By Caitlin Ultimo
Your pet may seem just as enthused as you, now that it’s summertime, the weather is warm, and you have some vacation days ahead. Still, pet parents should take some precautions to ensure that their pet is not only happy this season, but safe, too.
Some of your favorite parts of summer may actually put unnecessary stress on your pet, and that stress can affect your dog or cat’s mental and physical health. Check out these top summer stressors and get expert tips on how to help your pet avoid them so that you can both have a happy and healthy summer together.
An obvious, number one stressor, summer heat may not only cause your dog to become dehydrated and uncomfortable, but long hours spent outside in high temperatures can lead to heatstroke, too.
“Heat stroke is a real entity. Dogs exercised outside at midday, dogs with black coats, and dogs with respiratory issues or short snouts are at greater risk for developing heatstroke,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus, staff doctor at NYC’s Animal Medical Center.
And while cats develop heatstroke less commonly than dogs, if left in an un-air-conditioned home or apartment without adequate water, cats may also suffer from heatstroke.
“Heatstroke is completely preventable by keeping your dog or cat in a cool environment,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. Always have fresh water available to your pet and create spaces of shade so that there are cool places to rest or regroup while outside. You can also look into outdoor, battery operated fans to place around the areas where your pet lounges outside to offer an extra way to stay cool.
Just like humans, pets can get sunburned, too. Look for pet sunscreens to apply to your pet’s skin and coat and reapply as necessary, like after a swim.
“Pets can also burn their paws on hot pavement and develop cancer from sun exposure,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. “So try not to let your pet be out in the sun during the peak hours of 10 am to 2 pm and be sure that if they are outdoors, they have a nice shady resting spot and access to plenty of water.”
While you and your family may be packed and ready for your summer road trip, it can take a little extra time to ensure your pet is also prepared for the journey.
“It’s a good idea to practice having your pet ride along for a series of short car trips leading up to your big trip,” says Dr. Louise Murray, Vice President of the ASPCA Animal Hospital. “Pack plenty of water and avoid feeding your pet in a moving vehicle,” adds Murray. “Your pet's travel-feeding schedule should start with a light meal three to four hours prior to departure.”
In addition, she says, “Keep your pets safe and secure in the car by having them ride in a well-ventilated crate or carrier.” When looking for a travel pet crate, make sure it is large enough for your pet to stand, sit, lie down, and turn around. Secure your pet’s crate so it will not slide or shift in the event of an abrupt stop.
While fireworks are a much anticipated part of summer for you, they can cause your pet a good deal of stress. Exposure to lit fireworks can potentially result in severe burns or trauma, and unused fireworks can contain hazardous materials, which can accidentally poison or irritate your pet.
“Many pets are also fearful of loud noises and can become lost, scared, or disoriented when exposed to these sounds,” says Dr. Murray, “So it’s best to keep your little guys safe from the noise in a quiet, sheltered, and escape-proof area of your home.”
“Some dogs and cats experience noise phobias and are frightened by unexpected loud noises like thunderstorms,” shares Dr. Hohenhaus. “As a result, some pets may exhibit destructive behavior, anxious behavior, or abnormal behavior.”
Destructive behavior can include things like scratching or digging at a door or wall, chewing, or having accidents in the home. Anxious behavior can include things like clinging to their owner, drooling, hiding (especially cats), and/or excessive panting. And pets that exhibit abnormal behavior may do things like skip meals, try to run out of doors (or jump out of windows-for cats), shake, and temporarily forget their training.
If your pet is exhibiting any of these behaviors, you might want to consider trying a few home remedies.
“One of my patients with thunderstorm phobia calms down if her owner wipes her fur down with a dryer sheet,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. “Dryer sheets may decrease the buildup of static electricity caused by the impending thunderstorm. I suggest the unscented ones, since dogs don’t like smelling like an ocean breeze.”
Dr. Hohenhaus also suggests applying a dab of lavender oil to anxious pets’ ear tips, as the lavender oil fragrance has calming properties and is readily available at health food stores.
Just as bugs and their bites can act as a pest to you, they can do the same to your pet. Some bites, like mosquito bites, can even affect your pet’s health, so visit the vet for a spring or early-summer checkup and make sure your pet gets tested for heartworms if they aren’t on year-round preventative medication.
“It’s actually not a bad idea to still have your pets tested for heartworms annually anyway, even if they’re already on a preventative, since sometimes the medication can be accidentally applied wrong,” says Dr. Murray.
Burger toppings, guacamole, skewers, and your famous margaritas are an essential part of your summer fun, but can cause real harm to your pet.
“Remember that the snacks enjoyed by your human friends should not be a treat for your pet; any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments,” says Dr. Murray. “This is particularly true for older animals who have more delicate digestive systems and nutritional requirements.”
Avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate, alcohol, and products with the sweetener xylitol—like your low-cal lemonade or packs of gum left on tables and in purses within pets’ reach.
Your pet may love swimming in the pool, ocean, or bay, and he may doggie paddle like a pro, but you should equip him with a pet-life vest so that you can be sure he is safe in the water. Check the beach or bay area for any sharp objects that may have washed ashore before letting your pet run loose and keep a bowl of fresh water nearby so that he doesn’t drink the salt water, which can dehydrate him, or the pool water, which has chemicals that can upset his stomach. Also, rinse your pet down with fresh water after a swim, as salt and chlorine can irritate your dog’s skin. If your dog doesn’t enjoy taking a dip, don’t force him into the water; look to other ways to keep him cool.
“With outdoor family dinners and fun, the house door will be opening and closing hundreds of times a day, and each time it does it will provide your pets the opportunity to run away,” warns Dr. Hohenhaus. “A pet unaccustomed to roaming freely will become clearly stressed and at risk of serious injury.”
Be prepared in the event that your pet does escape by downloading the ASPCA Mobile App. You’ll receive a personalized missing pet recovery kit, including step-by-step instructions on how to search for a lost animal in a variety of circumstances.
The July 4th holiday is recognized as the top day for lost pets in the U.S., given the excess noise from fireworks and unusual activities like parades and parties. Frightened pets may try to run away from noise, so on this particular holiday be especially mindful of your pet’s safety and be sure to safely crate your pet or put it in a safe place in the home to prevent unwanted escapes.
With that said, “All through the summer—when you’re hosting friends and family for BBQs, swimming, games, or just relaxing in the backyard—be mindful where your pet is at all times to ensure its safety,” says Dr. Hohenhaus.
While you are relaxing on your vacation away from home, your pet may be experiencing more stress than he is used too. Not only are you away, but he may not be in his usual environment if you have boarded him.
“Boarding may or may not be a stressor for pets,” says Dr. Hohenhaus. “Some dogs love the kennel and playing with other residents, but other dogs get physically ill from the change in environment, food, and water.”
If your dog or cat is stressed by the kennel, consider having a caretaker come in to your home daily in the case of a cat, or find someone who will stay in your house or apartment if you have a dog.
“There are also pet sitters who will take your pet to their home for sitting—giving your pet a vacation too!” says Dr. Hohenhaus.
In the summer, windows and balcony doors may be left open in the evening to let in a cool summer breeze, but windows and doors without screens can pose a potential threat to your pet—especially cats.
“Most people think of cats as agile and lithe,” says Dr. Hohenhaus, “few know the serious injuries cats can sustain when accidently falling out of an unscreened window or off a terrace in the quest for a bird up in the tree.” Prep your home for summer and keep your pet safe by adding screens to your windows and doors before leaving them open.
Enjoy your summer and set your pet up for a great summer too by keeping him safe so that you can both have a fun and relaxing season together.
This article was verified and edited for accuracy by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM.