Whether you’re hanging out at an adoption event with your foster dog, enjoying seeing your cat napping in a sunbeam or heading for the lake to take your dog swimming, summer is a great opportunity for you and your pets to just plain have fun together. Here are six ways to keep your pets safe and healthy while you’re doing it!
1. Safe summer outdoor adventures. “This is a great time of year to get out into nature with our pets, take part in outdoor adoption fairs, or even just head for some shade in a local park,” said Dr. Marty Becker, an Idaho veterinarian and founder of Fear Free. “Unfortunately, we see pets who have gotten into trouble from hot weather all the time, and these problems can almost always be avoided.“
For example, he said, “if the ground is too hot for your bare feet, it’s too hot for your dog’s, too.”
Whether out for a run or spending the day at an adoption event, consider the sun as well as the temperature. A dark-furred pet is going to suffer more from direct sun than a light-coated pet, so jogging or sitting in the sun on a hot day with your black Lab is probably not a great idea. Stick to shaded paths and cool grass surfaces when possible. And if you have pets with thin or light-colored coats, or who are hairless, don’t forget the sunscreen!
When hiking or spending time outdoors, provide plenty of water for your dog, and tie a cooling bandana around his neck. Make sure you offer your dog a drink frequently — whether you need one yet or not. Dogs are much less efficient than humans are at cooling off.
How do you know if your pet is overheated? Make sure you know what your pet’s nose feels like when she’s healthy and at a comfortable temperature. It can be warm or cool, dry or moist, but the key is to know what’s normal for that pet. If you’re concerned your pet is too hot, check her gums; they should be pink, and when you press your finger against the gum, the color should return within two seconds.
Signs of dangerous heatstroke include dark red gums, noisy, rapid, or difficult breathing, glassy eyes, drooling, confusion, pacing and being unable to settle. If your pet does get overheated, Dr. Becker said, wet them down with cool water, not ice or ice water, and seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
2. Splish splash. Does your dog love the water? Summer and swimming go together, but you’ll want to make sure your dog knows how to dog paddle before he gets in over his head. And no, not all dogs know how to swim instinctively.
“Never throw your dog in the water,” said Dr. Becker. “Ideally, take him out on a leash into a lake or ocean that has a gradual entry, so he can get used to the experience gradually. If you’re landlocked, look into a child’s wading pool. Most dogs love them, and they’re great photo opportunities for dogs who are up for adoption, too!” One last tip: If you have a pool, make sure your dog knows exactly where and how to get out on his own.
Another watery concern for dog owners: Blue-green algae blooms, which occur on ponds and lakes in hot weather, are highly toxic to dogs. While not all blue or green water is toxic to your dog, it’s not possible to tell the safe from the dangerous just by looking. Err on the side of caution, and only swim in clear water with your dog.
3. Playtime safety. Canine influenza (CIV) is in the news, and many dog owners are considering curtailing their dogs’ social experiences this summer. CIV can be spread year-round, and isn’t serious in most dogs, but has the potential to cause more serious illness in some dogs. It’s also highly contagious between dogs.
The good news is there’s a vaccine for both strains of the virus that have been identified in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian, and you can keep playtime with dog friends on your summer to-do list with a little preventive care.
And remember, cats love to play, too! If your kitties are indoor cats, consider adding a “catio” to let them play in the summer sunshine in safety. This is a great enrichment idea for shelter cats, too.
4. HVAC. There are parts of the U.S. where the air conditioning comes on in March and stays on until November. Other areas have shorter or intermittent hot spells, but either way, don’t just blithely head for work with your house tightly closed up and no way for your pets to cool off. Keep your shades closed and your AC at a moderate temperature while you’re out, and if you don’t have air conditioning, make sure fans are in use.
“There’s an Internet rumor that eating ice cubes or ice water is bad for dogs,” said Dr. Becker. “This isn’t true. I recommend putting ice cubes in water bowls and leaving the bowls in a few places around the home. Automatic water fountains that recycle cool, fresh water are another great idea, especially for cats.”
While AC can keep pets cool, it can also dry out the air, and may leave your cat’s coat and skin dry and static-y. Keep an eye out for flaking skin or, surprisingly, cat fur that seems oily. Both can be a sign the artificial winter is too dry for your pet.
5. Fireworks and thunderstorms. “Every Fourth of July, I find myself wishing they’d outlaw fireworks,” Dr. Becker confessed. “Not only do I have lots of patients who are terrified of them, but one of my dogs is, too.” His recommendations for fireworks and thunderstorm phobias in dogs and cats include:
- Creating a safe “den” in an area of the house, such as an interior bathroom or basement, that has no windows. “Don’t leave them alone, though,” he said. “They can panic and either escape or hurt themselves trying. And I’ve seen dogs get out of houses and garages in ways their owners would have sworn were impossible.”
- Compression wraps or garments like Thundershirts. You can also create your own with an ace bandage or scarf.
- Pheremones that can create a calming sensation in some pets.
- Fans, white noise machines, audio books, music designed for pets, or the TV may help some pets.
- Supplements that are proven to relieve anxiety, such as those containing l-theanine.
- In serious cases, talk to your veterinarian about old and new medications that can help. “But whatever you do, don’t use acepromazine,” he warned. “It does nothing to treat or relieve anxiety, and has been demonstrated to make noise phobias worse, not better.”
6. Vacation fun. Not all pets like to travel, but plenty of them do — even cats. “A client of mine adopted a cat who had been in a foster home with several other cats, with whom she didn’t get along,” said Dr. Becker. “She spent all her time hiding. She was adopted as an only cat, and literally from the moment her adopter put her in the car to bring her home, she blossomed into a veteran world traveler. She loves to ride in the car, stay at hotels, go for walks on a leash and harness — all the things many people say cats don’t do!”
If you’re considering bringing your cat on vacation, Dr. Becker recommends starting slow. “Take her for a ride in the car in a carrier that is on a level surface — nothing is less comfortable and secure than being in your carrier on a slanted surface. Make sure she’s acclimated to her carrier and sees it as a safe spot. And drench it in pheromones, to help your cat relax.”
If she likes the short trip, odds are she’ll like a longer one.
And in case your idea of heaven is a staycation, consider contacting your local shelter or rescue group and offer to foster a pet short-term. It’s a wonderful experience for kids, too — not to mention it will be the best “What I did on my summer vacation” story when they go back to school in the fall.
Whatever you do this summer, remember everything’s more fun with pets. So if you don’t have one, adopt one today!