While summer can be full of fun and outdoor activities, especially with a pet, it is important to keep our four-legged friends safe from the hazards that accompany rising temperatures. Whether it’s rising temperatures, hot pavements, attending cookouts or even wildfires, there are a few summer hazards that can cause discomfort and danger to our pets. We chatted with pet-care pro, Dr. Matt Spiegle, director of veterinary programs at Vetster, for more info. —Vita Daily
Hi Matt! Please tell us a bit about yourself to start.
I am a second-generation veterinarian who basically grew up in a vet clinic. I graduated from the Ontario Veterinary College in 2008 before moving onto a small animal practice in Toronto for many years, and I still do relief shifts at a clinic to this day. Several years ago, I left full-time practice to work for a veterinary nutrition company where I educated vet teams and pet parents about the importance of nutrition and its impact on the health of our furry companions. My passion has always been with improving access to veterinary care and the integration of technology with veterinary medicine to help our profession evolve, so I was thrilled to join Vetster to help make a difference in the lives of pets and their families.
What hazards does summer, and especially very warm temperatures, pose for our pets?
During the summer months, as folks are traveling and spending more time being active outdoors with their pets, we see a big spike in appointment volume. A few summer hazards to watch out for include:
Heat: Be very cautious about taking your pet outside on very hot days. Excessive heat and humidity can be very hard on our pets and they can overheat very quickly. This is especially true for brachycephalic breeds (dogs with shorter snouts) as they have a harder time regulating their temperature.
Parasites: Warm weather increases the prevalence of fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other intestinal parasites and they can transmit diseases to your pets (and sometimes humans). Make sure your pets are on a regular preventive medication recommended by your veterinarian to protect them from the parasites that are prevalent in your area. These preventative medications are very safe and highly effective.
Allergies: Spring and summer can cause increases in environmental allergies since pollen, grass and weeds are all in full bloom. Pets with environmental allergies can be quite uncomfortable so watch out for excessive itching, scratching, skin redness, or ear infections. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, book an online appointment with a veterinarian to get to the bottom of what is going on and discuss appropriate treatment options.
Water-related hazards: If you plan to take your pet swimming, always supervise them to ensure their safety. Not all dogs are natural swimmers, and some may struggle or tire easily. Be cautious around pools, lakes, or other bodies of water to prevent accidents. It is strongly recommended to have a life jacket or flotation device for your pet – even if they are on a boat.
Poisonous plants: Many common summer plants, such as lilies, azaleas, and sago palms, can be toxic to pets if ingested. Keep an eye on your pets when they are in outdoor areas, and avoid planting potentially toxic plants in your yard.
What are some “hot” issues for pets in summer (pavement, BBQs, car interiors, etc.)? How can we mitigate each hazard?
Before taking your dog for a walk, check the temperature of the surface by placing the back of your hand on it. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your pet. Streets and sidewalks can get so hot that they can burn the skin on their pads. Consider walking them in the early morning or late evening when surfaces are cooler, or use paw protectors. Pets with light-colored or thin fur, or areas of exposed skin, are prone to sunburn. Apply pet-safe sunscreen to areas susceptible to sunburn, such as the nose, ears, and belly. Consult with a veterinarian online for recommendations on pet-friendly sunscreens.
What are some basic dos and don’ts while outdoors with pets?
Do keep your pet on a leash: Unless you’re in a designated off-leash area, always keep your pet on a leash to ensure their safety and prevent them from getting lost or wandering into dangerous situations. Even the most well-trained pet can see something that interests them and chase it, potentially leading to a run-in with wildlife or getting hit by a car.
Do clean up after your pet: Carry waste bags with you and promptly clean up after your pet. This helps keep public spaces clean and prevents the spread of diseases.
Do bring water and snacks: Carry water and snacks for your pet, especially during long outings or hot weather, to keep them hydrated and energized.
Do be aware of your surroundings: Pay attention to your surroundings to avoid potential hazards such as busy roads, poisonous plants, or wildlife that could harm your pet. Stay alert and keep them away from potential dangers.
Do provide shade and rest breaks: If you’re spending a significant amount of time outdoors, ensure your pet has access to shade, rest breaks, and a comfortable spot to relax. This is particularly important on hot days to prevent overheating. Pay attention to your pet and if they are panting heavily, struggling to breathe, lethargic, or just looking uncomfortable make sure to get them into a cool environment as soon as possible.
Don’t leave your pet unattended: Never leave your pet unattended outdoors, as they can get into trouble or become anxious when left alone. Always keep an eye on them and provide supervision.
Don’t let your pet eat unknown substances: Keep a close eye on your pet and prevent them from eating unknown substances, as they could be toxic or harmful. This includes discarded food, plants, or other objects they may find during outdoor excursions.
Don’t forget about insect protection: Protect your pet from fleas, ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects that can transmit diseases. Use appropriate preventive measures, such as flea and tick preventatives, as recommended by your veterinarian.
Don’t allow off-leash behavior in prohibited areas: Respect local rules and regulations regarding leash laws and off-leash areas. Always follow the guidelines set by the park or outdoor space you’re visiting to ensure a safe and pleasant experience for everyone.
What are the signs of dehydration and heat strokes in pets? Are these different in dogs and cats?
Dogs and cats are susceptible to heatstroke when exposed to high temperatures and humidity. Signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, rapid breathing, weakness, vomiting, lethargy, inappetence and collapse. It is essential to provide shade, fresh water, and avoid leaving pets in hot cars or direct sunlight for extended periods of time. Pets can become dehydrated quickly during hot weather. Ensure that your pets have access to clean and fresh water at all times. If you’re going for walks or spending time outdoors, carry water and a portable bowl for your pet.
How can we protect pets from smoke if we live in proximity to wildfires this summer?
Minimize your pet’s exposure to smoke by keeping them indoors as much as possible. Keep windows and doors closed to prevent smoke from entering your home. Ensure that there are no gaps or openings where smoke can seep in. Consider using air purifiers with HEPA filters to improve indoor air quality. These filters can help remove smoke particles and other pollutants from the air, providing a safer environment for your pets. Avoid or minimize outdoor activities, such as walks or playtime, during times when smoke levels are high. Check local air quality reports or websites to stay informed about current conditions.
If your pet has pre-existing respiratory conditions or is showing signs of respiratory distress such as coughing, wheezing, or difficulty breathing, consult with a veterinarian for guidance and potential treatments.
Any tips on how to handle a pet during a medical emergency while away from home?
It’s important to always be prepared for an emergency if traveling with your pet. Download the Vetster app which connects you to thousands of available veterinarians 24/7 so you can be prepared in case you need to speak with a vet while away from home. With Vetster, you can keep important information about your pet easily accessible, including their complete medical history, any ongoing medications, and known allergies. If you need to have an appointment while on the road, Vetster allows you to keep in touch with the veterinarian following an appointment, so you can ask any additional follow up questions.
Prepare a small emergency kit for your pet that includes basic supplies such as a leash, collar, bottled water, food, any necessary medications, a pet first-aid kit, and a familiar blanket or toy. Keep this kit easily accessible when traveling to ensure you have essential items on hand during emergencies.