Hi Everyone!  There is no denying it, summer is here. The heat is overwhelming, the insects are feasting, and the pool is as mainstream as the couch.  In addition to us adjusting to the change in weather, our pets have to as well.  I am already seeing an influx of “summer” emergencies that can be stressful for us, but more so for our pets. Summer pet safety is all about education and prevention.  I am going to discuss what I most commonly see in my animal hospital during this time of year, and how my pet parents can prevent trips to see me or their family veterinarian.

Heatstroke in Pets.  This is by far and away the most upsetting summertime emergency I see and if not treated quickly enough, can result in death. Heat stroke is a condition caused by the body overheating, usually as a result of prolonged exposure to or physical exertion in high temperatures. Imagine wearing a fur coat during the summer and sitting outside for an hour or so.  That is what it is like for our pets.  Make sure your pets have access to shade, water, and a cool area.  Try to pick times of the day that are not so hot such as the early morning or evening for walks and carry a water bottle for your pet.  It is important to note that Brachycephalic breeds (dogs that have a flat and wide skull shape, such as bulldogs, pekingese, and pugs) and overweight dogs are more prone to heat stroke. Extra preventative measures should be taken for these dogs during hotter months.

Cookouts and Food.  Summer is great for BBQ’s and I certainly love hosting, but these cookouts can be harmful to our pets.  I see a lot of upset stomachs during the summer because of table scraps and foods that guests give pets.  Dogs and cats are used to eating the same food every day.  Their gastrointestinal tracts develop a natural flora or bacteria, that specifically digests their regular food.  When they get something that they aren’t normally accustomed to, such as burgers or hot dogs, they can develop severe inflammation with vomiting and diarrhea. It can also lead to more serious conditions such as pancreatitis.  In addition to an upset belly, many of foods in large quantities are toxic to our pets, such as grapes, onions, garlic and raisins. Grapes and raisins are safe for cats, but keep onions and garlic away from them.  Some cookout foods can also be a risk of choking or obstruction such as corn on the cob, fruits with pits, and foods with bones, toothpicks or skewers.  I have surgically removed all of these items from a pet’s intestine which can be very costly and stressful. Make sure to talk to any guests, especially kids, before summer parties and remind them to not feed your pets any food.  You want to enjoy the party too, not spend it looking after a pet with an upset stomach.

Hot Sidewalks and Pet Paws.  Black pavement (or asphalt) can get very hot and can harm your pets’ paws.  Try and avoid these areas during the hottest times of the day and ask your dog walker to try and keep your pet on the grass. Another common injury I see is ripped or torn paw pads.  Many times dogs will run around excessively in circles on the pavement.  This can lead to torn paw pads.  Check their paw pads to make sure they look healthy and not injured.

Pools.  Pools and lakes are great exercise and great fun for our pets.  It is important to remember that not all dogs can swim.  Some may not like water and certain breeds, like pugs and terriers, may have trouble swimming.  If your pet is not accustomed to swimming, make sure to watch them carefully when they are outside near the pool.  I see drowning emergencies at the hospital which can be scary. I will never forget when I was 7 months pregnant and my 140 pound Saint Bernard, Dory fell into the intercoastal waterway.  Well Dory does not swim well and let’s just say my adrenaline took over and I somehow hoisted her up onto the dock with no injuries for all involved.  Since then, we have installed a baby gate that protects the kids and pets from the pool and intercoastal.  If your pets enjoys the water, make sure to use an ear cleaner with a drying agent after they are finished swimming. Ear infections from water that gets in their ears is very common.

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Parasites, Bee Stings, and Snakes. We see ticks and fleas all year round in south Florida but they are worse during the spring and summer seasons. I see more pets during the summer with bee stings and snake bites.

Fireworks. Many dogs are terrified of the loud sounds of fireworks.  They can show mild signs like hiding to more severe signs like destruction, shaking, and harming themselves.  I see many of my clients right before the Fourth of July for sedatives for their pets.  If your pet has a fear of fireworks make sure to be prepared.  If possible, bring them to a place where the fireworks cannot be heard. If that is not an option, your veterinarian can prescribe medications for anxiety and fear.

Hurricanes. For all of us Floridians out there, it is hurricane season.  Hurricanes are a very real and scary threat in Florida during the summer and being prepared is crucial.  Make sure you:

  1. Arrange for a safe haven for your pet in case of evacuation.
  2. Have emergency supplies and travel kits ready.
  3. Choose designated caregivers if you are unable to care for your pet during a hurricane.
  4. Make sure your pet is microchipped.

I hope these summertime tips are helpful in keeping your pet safe and healthy during the summer months.  Summer is a time for water sports, cookouts, family, fun, and relaxation. Being prepared and avoiding these common pet emergencies will help keep summer fun and laid back for you and your pet!

About Dr. Alison Birken

My name is Dr. Alison Birken and I am a small animal veterinarian, wife, mother of three, and a sister to my three siblings. I graduated veterinary school from The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine in 2006, and completed a year internship in small animal medicine at Florida Veterinary Specialist in Tampa, Florida. I have been practicing small animal medicine for 11 years and over the past 6 years have dedicated my life to building and operating an animal hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, accomplishing a lifelong goal of mine. In addition, along with my sisters (Katie, a pediatrician and Carrie, a fashion stylist), I am a co-founder of Forever Freckled (www.foreverfreckled.com), a website dedicated to helping people with pets, children, and everyday lifestyle. It has been an incredible journey turning my passion for animals into a career and nothing brings me more joy than to help pets and their parents with wellness and healthy living. For wellness and health tips for pets, and other lifestyle advice, please follow our journey on www.foreverfreckled.com.

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