How to keep pets safe on Memorial Day weekend and beyond

by Rita Giordano

Woo hoo! Summer is here, and with it, the start of all things related to summer fun. But before you delve into the joys of sun, surf, cookouts, and more, some precautions are in order to make sure it’s also a good time for your BFF.

Your Best Furry Friends – dogs and cats – need your help to ensure these weeks are fun and safe. Here is some advice from local emergency veterinarians on how to do that.


Whether it’s a pool, a lake, or the ocean, water fun can be a big part of summer’s joys. But not for everybody – or everything.

“Just like with young children, you have to be very careful with your dogs,” said Peter Lands, director of emergency care at St. Francis Veterinary Center of South Jersey in Woolwich Township.

Some dogs, like spaniels and retrievers, are bred for the water, Lands said, but others, such as pushed-in face breeds like pugs, Pekingese, and French bulldogs may be at risk in water. Long-bodied, short-legged breeds like corgis and basset hounds can also be at risk.

Unless you know your canine friends enjoy the water and are safe in it, Lands suggested investing in a doggie life preserver or vest.

Flea and tick prevention is also a must, especially at this time of year. Lands said his patients have had more success with chewable medications than with some of the older topical products. High-end brands of flea and tick collars work well, too, but Lands said they can take 24 hours after getting wet to be effective again.

Making sure your pets are up to date on their vaccinations is always essential.

But there are other hazards for the four-legged set you might not guess.

Some flowers and plants are toxic for pets, for example.

“In cats, lilies can cause kidney failure,” Lands said. Tulips, daffodils, and azaleas, to name a few, can be hazardous to dogs and cats, he said. Gastrointestinal upset is usually the first tip-off.

“What I tell most people is if you don’t know, call your vet,” Lands said.

And though summer is a time for barbecues and snacks, foods safe for humans aren’t always great for pets.

Lands said there’s nothing wrong with giving your dog some plain chicken off the grill, but highly seasoned marinades can cause stomach upset, and foods like raisins, grapes, onions, garlic, and chocolate can be downright dangerous.

Lands told of one Italian greyhound that ate a half pound of dark chocolate. His owner got him to the vet quickly, but not fast enough. Chocolate can be toxic to dogs, and in this case, it resulted in an irregular heartbeat.

“His heart rate had just gone up too high,” Lands said. The dog didn’t make it.”

Lots of people also think they’re doing their dogs a favor by tossing them a meat bone from the BBQ.

“I see all the cases that go wrong – the splintered bone that gets stuck in the esophagus, the splintered bone that goes through the stomach,” Lands said.

His recommendation: stick to dog food, and offer a carrot or celery for a crunchy snack.

Like us, pets may need some extra help dealing with hot, humid weather and the power of the sun.

Deborah C. Mandell, professor of emergency and critical care medicine with Penn’s Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital, said our furry companions can suffer injured paw pads from walking on hot sidewalks and roads.

They can also suffer heatstroke, and it can be fatal, she said. The signs: panting, restlessness, brick-red gums, as well as vomiting and diarrhea. If you’re concerned your dog is overheated, Mandell suggests pouring cool water on it. If you have a rectal thermometer, the high end of normal temperature for a dog is 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit, she said. Anything higher could signal heatstroke.

(Some breeds, like Frenchies and pugs, are also extra-sensitive to heat and humidity, given their shortened airways, so beware.)

french bulldog

And if your canine friend is accompanying you on errands this summer, don’t leave him or her in the car.

“The temperature in a car can reach 120 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes,” Mandell said.

If your summer includes trips to dog-friendly beaches, Mandell said, make sure you bring a lot of clean water for your pooch to drink. Drinking even small amounts of seawater can lead to diarrhea and similar gastrointestinal upset; high amounts can increase sodium levels in the blood to potentially fatal levels.

And just as you’ve been told to protect yourself from the sun’s burning rays, think about your BFF.

Mandell said your favorite pet supplier or Amazon can sell you specially made pet sunscreen to protect those sensitive bits.

“For dogs, it’s the tips of the ears and areas with less fur,” Mandell said. “And the nose.”


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