By Diana Bocco
Summers can be a lot of fun for dogs, especially with all the fun outdoor activities that await. Before you start off your summer, you need to make sure that your pet will be safe while out and about. While you’re probably aware of dangers like ticks and fleas, here are some unique summer safety tips you should keep in mind.
Contrary to popular belief, not all dogs are natural-born swimmers, so drowning is definitely a concern when your dog is around pools, rivers and lakes, explains Dr. Kelly Ryan, DVM, director of veterinary services at the Humane Society of Missouri’s Animal Medical Center of Mid-America. “Until you know your dog is a good swimmer, it is best that your dog wears a life jacket,” Dr. Ryan says.
Choosing the right life jacket for dogs is important. You will want to make sure that it allows your pup to move around freely, but is snug enough that your dog cannot slip out of it while in the water. Dr. Ryan advises, “Be sure to choose one with a handle in case you need to grab or hold onto your dog, and get one with a ring to attach a leash.”
An option like the Frisco dog life jacket can be adjusted to get the perfect fit for your dog, and it has two handles that you can use to pull your dog back onto a boat or out of a dangerous situation.
Even after fitting your dog with a dog life jacket, you should still keep a close eye on your pet when they're in or near the water. Never leave him unattended—just like you wouldn’t leave a child unattended, says Dr. Dan Markwalder, DVM from Companion Animal Hospital in Chicago, Illinois. “Always keep an eye out for strong currents and riptides,” says Dr. Markwalder. “It’s possible for dogs to get trapped and drown in puddles on top of pool covers. Also, exhaustion might strike unexpectedly, and ropes or other devices could pose a safety hazard.”
Being in the water more during the summer also means that your dog is at a higher risk of contracting infections from algae and bacteria.
“Lakes, rivers and untreated pools can contain harmful bacteria and other organisms, including blue-green algae, E. coli, salmonella and parasites,” says Dr. Ryan. “When ingested, blue-green algae can lead to liver and nervous system failure. Other bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella, as well as parasites found in lakes or rivers, are troubling because not only do they pose a risk for our dogs, but oftentimes they are zoonotic. That means there is a chance they could be passed from your dog to you.”
Leptospirosis is also a danger to dogs. This bacteria is transmitted by rodent urine and is usually found in stagnant pools of water, from rain puddles to large ponds. Dogs can be exposed by drinking the water, or even by coming into contact with it and licking their fur afterward.
You should also use caution around ocean water. “Large amounts of salt water intake can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances,” explains Dr. Markwalder.
To be safe, Dr. Ryan recommends not allowing your dog to drink water from rivers and lakes, no matter how clean it may appear, and be sure to have a dog bowl and fresh water available instead.
“Also, keep an eye on your dog a few days after trips to the water. Call your veterinarian if your dog is experiencing diarrhea, loss of appetite or lethargy, as this could mean that he ingested harmful bacteria,” says Dr. Ryan.
Just like humans, dogs can get a sunburn. “Sun damage in dogs can lead to skin cancer, so it is important to prevent your dog from getting burned,” explains Dr. Julie Bank, CEO of Pasadena Humane Society in California. “Dogs are most likely to get sunburned in areas without fur, such as the inside of their ears, belly, and especially the tip of their nose.”
Dogs with shorter coats and hairless dogs are also more likely to get a dog sunburn, as they have less fur covering their skin, explains Dr. Bank. “Many dogs with white or light-colored fur also have lighter skin and are more likely to burn,” adds Dr. Bank.
An essential summer safety tip for pup parents is to get some dog sunscreen, like the My Dog Nose It! sun protection balm. This sunscreen is made especially for dogs, so it does not include any ingredients, like zinc, that are toxic to your dog.
Never use human sunscreen—even sunscreen for babies—on your dog, because it can contain harmful ingredients that will irritate your dog’s skin or cause your dog to get sick. As Dr. Banks says, “Avoid using human-only sunscreens, as they may be toxic to your dog if ingested.”
“Apply dog sunscreen to fur-free areas, paying special attention to the nose, inside of the ears and belly,” says Dr. Bank. These fur-free areas tend to be the most sensitive, which is also why a dog-specific sunscreen is important.
BBQs offer a great way to spend a summer evening and plenty of fun for dogs and their humans—but there are also potential dangers if you’re not careful. “For example, pet parents will want to watch their dogs closely when they are around a hot BBQ pit or an open flame,” says Dr. Ryan. “Getting too close could cause a dog to get burned, or even knock over the pit.”
BBQ foods can also pose a danger for pets. “Bones from pork, chicken or any cooked meat can splinter, creating a choking hazard and possibly damaging the dog’s intestines,” says Dr. Ryan. “Plus, food left out for a period of time can grow bacteria that is harmful to humans and pets.”
Even foods that you wouldn’t normally think of as dangerous, like corncobs, can become foreign bodies that poses a threat.
Ever tried walking barefoot on the street on a hot summer day? The experience can be just as uncomfortable for your dog as it would be for you.
“Hot surfaces can seriously burn and injure your dog’s paw pads,” says Dr. Bank. “In severe cases, dogs can suffer from second- or third-degree burns.”
The best way to prevent injury to your dog’s paws is to avoid walking your dog at peak sun hours during the day. Try to stick to cooler surfaces like grass and dirt.
“If this is unavoidable, there are some paw protection products available, such as booties and wax,” explains Dr. Bank. “Otherwise, avoid taking your dog for a walk on asphalt or concrete during the heat of the day, and instead wait until the weather cools and the sun goes down.”
If you are concerned that a surface may be too hot for your dog’s paws, there are simple and easy ways to check to see if it is safe for your pup. Dr. Bank recommends placing either your hand or bare foot on the ground to check. “If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog, plain and simple,” says Dr. Bank.
Insect bites or stings from bees and wasps are fairly common with dogs, especially during the warmer months, according to Dr. Bank.
As painful as some of those encounters might be, they often don’t require a trip to the veterinarian—unless your dog has an allergic reaction. “Signs your pet needs immediate veterinary care include severe swelling, hives, difficulty breathing, excessive drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and disorientation,” says Bank.
Some insects, such as lightning bugs, Asian beetles, June bugs and cockroaches, can be harmful if your dog eats them, explains Dr. Ryan. “If your dog eats insects, most of the time it will just cause an upset stomach, but some insects carry parasites, which could infect your dog if ingested,” says Dr. Ryan.
So while you may think your pup is doing you a favor by scaring off a pesky or scary insect, it is best to not allow them to ingest it.