By Justine Lee, DVM, and Izzi Bendall
Higher temperatures may translate into more time spent outdoors, but for pet owners, they can also mean more visits to the veterinarian. “In the summer, we see more skin and ear infections and an increase in injuries overall,” says Sandra Sawchuk, DVM, at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Here’s how to protect your pet during the warmer months:
Related: Top 5 Reasons to Get to the Vet, Fast
Use Sunscreen, Please!
Shield delicate skin. Skin cancer is the most common form of cancer in dogs and second most common in cats. Even though fur provides some protection from the sun, you should apply a pet sunblock every 3 to 4 hours to the least hair-covered spots: bellies on dogs (especially ones who like to lie on their backs) and ears and around eyes on cats, which are also areas where malignant tumors are likely to show up. (No need to apply sunscreen directly on fur.) Use products made specifically for pets, such as Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen ($18; epi-pet.com), which is safe for dogs—ingredients such as zinc oxide can be toxic to pets.
Keep coats long. While it may seem logical to cut your pet’s coat short, resist the urge. “If hair—even long hair—is brushed and not matted, it provides better circulation and helps her regulate her body temperature,” says Rene Carlson, DVM, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. (Check out these three tips for grooming pets at home.)
Soothe burns safely. If your pet does get burned, apply a thin layer of pure aloe vera twice daily to soothe the irritated area. (Check the brand with your vet first, for pet safety.)
Play It Cool
Walk with caution. Don’t walk your dog during the day’s highest heat and humidity, which is usually between 1 and 4 PM. This is especially important for dogs with short snouts, such as bulldogs, who can’t pant as efficiently in humid weather due to their narrowed nostrils and windpipes.
Never leave her in the car. Even if windows are cracked, the interior temp can rise by 19°F in as little as 7 minutes. On a hot day, this can be deadly. (Check out this simple guide to driving with dogs.)
Look out for heat exhaustion. If your dog shows signs of heat stress—heavy panting, dry or bright red gums, thick drool, vomiting, diarrhea, or wobbly legs—don’t place her in ice cold water, which can put her into shock. Instead, move her to a cool place, drape a damp towel over her body, rewetting the cloth frequently, and get her to the vet as soon as you possibly can. A dog’s normal temperature is between 100° and 103°F, so once she hits 104°F, she’s in dangerous territory (106°F or higher can be fatal).
Keep it cool indoors. Turn on the AC in your home, especially if you’ll be out of the house for several hours. If it’s too warm for you, it’s too warm for your pet. And while we’re talking about the indoor pet safety, lock up these Top 10 Pills That Could Poison Your Pet.)
Use a lifejacket. Have your dog wear a life vest in a bright color in any body of water to help her stay afloat and ensure that she can be seen by swimmers and boaters. Let her get used to wearing it in your yard first.
Beware of currents and riptides. If a dog gets in trouble in one of these in the ocean, whether swimming or caught in a wave while fetching a ball, she can be swept out to sea in minutes. The same goes for rivers: You need to watch out for currents, even if they’re not readily visible, as your dog can be easily carried downstream.
Be on the lookout in lakes. If your dog steps in a sinkhole, which may cause her to panic, you need to help her swim to where she can touch ground again. Avoid lakes and ponds with blue-green algae, signified by scummy water and a foul odor. Algae can produce a toxin that may cause severe sickness or seizures quickly if your pet ingests the water, by either drinking from the lake or licking tainted fur.
Related: 11 Diseases You Can Get From Your Pet
Take Pool Precautions
Act life a lifeguard. Never leave your dog unsupervised near an uncovered pool.
Create an exit strategy. Teach her how to get out of the pool by using the stairs with her 5 to 10 times in a row. This will help her learn where the stairs are, whether she’s swimming or accidentally falls in and needs to climb out. In the deep end, consider putting in a pool ramp, such as the Gamma Skamper Ramp ($60 to $80; petco.com), to reduce any risk of drowning.
Avoid swimmer’s ear. Use drops of a canine ear-drying solution to fight potential swimmer’s ear.
Keep Pets Bug-Free
Send parasites packing. Hookworms and heartworms are more prevalent during the summer and can gain access to your pet through the pads of his feet. Ask your vet for a prescription for Heartgard Plus or Interceptor Flavor Tabs, which will help keep parasites at bay.
Opt for pet-friendly insect repellents. One option: All-natural Heavenly Organic Ecoshield ($10; animalsensepetproducts.com). Its botanical blend of plant and essential oils repels fleas, ticks, flies, and mosquitoes. Check with your veterinarian first to find safe repellents for your pet.
Related: The Secret to Flea-Proofing Your Pet
Avoid using charcoal briquettes. Dogs seem to love to lap up or steal from the grill, and charcoal briquettes can easily get stuck in the stomach, causing vomiting and requiring surgery.
Don’t share. Barbecue scraps and fatty leftovers can give your pup pancreatitis, causing severe abdominal pain or death. Corn on the cob and peach pits are also a huge no-no because they can lodge in a dog’s intestines.
RELATED: 7 Major July 4th Mistakes That Could Harm Your Pet
Guard Your Garden
Skip the azaleas. These common backyard shrubs can be toxic for dogs and cats if ingested, resulting in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, heart arrhythmias, or an abnormal heart rate.
Limit the lilies. A daylily or Asiatic, Easter, or Stargazer lily and their pollen can cause acute kidney failure in cats. Ingestion of as little as two to three leaves can be fatal, so remove these plants from your yard if you let your cat out.
Check Your Garage
Lock up plant food. Rose and garden plant food containing insecticides can contain potentially fatal compounds. If your dog tries to eat a bag of it (or soil that’s been treated with it), he could suffer diarrhea, profuse vomiting, shock, seizures, and even death.
Keep away the fireworks. A threat to curious dogs that might try to eat them, fireworks are made with chemicals like potassium nitrate, and parts (like a fuse) that could get stuck in the stomach, they can cause vomiting, bloody diarrhea, seizures, and shallow breathing. Keep yours out of reach, and clear your yard of debris after you set off your display.
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