Pet safety during cookout season

Summer is officially underway – and for many of us, that means barbecues, cookouts, beach bonfires, and other outdoor affairs. But what's a lot of fun for humans can present dangers to our pets, so before your next big backyard bash, add these pet-safety pointers to your pre-party checklist – it just might save you a trip to the vet. (Or to the grocery store to replace the platter of hot dogs Gracie just wolfed down.)

The summer-party staples your pets should avoid:

The picnic/barbecue spread. Human food isn't indicated for pets the rest of the year either, but it's especially important to keep little snouts out of the potato salad at this time of year. Dr. Louis Murray, interim director of the ASPCA's Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in NYC, explained to Petside's Talia Argondezzi that "Pets are very sensitive to changes in their diets" – and the upset stomach caused by a "middle-aged" potato salad in a heat wave will hit small pets even harder.

Murray added that pancreatitis, a serious and sometimes fatal inflammation of the pancreas, can proceed from eating "greasy, spicy, fatty foods" – all mainstays of barbecues.

And while you might follow the rules and not give your pets cookout food, your guests might not know better. Plus, parties can get chaotic, and many pets will take advantage of a busy backyard to perform a little quality control on the deviled eggs.

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So, while it might sound cold-hearted, your pet (and you) may have a better time if she's in a cool basement or air-conditioned room with a bowl of water, a little of her own kibble, and the door closed.

The aftermath. Post-BBQ trash will likely contain bones, which are very harmful to pets, particularly cooked bones that splinter more easily. Bone fragments can pierce your dog's palate and other soft internal tissues like his stomach or intestines.

Garbage will likely also contain sloshed alcohol, Styrofoam plates, pointy plastic utensils, and human food that's started to turn. Keep your dog away from barbecue refuse and make sure trash-can lids stay on tight.

Fire -- and fire-starters. Anything you use to get the grill going – matches, lighters, lighter fluid – should be locked away. Matches contain phosphorus, which is poisonous if ingested, and the tiny amount on each match may not harm your pet, but better safe than sorry. Lighter fluid is dangerous across the board: eating it, inhaling its fumes, even getting it on the skin or fur.

And we all know that dog whose tail knocks over glasses and sweeps shelves clean of picture frames. That tail is just as likely to get toasted along with the hamburger buns; either keep the grill in a fenced-off area or enclosure pets can't access, or keep the pets indoors just in case.

It's a good rule of them for any party with open flames as décor, whether it's tiki torches, candles in paper bags, or a simple fire pit in the back yard. Most pets understand fire, but accidents (and tails, as we mentioned) happen; if you won't be able to keep any eye on your dog or cat throughout the event, settle her inside for safety's sake.

Fireworks, too. Your pets may not get scared by other loud noises like thunder or loud motorcycles, but fireworks displays are a special case, and pets can often respond unpredictably (by which we mean "unhappily").

Keep your pet inside instead. A small room with the breakables removed, and a TV or radio turned on low to provide a comforting and familiar murmur, is a much better bet.

And as for "personal" explosives, don't set those off around your pet. The sudden noises made by firecrackers or Black Cats could scare her, and even quiet ones could accidentally burn her if she gets too close. If you want to set off a Roman candle – or if you know your neighbors like to set them off – keep Fido and Fluffy inside.

But keep the firecrackers themselves in the garage or in the same locked container you use for the lighter fluid. You never know what a pet is going to decide looks like an inviting snack, and unlit firecrackers contain chemicals that pets shouldn't ingest.

Bug preventives. Citronella candles, bug coils, bug zappers, bug spray, insect oils, smudges – all these things can burn, zap, or poison your pet.

If your pet is bothered by outdoor insects, ask your vet about a bug spray specifically formulated for pets. Human formulations should live in a secure cabinet.

Fun in the sun. This isn't to say that your pet shouldn't enjoy your guests, or the summer sunshine – but you should keep an eye on both situations. If you don't have a fenced-in yard or property, keep the dog (or cat!) on a harness or leash, or leave her inside for the duration. If you do have a fence or gate, the comings and goings of your guests could mean pets slip out without anyone noticing, so post a sign nearby warning partygoers to keep an eye out for Tiger.

Daylight parties probably mean strong sunshine, and pets can suffer the effects of too much sun exposure the same way we can. Ask your vet about a pet-safe sunscreen that will prevent skin cancer on delicate ears and elsewhere, and make sure your pet has enough water. Familiarize yourself with the signs of heat stroke in animals in case your pet gets overwhelmed by hot and/or humid weather.

Booze. Never give your pet alcohol, and make sure he's not lapping out of glasses that contain it. It can affect your pet's mental state and depress his respiration, and toying with a pet by giving him beer or other booze "as a joke" is just kind of messed up. Get rid of empties promptly, or keep your pet out of temptation's way entirely by setting him up indoors.

Dogs eat entire chickens, and cats get out in a flash; it happens, and nobody's perfect. If you think your pet has ingested something harmful or otherwise fallen afoul of your fiesta, call your vet or local animal hospital and ask what to do next.

Got any pet-safety tips you've picked up at your own barbecues? (Or "horror" stories with happy endings? We like those too. We know one cat who's a HUGE ketchup fan. Hee.) Share in the comments!

Elsewhere on Shine Pets:
What to do with a car-hating dog
Prep your pet-sitter before your vacay
Water safety for canines