21 Ways to Keep Your Pets Safe All Summer
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.