lot less worry-free for our four-legged friends. Between the heat, the bugs, and the various hazards associated with crowded outdoor parties, summer can be a minefield for dogs. Here are a few things to watch out for, and a few tips for ensuring your pooch stays healthy and happy during the warm months.
Few things are more fun for you AND your dog than long hikes through the woods, along creeks with waterfalls or traversing ridgelines. This time is as healthy for your dog’s emotional state as it is his physical health. But there are some inherent risks to be aware of, and a few easy ways to mitigate those risks.
Next time you take your dog on a hike, take a moment to remember these risks and simple precautions to ensure they stay out of harm’s way.
Ticks and Mosquitos – These two critters pose myriad dangers for dogs. Ticks spread diseases in both humans and dogs, especially Lyme disease which can be debilitating long-term. Mosquitos can carry heart worm. Both of these vile pests are found in thicker woods and near water, so it’s wise to do a little research into your local area to see what is prevalent.
The best solution for ticks and mosquitos is preventative medication. Talk to your vet about regular medication, either oral or topical applied to their skin. And after a walk in the woods, you should always check their skin and coat, especially inside and around the ears, head and feet, for ticks. They can be hard to find, as they can be as small as a pin head. If you find a tick, it’s best to follow the ASPCA’s guide to removing and preserving the tick. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/general-pet-care/fleas-and-ticks
Snakes, Bees, and other critters – While it might seem obvious to humans to stay away from snakes or bees, dogs are curious. The buzzing sound, the slithering movement, all very interesting and inviting, can put your dog at risk. Both can be lethal, just like for humans, with snake venom and potential bee allergies.
You can’t completely eliminate this risk when you’re out playing with your dog. And the more curious your dog is, the greater the risk. What you can do is be aware of the terrain and potential critters in your chosen playground. Consider bringing Benadryl with you in case of allergic reactions (for you as well as your pets). And recognize reactions when they occur. If your dog’s face and head swell up, it often means snake bite. You’ll want to call your vet right away. Most bee stings are not a lethal threat, but pay attention if your dog is scratching an area excessively, or if swelling becomes larger than a small patch. It could indicate an allergic reaction.
Heat exhaustion or dehydration – When we get hot during a workout, we just take our shirt off, we sweat, and we drink water and electrolytes. But since your pet can’t remove their fur, and don’t sweat nearly as efficiently as we do (yes, they do sweat a little bit) the risk of heat exhaustion and heat stroke are elevated.
Dogs expel most of their excess heat by panting. So don’t worry too much when your dog starts to really pant. Signs of a problem are: disorientation or confusion, refusal to keep going, dry gums, sunken eyes, refusal to eat, or decreased urination.
Avoid these risks by offering plenty of water for them to drink, and shade when it’s available. Find ways to help them cool down with a hose, wet towels, a dip in a stream, even ice cubes or frozen treats. Keep in mind it is important to help them stay cool BEFORE they overheat.
Water – Having just shared the importance of water to help keep your dog cool, keep in mind that the breed of your dog will have a big impact on how they’ll react to being IN the water. If you have a Labrador Retriever, you’ll have a tough time keeping them out of the water. Chances are, you’ll get sick of throwing the ball or stick into the water long before they do. But try that with a Pug or a French Bulldog, and they’ll look at you like you’re nuts!
The most important thing to remember with dogs and bodies of water is to not assume they are good swimmers. Any body of water that is deeper than their legs should be treated as a potential hazard, especially swimming pools where the exit stairs might not be obvious to them. It’s a good idea to prevent them from accessing a pool at times you’re not around. And if you’re around any moving water, like a river or beach with waves, keep an eye on your dog. Waves are scary even for dogs that are good swimmers, and fast-moving streams or rivers can sweep them away or pull them under in an instant. Also, never, ever throw your dog into the water. More than teaching them to swim, it will likely cause stress and long-term anxiety around swimming. It’s important to let them discover and love water on their own terms.
But water is ideal for cooling them down. So what should you do? One idea is to get them a kiddie pool. They can choose when to get in and out, and on those hot days they can immerse their entire body without having to tread water.
Hot sidewalks – It might seem obvious to some, but it’s also really easy to forget that sun and concrete get really hot. Asphalt gets even hotter. Dogs’ protective pads are great on most natural surfaces, but they aren’t made for man-made surfaces like concrete or metal. A good rule of thumb is, if it’s too hot for you to walk barefoot on, keep your four-legged friend off it as well.
Sunburns – Wait, what?! You mean dogs’ fur doesn’t prevent sunburn? Nope. While longer fur (or hair) can reduce some of the risk, the sun will definitely burn dogs’ skin. The shorter the hair or fur, the less protective. Giving them a source of shade is the obvious solution, but if shade is not possible, there are dog sunscreens available on the market. Before you laugh or gawk at the expense, consider the danger and expense associated with skin cancer.
Human-made hazards tend to ramp up during summer as well. Some are obvious, some aren’t. The big one? Cars. Anytime the temperature rises above 65 degrees, the temperature inside your car can reach well above 100 degrees. Your dog can develop heat stroke or suffocate in minutes. If you’re running errands around town during the summer months, it’s best to leave your dog at home. If you must bring him, then don’t leave him in the car!
Another human-made hazard that we often overlook is that favorite summer tradition, the barbecue. As much as we love them, and our dogs will certainly get excited about the prospect of grilled meat, barbecues present a list of dangers that we need to keep in mind. First the food…Barbecue sauce can cause diarrhea in dogs. Corn on the cob, peach pits or avocado are significant choking hazards. Chicken bones can splinter and cause internal bleeding. How ‘bout a delicious-smelling meat skewer. Not a good thing to have around Fido. And for any dog that is food motivated, the vast array of ingredients with sugar and fillers is a minefield of potential gastric disorder.
Another huge danger associated with summer barbecues and parties is fireworks. The big risk here is anxiety. Your dog can’t possibly know what that loud bang means, how it could be fun. National statistics show that more dogs go missing around the 4th of July than at any other time of year. Pets go running for cover, and can we blame them? To help keep your dog calm, try giving them a lot of exercise earlier in the day. Make sure they have familiar things and people around them, ideally in a safe space they know. Make sure they are wearing a collar and tags to identify them if they do scurry away from home, and try keeping them inside so they don’t run away in the first place.
We all love summer. So do our dogs. By remembering these few tips, we can make the most of the long days, and ensure the dog-days of summer are as care-free for them as they are for us.