By John Gilpatrick
Rain is the ultimate disrupter. Whether you’re simply stuck in your office without an umbrella, getting poured on after enjoying a day at the park with your kids, or—worst of all—waiting to get on a plane at an overcrowded airport, a storm can destroy the best laid plans.
A dog’s routine is much simpler than that of his owner, but rain doesn’t spare his plans either. The evening walk he looks forward to? Postponed. Simply going outside to run around and relieve himself? Well, it’s still necessary, but it’ll be quicker and less pleasant than it usually is.
“In general, it’s best to stick to short bathroom breaks outside during heavy rain and save the outdoor play time for better weather,” says Dr. Sarah Tauber, a veterinarian at DoveLewis Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
Unfortunately, rain can present some real health and safety problems for dogs. Here are four dangers to look out for:
When it’s really coming down, drivers who can’t see well are a major safety risk for pups.
“Dogs may get spooked by the rain or by thunder and lightning, and this might make them run out into the street, which isn’t safe for the pet or the owner,” says Dr. Michelle Danna, practice manager and medical director for at Boston Street Animal Hospital in Baltimore.
You dog’s safety around cars in low visibility is one of the biggest reasons why rainy walks should be discouraged. If you rain is in the forecast but it’s not pouring yet, simply walk around the block a few times rather than putting in any real distance.
Frightening your dog into the street isn’t the only reason to worry about lightning. While it is rare, a lightning strike could harm both you and your dog.
“Anything metal might attract lightning, including an umbrella,” Danna says. “If you hear thunder or see lightning, seek shelter as quickly as possible, avoiding high points and trees along the way as best you can.”
One thing you shouldn’t do, Danna says, is remove your dog’s tags. While they’re metal, the risk of your dog running away while frightened by the storm is too high, so staying inside and taking short potty breaks should be your priority.
Some dogs love to splash in puddles, while others might walk through them unavoidably. In any case, a dog who comes into contact with standing water is potentially introducing himself to a variety of dangerous bacteria.
“Leptospirosis and giardia are two infectious agents that can potentially result when dogs consume diseased water [found in puddles],” Tauber says. “Consider getting your dog vaccinated against leptospirosis if your dog is outdoors often and has a tendency to lap up standing water. Another option is to keep your pet well hydrated by offering him plenty of water before and during your outside playtime. This will discourage him from drinking water from other sources.”
Tauber adds that puddles can also be dangerous if toxins like motor oil or lawn chemicals have spread to puddles during rainfall.
And even if your dog doesn’t drink this dirty water, he still might be exposed if he steps in the water and licks his paws afterwards, Danna says.
“One of the first things you should do when your dog comes in if it’s wet outside is soak his feet in diluted antiseptic, like Scope or Listerine,” she says. “Do this for at least 30 seconds, and then towel dry his paws well.”
Dr. Katie Grzyb, a Brooklyn-based veterinarian, recommends speaking with your veterinarian prior to soaking your pet’s paws in an antiseptic, particularly if he has any history of paw infections or skin allergies.
Danna adds that if you see symptoms including nausea, lethargy, fever, excessive urination in your dog, you should bring him to your veterinarian right away. Leptospirosis is very treatable in its early stages, she says, but it becomes more complex to treat if it’s not diagnosed early.
It should also be noted that leptospirosis is zoonotic, meaning it can spread to humans, Grzyb says. If you’re concerned that your pet is showing signs of leptospirosis, wear gloves or avoid interaction with your dog’s urine until your pet sees a veterinarian.
“If dogs are exposed to wet, cold weather for too long, their respiratory tract can become inflamed, which may lead to pneumonia,” Tauber says. This is especially true for both older and younger dogs, as well as any whose immune systems may be compromised.
Symptoms of pneumonia in dogs can include cough, lethargy, wheezing or difficulty breathing, and a runny nose, she adds. “This illness can be life-threatening if not treated, so it’s best to see seek medical care immediately.”
To prevent pneumonia, wipe your dog down with a towel or blanket as soon as he comes in from the rain. You may also want to consider putting a waterproof (not water-resistant) doggy raincoat on him before he goes out in the rain. If your dog is too big for one, Danna says you can cut holes in a large black garbage bag and put him into it.