While it’s important to get outside and enjoy the sunshine in the summer months, it’s important to be aware of some of the hazards more common during this season.
Spring and summer can be difficult for those of us with seasonal allergies, and we are not alone! Dogs have allergies too. Environmental skin allergies and the secondary skin and ear infections are the most common reason dogs come to the veterinarian in the United States, other than for vaccinations. Skin allergies are complex, but the vast majority of pets are allergic to environmental antigen, such as pollens, danders, dust mites, and mold spores. Avoiding these allergens is essentially impossible, so it’s important to find ways to manage the symptoms or treat the underlying problem before infections set in! Many owners mistakenly blame food and topical reactions (ie new detergent) on itchy skin, when it’s often environmental allergies and fleas!
If your pet is itchy, please make sure to discuss it with your veterinarian!
With warm weather, there are some insects that are more active. This time of year it’s also more common for pet owners to engage in activities that put their pets in contact with more insects as well, such as hiking, picnicking, and leaving doors and windows open.
Mosquitoes – While they can be active outside of normal ranges, typically temperatures above 50°F for a few days will cause most mosquitoes to emerge from hibernation, with activity peaking around 80°F. Mosquitoes usually avoid the harsh sun to avoid dehydration, and are more prone to leave shaded areas in the late afternoon and evening. Like for people, there aren’t many products that are excellent at repelling mosquitoes, and the best option is usually avoidance. Dogs and cats are warmer than humans, and are also lower to the ground, so they are prime targets. Since mosquitoes can transmit heart worm, it’s essential all dogs and cats with potential exposure to mosquitoes – in other words, most pets – be on preventatives.
Ticks – Ticks are actually pretty active all year round in the Philly area, but encounters are most common during the summer. There is a lot of misunderstanding about tick behavior and exposure prevention, which can be “just wrong enough” to put people and pets at risk. CLICK HERE for an excellent resource run by the University of Rhode Island:
They also have a free tick identification service that will identify the tick species, and also give you an idea of risk for disease exposure and allow for submission of the tick for testing LEARN MORE
For dogs and cats, I always recommend using strong, FDA-approved products to help ensure no ticks are able to attach long enough to transmit serious disease like Lyme, Ehrlichia, or Anaplasma. If you find a tick on your pet, submit it to TickEncounters, and they can help determine if any veterinary intervention may be important!
Stinging Insects – Bees and wasps/hornets can pose a threat to dogs and cats who either eat the insect, or unknowingly stumble into a nest. Like in people, these stings can be painful, but can also lead to severe reactions which can be life threatening. If you are suspicious your pet has been stung, make sure to have your pet evaluated to determine if any treatment may be necessary!
Fireworks/Thunderstorms and Crowds
Noise phobia is very common in dogs, and can often become worse over time, especially if the early signs of stress aren’t noted. While it’s fun to take your dog out to join the crowd and watch the fireworks, most dogs are very uncomfortable in that situation and would rather stay home. Subtle signs of stress such as panting, lip smacking, and shaking should be recognized and dogs should be able to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable. If you think your dog would benefit from a discussion about noise phobia or firework/thunderstorm stress, please bring it up with your veterinarian! There are often simple interventions that can keep dogs happy and feeling safe.
Dogs can overheat pretty quickly if you aren’t careful! Dogs and cats do not sweat to get rid of excess body heat, and instead do much of their cooling with breathing and panting. This works well, but in the hot sun and humid air, can be much less efficient than sweating. Humidity levels of over 35% can reduce evaporative loss, and humidity over 80% can effectively negate evaporative loss. Dogs and cats that have impaired breathing, either due to structural conformation (flat faces) or disease should be very carefully observed in warm temperatures, and extreme heat should be avoided in some situations.
Signs of overheating can include excessive panting, restlessness, and drooling. More severe signs can include weakness, collapse, and abnormal gum/skin color. If you think your pet has mild signs, you can try going to a cooler, shaded area, and offering some water. Some dogs will also allow some cooling measures like wetting the ear flaps, armpits, groin, and paws, then directing a fan onto those areas. If you think cooling measures may be needed, it’s best to take your pet to a veterinarian for evaluation as soon as possible.
Healthy cats don’t typically get overheated, and actually prefer an ambient temperature of around 85°F. It’s important to provide fresh water and keep an area of the home cooled so cats can avoid heat if needed. Cats that are sick, especially with asthma, are much more prone to overheating, so any cat showing signs of excess heat like panting should be evaluated by a veterinarian.
Since we all wear shoes, we don’t often think about the impact of the hot pavement on paws. Burns are common especially in the early summer. Many dogs that get burned do not show active signs of discomfort at the time, but later blisters develop on the paw pads, which can be very painful and become infected.
An easy rule of thumb is to touch the pavement with the back of your hand, and if it feels too hot for your hand, it’s probably too hot for feet. You can avoid hot pavement by sticking to shady sidewalks or going on grass. Some dogs tolerate boots with a thick sole to protect against the heat. In paved yards and driveways, a blanket can be a great barrier against the hot cement or pavers.
If you see your dog licking at a foot, or walking tenderly, go see a veterinarian to decide if any treatment is needed.
Hot weather means thirsty dogs! Panting to stay cool means extra water loss, so dogs can dehydrate pretty quickly in warm temperatures. Standing water (ponds, pools, puddles) can have toxic contaminants or infectious bacteria, so make sure to prevent your dog from drinking from those sources. If you wouldn’t drink from it, don’t let your dog!
Salt water is also quite toxic when it’s consumed in a large quantity, which some dogs will do when swimming or hanging out at the beach. Any dog outdoors in warm weather should be offered fresh clean water regularly to drink. Most pet stores sell collapsable water bowls or water bottles with an attached dish for convenient drinking!
In general, it’s best to just prevent all dogs and cats from eating plants, both inside and outside. While many plants are not toxic, they can cause stomach upset or diarrhea. In summer, Easter Lilies are often growing outside, and they should be absolutely avoided as they are extremely toxic to cats. Even exposure to just the pollen can cause kidney failure and death in cats. CLICK HERE to get details directly from the FDA.
Some common toxic plants dogs can be exposed to during the summer are tulips, Lily of the Valley, oleander, kalanchoe, and azaleas.
The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center has a great phone app that has many species of plants and the relative toxicity, and can be an excellent resource for pet owners: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/apcc-mobile-app
Foreign Body Ingestion and Stomach Upset
Picnics and barbecues are an easy way for dogs and cats to accidentally get access to and eat things they shouldn’t! Make sure food is kept away from counters and tables pets have access to, and that trash cans have lids and are closely watched to prevent any dumpster diving!
Some important things to avoid are corn cobs (even cut up!), meat with bones, food with toothpicks and skewers, and any foods containing toxic ingredients (raisins/grapes, chocolate, onions). Also remember that just eating table food can cause gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea in many dogs and cats.
If you are concerned your pet may have eaten something, contact a veterinarian immediately to see what the next best sept could be. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center is also a fantastic way to get an immediate answer from a board certified veterinary toxicologist.