Safety Tips for the Dog Days of Summer
Some like it hot (but not most dogs). A vet breaks down the season’s health hazards, from fleas to foxtails.
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After more than a year of the same old walk around the neighborhood and forced staycations, you and your dog are probably ready for some summer fun. To help keep your dog safe this season — so you can enjoy all the best parts of summer and avoid the worst parts — we asked veterinarian Dr. Carla Lerum, DVM, to weigh in on common hot-weather hazards.
Heatstroke and Dehydration
Just like people, dogs are at risk for heatstroke and dehydration when temperatures rise. How hot is too hot for your pup? “If you’re uncomfortable in the sun, your dog probably is too,” says Dr. Lerum. “Make sure your dog always has access to fresh water and shade when outside. You can also give them ice-filled Kongs or a frozen water bottle to keep them entertained and cool.”
It’s not just the air temperature you need to worry about. Hot surfaces can cause painful blisters on your dog’s paws. This is especially an issue in urban areas where you’re more likely to be walking your dog on asphalt than grass or dirt. According to Dr. Lerum, if you can’t hold your hand to the ground comfortably for more than a few seconds, it’s too hot for your dog to walk on. “Try to take your pup out in the early morning or late evening when the temperatures are cooler. If that’s not an option, you can put booties on them to protect their paws.”
Some dog breeds, such as Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and other flat-faced breeds, have a particularly tough time in hot weather. Their restricted airways put them at greater risk for heatstroke and make them less tolerant of exercise. Keep an extra close eye on them during warm days and let them be a couch potato if it gets too hot.
Drowning and Dry Drowning
Unlike last year, you’ll be able to wear your swimsuit outside this summer. That means poolside parties, floats down the river, and trips to the beach. And because none of those activities are complete without a wet dog shaking on you at some point, you’re going to want to bring your pup. Just keep a few safety tips in mind.
According to Dr. Lerum, “not all dogs like to swim, and forcing your dog to try it isn’t going to encourage a positive association with that activity. Let them take it slow and get used to it at their own pace. Even if a dog knows how to swim, they may not understand tides or currents, so it’s important for you, as the pet parent, to assess any risks and keep your pup out of the water if the conditions are dangerous. And whenever your dog is in an uncontrolled situation around water (like in a boat), make sure they are wearing a doggie life vest.”
Saltwater poses a specific risk to dogs. While drinking a small amount of saltwater will likely produce only mild, if any, symptoms, large amounts can be quite serious. Saltwater can cause vomiting and diarrhea and throw off a dog’s electrolyte balance. When a dog ingests toxic levels of saltwater, it can lead to seizures, kidney problems, and even death. Do your best to keep your pup from drinking any saltwater while swimming or playing, and seek immediate attention if your dog starts experiencing diarrhea, weakness, tremors, or seizures.
Also, be on the lookout for signs of dry drowning, which can take several hours or even days to appear. Dry drowning occurs when a dog inhales water into their lungs, affecting their ability to breathe. Symptoms include coughing, wheezing, bluish gums and skin, and extreme lethargy. If you spot any of these signs, take your dog to the vet immediately.
Lepto, Giardia, and Blue-Green Algae
When you see a pool of cloudy, stagnant water, your first thought is probably ugh, gross! When your dog sees one, they are likely deciding which to do first — splash around in it or gulp it down to cool off. Both have the potential to make your dog (and possibly you) sick.
“Diseases such as leptospirosis and Giardia can be spread to dogs through contaminated water...and then to pet parents,” warns Dr. Lerum. “Make sure your dog is up-to-date on their lepto vaccine. Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Giardia, so try to keep your dog away from any still or unclear water. And if you see signs of stomach upset, including particularly foul diarrhea, a trip to the vet may be in order.”
Another watch-out is blue-green algae, which can be extremely toxic to dogs. Before heading to the lake or river, check the local news for any reports of algae blooms. Signs of algae poisoning in dogs include difficulty breathing, muscle weakness, lethargy, and seizures. If you notice these or any other unusual symptoms after a trip to the water, contact your veterinarian immediately as speedy treatment is critical.
Protecting your doggo from parasites is important year-round, but warm weather and more time outside put your pup at even greater risk — unfortunately fleas and ticks love hot summer days too. Most people know that fleas live throughout the U.S., but some associate ticks — and tick-borne diseases — with the Northeast. In fact, while Lyme disease spread through deer ticks is most prevalent in the midwestern and eastern states, the west coast is not immune from tick-borne illnesses. Brown dog ticks are located across the country, and these tiny vampires can spread diseases such as ehrlichia and anaplasmosis from coast to coast.
Fleas and ticks aren’t the only summer parasite concerns. Mosquitoes are the uninvited guest at just about every outdoor gathering, and as if their bites weren’t bad enough, they also carry heartworm disease. A single bite from an infected mosquito can transmit heartworm disease to your dog — heartworms’ favorite host — which is serious and fatal if left untreated.
While heartworm disease can be a lengthy, expensive process to treat, preventing it is easy with consistent doses of a heartworm preventive. There are many options for heartworm and flea/tick control (and some that prevent all three at once), so talk to your vet about the best product for your pet.
Foxtails are common in the western half of the U.S. These plants have barbed seed heads that can pose a big threat to dogs. Like, really big. Foxtails can get lodged in the nose and then travel to your dog’s brain. They can get inhaled and puncture a lung. And they can burrow right through your dog’s skin, then travel anywhere in the body, causing swelling, abscesses, and even death. Pretty scary stuff.
The best way to keep your dog safe is to avoid foxtails and similar plants altogether. If that’s not possible, it’s a good idea to check your pup for foxtail seeds anytime you think they’ve been exposed to them. (Pro tip: for especially furry pups, keep their feet shaved or trimmed so foxtails can’t hide in their hair.)
“I always recommend giving dogs a thorough once-over after they’ve been outdoors,” says Dr. Lerum. “This will not only help you protect them from the dangers of foxtails, but also allow you to check them for ticks, cuts, paw damage, or any other issues that may have occurred while they were out having fun.”
If you’ve ever started a workout routine from a fitness level of, let’s say, zero, you know that it’s...rough. The road to peak performance takes time. And while you may be more than ready to get back to the active lifestyle that’s been on pause for the last year, if your dog is your hiking buddy, they may need some time to ramp up.
“The indoor nature of quarantine may have impacted your dog’s physical fitness,” says Dr. Lerum. “While you’ve had a Peloton app keeping you in shape, your dog might not be ready for a long-distance hike. Not only will they need to build back their endurance, but their paw pads might need time to re-develop the calluses that protect their feet on rougher terrain. It’s best to do a moderate, controlled re-entry to outdoor adventures.”
When in Doubt, Ask a Vet...
Anytime you have a change in lifestyle that involves your dog, it’s a good time to check in with your veterinarian. Maybe this is the summer you take up camping or go on a cross-country road trip. New adventures could mean new exposures for your pup. Your vet will be able to take this information and make any needed adjustments to your dog’s vaccines, parasite control, or other proactive healthcare recommendations.
Kate Sheofsky hails from San Francisco, where she developed a love of writing, Giants baseball, and houses she can’t afford. She currently lives in Portland, OR, and works as a freelance writer and content strategist. When not typing away on her laptop, she enjoys tooling around the city with her two rescue pups searching for tasty food and sunny patios.