The Ultimate Summer Fun Pet Safety Guide
Here's how to protect your pet during the warmer months.
Use Sunscreen, Please!
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.
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.
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.)
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Play It Cool
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.
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).
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.
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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 in oceans--if a dog gets in trouble in one of these, whether swimming or caught in a wave while fetching a ball, she can be swept out to sea in minutes.
Keep an especially watchful eye 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 f 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.
Near rivers, beware of currents, even if they're not readily visible. Your dog can be easily carried downstream.
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Take Pool Precautions
Never leave your dog unsupervised near an uncovered pool.
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.
Fight potential swimmer's ear with drops of a canine ear-drying solution.
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 such as 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.