The lazy days of summer can be good for your body and soul, but they can be hard on your pet if you’re not careful. We asked veterinary experts and seasoned pet owners to share some of their best tips for making sure that summer is safe and enjoyable for your furry friend.
Sara Ochoa, DVM
Sara Redding Ochoa, DVM. She graduated from St. George’s University with a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine in 2015. Since veterinary school, she has been working at a small animal and exotic veterinary clinic in east Texas, where she has experience treating all species that walk in the hospital.
There are many ways to keep your pet healthy and happy during the summer months. When summer hits, [it can mean] a lot of cookouts with friends and family. Make sure your dog or cat does not get any human food during these parties. Human food can cause vomiting and diarrhea leading to a painful condition called pancreatitis. Also, during the hot summer months, make sure your dog has adequate amounts of water. Your pet can easily dehydrate or overheat in the hot summer months.
Summertime also means bugs start to reappear. Bugs like fleas and ticks can be attracted to your pet. When these bugs get on your pet, they can bite them, transmitting the disease to your pet. They can also cause them to itch and scratch. Keeping these bugs off your pets with some kind of flea and tick prevention will help keep your pet healthy.
- Keep your pets current on flea and heartworm prevention medications.
Summer is a prime time for parasites like fleas and ticks and mosquito-borne illnesses like heart worm (which can kill your animals).
It is critical that you have a plan to protect your furry friends, as the key to any of these issues is prevention. It is always hard and more expensive to get rid of an infestation/ infection than it is to prevent one.
Most flea medications are topical, though there are a variety of new oral medications available. While most only work for 4 weeks, some are considered effective for 8-12 weeks. It is important to note what the dosing schedule is for whichever medication(s) you choose and keep up on them when it’s time.
Be aware, too, that not all flea medications are the same. They each have specialty components to fight a variety of different pests. You should research and discuss with your vet which may be most effective for your animals based on your lifestyle and habits. For example, a dog who goes hiking is going to need to make sure their treatment works on ticks- whereas ticks will not be as big of a concern for a dog who is mostly indoors.
It is important to note that even indoor-only animals still need medications to prevent infestation. Fleas and ticks can come in on you and your other pets as well as come through the screens. Being indoors also doesn’t prevent mosquitoes from biting your pets either, which is the source of heartworm infections.
Some flea medications also have components that prevent (not treat) heartworm and ear mites. These are typically prescription-only after a blood test is done to ensure your animal doesn’t already have heartworm- since flea treatments with this additional component will only prevent heartworm, but will not treat an already established case.
Even if you think you don’t need to worry about heartworm, think again!
It has become a problem in recent years, moving from the typical and predictable warm climate areas (east coast and south) into those not formerly affected, like the northwest. As such, it is important to consider adding a heartworm prevention to the mix if it is not already a part of your typical parasitic prevention.
Other medications are geared more towards deworming over fleas and may indeed have a place in your routine. Tapeworms, for example, are carried by the fleas- so when the flea bites your animal, the animal also gets tapeworms. If you have fleas you should treat for tapeworms, and if you have tapeworms you need to treat for fleas too- which people don’t usually know. Most people say they have never had a flea problem, but indeed, many people have an active infestation they are not aware of.
If your animal has black dirt specks in their fur, that is most likely flea dirt- in other words, flea poop. It is black because it is dried blood. If you are not sure if it is indeed dirt or flea poop, you can put some on a paper towel and get it wet. If it turns reddish, it is from fleas. You should also regularly check your animals (especially black ones) with a flea comb, which has very fine teeth. You will be able to find the flea dirt this way if it’s not visible otherwise.
Another reason to consider taking parasite prevention seriously is that not only can humans become infected (although not easily, especially with proper hygiene), your pets may be allergic to pests like fleas. Flea allergies result in dry, itchy skin and often progress to baldness from the animal nibbling at themselves trying to relieve the itching. If your animal is nibbling at their legs or rump, there’s a chance they are allergic to fleas and have a current infestation- although this can also be a sign of allergies to food or other environmental aspects as well.
In all, no one medication treats all of the pests and parasites out there just waiting to take a bite out of your pets, and you may need a combination of preventative medications to keep your pets safe.
- Make sure you have a way to keep your pets cool and hydrated.
Of course, we are all aware that animals can get hot much faster and easier than humans- especially in cars. Having your animals in a car if the weather is over 65 is just a giant don’t.
