Summer brings outdoor fun – and risks

Noisy fireworks with toxic substances top the list of hazards


[From Tufts July 2011 Issue]

Warm weather encourages owners and dogs to spend more time outside. While summer offers outdoor fun, it’s easy to overlook dangers that could harm your dog, says Scott Shaw, DVM, a specialist in emergency and critical care at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

Fireworks top the list for risky business. “Dogs shouldn’t be around fireworks at all,” Dr. Shaw says. “They can chase thrown fireworks and get burned or injured.” Some fireworks contain toxic substances that can poison dogs if chewed or swallowed. The explosions also can scare them. “The same dogs that are afraid of thunder will freak out on the 4th of July,” he says.

Fearful dogs cower under the bed, howl and become destructive as they try to escape. They may crash through windows, jump fences and get lost. Provide the same precautions as for thunder-phobic dogs, such as the Thundershirt, a wrap that provides gentle pressure to calm anxious dogs, or medication as prescribed by the veterinarian. But the most important recommendation for fireworks: “Keep the dog safely confined inside,” Dr. Shaw says.

Drowning from exhaustion
Summertime and swimming go together. Labradors may leap into pools at every opportunity, but a bulldog may sink more readily than swim. Even expert canine swimmers can drown. “Dogs can’t get out of pools or hot tubs with a ladder and steep sides all around,” Dr. Shaw says. “They drown from exhaustion swimming around all day.”

Always supervise, and ensure your dog can’t sneak in for a pool party without you — cover the pool with a safety net or enclose it with a child safety fence. If the pool has shallow steps or portable stairs, teach your dog how to find them, following the steps on page 10. After the swim, be sure to rinse off chlorinated water or salt water.

Boats are another potential hazard. “When boats hit a big wave and everybody bumps up, a dog can go flying off the boat,” Dr. Shaw says. “Dogs should be restrained with a harness or seatbelt when the boat is moving.” If the dog still happens to fall, a safety line can tow him back to the boat. Canine lifejackets may be appropriate, especially for dogs who aren’t strong swimmers.

When hiking or walking with your dogs, check the temperature of the pavement. “Especially walking on blacktop, they can burn their pads,” warns Dr. Shaw. Take a barefoot step or two yourself, and if it’s too hot for you, find a grassy path for the dog.

Signs of dehydration
Dehydration can lead to collapse in hot weather. Weakness, lethargy and sunken eyes may be signs that your dog needs help. Be sure to provide access to water at all times. It’s easy to forget at the beach that dogs can’t drink salt water, Dr. Shaw says.

Heatstroke can kill dogs when temperatures rise. When the outside air temperature is higher than normal body temperature — about 102 degrees — not even panting will cool them. In addition, humidity makes it harder for dogs to cool themselves.

Cars can quickly become deathtraps. On a 78-degree day, cars sitting in the shade can quickly reach 90 degrees inside. Park in the sun on that same 78-degree day, and the car temperature soars to 168 degrees within minutes. Brachycephalic breeds — those with pushed-in noses like bulldogs — are especially susceptible. “The most obvious signs of heatstroke are uncontrolled panting and weakness. The dog can’t get up,” says Dr. Shaw. “Cool the dog off with room-temperature water from the hose or bathtub, and then get him to the vet immediately.”

Sunburn can affect thinly-furred dogs, especially those with white faces, and while a summer haircut helps keep heavy coated dogs cool, they’ll need extra sun protection, too, Dr. Shaw says. Keep them out of the sun during the most risky hours, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Make sure dogs have shade, and protect them with a T-shirt and pet-safe sunscreen on the bridge of the nose. Choose a product with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher.

Recognize these summer safety concerns and plan ahead. “On hot days, the dog’s probably just better off staying home,” says Dr. Shaw. “If you’re hot, they’re hotter.”


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