Not only will you be putting your pet at risk if you do not abide with this good rule of thumb, but you have a great chance of having your car windows broken (in many states this is [accepted] when an animal is in danger) and you will be judged harshly by those who witness it. People do not take kindly to this phenomena and you will be considered a criminal by animal lovers, who will not hesitate to point this out with intense disdain. You do not want to be that person- never mind being the person whose animal dies in the car because of your mistake.
If you must bring your animals with you, it must be an extremely short stop and you must have a spare key and leave the car running with the air conditioning on. It is suggested that you make a sign noting that the car and air are on- as someone could still consider breaking your car window. It also wouldn’t hurt to have a thermometer measuring the internal car temperature, prominently displayed for any passerby to easily see and confirm your pet is not overheating.
When you are outside with your pet, they also have the possibility of overheating, which can happen unexpectedly, so it is best to be aware of your animal’s exposure to sun and heat.
You can consider going out in the earlier or later parts of the day, and avoid high levels of activity in general during the hottest times of the day. No matter when you’re out, if the sun’s out, be sure to provide plenty of rest and relaxation in a shaded area.
Some dogs have a harder time in the heat, such as brachiocephalic animals (those with snubbed noses like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats) and may need some additional attention to prevent heat stroke. Gel or water-filled cooling mats can provide some relief by allowing them a cool place to lay to help keep their body temperature down. There are also cooling bandanas and vests on the market- so be sure to check out the different options, especially if your animals are more susceptible to the heat.
Staying hydrated is also critical. You can create fun opportunities for your animals with popsicles in bowls or buckets filled with water and frozen- often with treats and/or toys inside to entice animals to utilize the ice. This will melt slower than water would get hot/evaporate, so it’s a good option if you will be outside for a while. It will be fun for your dog to get in there and find all the goodies, while you feel good knowing they are getting extra hydration.
- Have life jackets for pets that are around water.
It might sound silly, but stranger things have happened than animals falling off or jumping off boats and docks and not being prepared for what happens next. Many animals like water and may not experience issues, but senior animals or small dogs and cats may not fare as well- and you may not be able to rescue them easily. This is especially true if the water is exceptionally cold, which could quickly turn into hypothermia for both you and the animals.
Founder and Executive Director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue, Jme Thomas is an expert in the fields of animal welfare, animal health and behavior- especially in regards to the specifics surrounding rescue (fostering and volunteering with animals). Besides her profession, Jme lives just outside Seattle, with her 4 furry friends and husband where they have fostered more than 1,000 animals.
Content Manager of MyFoodSubscriptions
Beverly (30, NYC, New York) works as a content manager for the consumer website MyFoodSubscriptions, with a background in Sales and Marketing Management. She currently has two Shih Tzu dogs, has previously had one large dog (a lab/husky mix), and has experience in caring for cats.
- Hydration. While this sounds like an extremely simple consideration that every pet owner knows (or should know), keeping your pet healthy throughout the summer means ensuring they are adequately hydrated throughout the day. This means making sure they have enough water, or even additional water, as needed indoors, and making sure you bring water dishes with you whenever you’re taking them out on trips or to the park. Dogs can become very dehydrated and are susceptible to heat stroke. If you walk them for a certain amount of time or take them out on sporting activities, it’s essential to have water on hand at all times. If they seem overheated, you might want to cool them off by placing cool towels on their necks or putting cool, fresh water on them as well.
- Ensure Water Safety Measures. If you take your dog to the beach or pool, ensure you watch them closely. While most large dogs are strong swimmers, accidents can happen very easily, and they can have trouble getting out of a pool or swimming in the first place. You can look into investing in different safety equipment or keep your pet out of the water, but it’s crucial to have your eyes on them at all times.
- Take Caution With Ticks/Fleas. Summer insects like ticks and fleas can be dangerous to pet health, and you definitely want to take precautions in safeguarding your pet from harm’s way. Chemical pesticides can also be harmful to pets when used on a lawn, so it’s typically best to keep your lawn and grass cut short. You can also inspect your pet for any potential bites and follow up with your vet immediately if you notice any signs of bite marks.
- Car Safety. Even if you’re trying to save money in the summer while driving by not using AC, if you’re driving with your pet, temperature control is a must. Dogs and some breeds of cats are more sensitive to heat and can only perspire through their tongues and paws, making them prone to heatstroke. Ensure adequate temperatures (and pet safety belts) are in place prior to driving, and never leave your pet in a car unattended.
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