by Ralph Stice

If you’re a pet owner, the possibilities for summer fun with your furry friends are endless, but so are the health risks that could potentially harm your pet. In the summer, the number of emergency visits to the vet reaches an all-time high.

Between parasites and pests, scorching temperatures and even table scraps from a backyard barbecue, there are a lot of ways your pet can become injured or sick. Luckily, there are also ways you can protect them. Read on for some tips to keep your pet healthy this season.

1.) Play it cool

Just like people, dogs are sensitive to the heat, especially breeds with short snouts, such as pugs and bulldogs. Those breeds, among others, can’t regulate their body temperature as easily and can quickly become overheated. A good rule of thumb for making sure your pet stays cool and safe when temperatures are soaring? If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog.
During the summer, avoid walking your dog when heat and humidity is the highest, usually between the hours of noon and 4 p.m. Instead, go out earlier in the day and in the evening when it is cooler. If you are walking your pet in on a sunny day, stay in the shade or on the grass instead of on hot pavement or asphalt. Your pet’s paws are just as sensitive as the bottoms of your feet, so don’t make your pet walk on a hot surface if you wouldn’t do it yourself.
If your pet starts to show signs of overheating - excessive panting, drool, diarrhea or vomiting - move him or her to a cool place, cover with a damp towel and get to a vet pronto if the symptoms persist. An ice bath would be too much of a shock to the system, but rewetting the towel should help your pet’s body temperature come down gradually.

And, most importantly, never, ever leave your pets in a parked car - even if the windows are down and even if you’ll only be gone for a “second.” The temperature inside a hot car can rise quickly in the summer be fatal. Plus, leaving a pet in a car alone is considered animal cruelty in most places and is against the law.

2.) Keep coats long.

Think shaving your pet’s coat will help him cool off? Think again. Your dog’s long coat actually helps him regulate his body temperature and is a protective barrier between the sun and his sensitive skin. Dogs don’t sweat and they also don’t have the same pigments in their skin that we do to protect from harmful UV rays. This means that a shaved coat could expose them to sunburn, which could even lead to skin cancer.

Keep your pet’s fur from getting matted with regular grooming, but resist the urge to trim. You might keep cool with a summer buzz cut or bob, but it just doesn’t work that way for your pet.

3.) Protect pets from parasites

If your pet is not on regular heartworm or hookworm medication, now is the time to start. Both of these types of parasites are more prevalent in the summer and could infect your dog or cat through their paws.

The risk of parasite-borne illnesses increase for pets during the warmer months, which could includes those unwanted summer visitors: ticks and fleas. These pests can cause your pet serious discomfort and put him or her at risk of disease. Talk with your veterinarian about the best preventative regimen to protect your dog or cat from these risks.

Another way you might consider keeping pests off your pet is by investing in a pet-friendly insect repellant made of essential oils to keep your dog from getting bitten. Bonus: you can use chemical-free repellants for canines too!

4.) Be water wise

If you own a pool, you’ll need to act as a lifeguard for your pet and supervise them anytime they are near it. It is also probably a good idea to teach them how to swim in case they are ever fall in and need to get out on their own.

You can teach a dog how to walk up the pool steps with treats and encouragement, just like anything else. You might also want to consider buying a ramp in the deep end that a dog can walk up should s/he fall in.

If you plan on going to the lake or the beach this summer, invest in a doggie-sized life jacket to protect your pet. If your pet loves to swim or fetch in rivers and lakes, watch out for currents and riptides. Avoid lakes that are covered in algae of a blue-green color or which smell funky. If your pet drinks scummy water, s/he could get sick or be at risk for seizures. This could also happen with saltwater, so watch out for that as well.

After your pet gets out of the water, keep an eye out for a problem that plagues all of us swimmers this time of year: swimmer’s ear. If your dog is leaning to one side or excessively shaking his head, use a few drops of a canine ear-drying solution to keep infection at bay.

5.) Watch out for table scraps

Between picnics and patio barbecues, there are a lot of ways for a dogs and cats to get a hold of something they shouldn’t be eating during the summer. If you love to grill but have a dog who loves to try to steal steaks right off of the rack, consider getting rid of charcoal briquettes.

If your dog accidentally eats one, it could cause severe vomiting and require expensive surgery to remove. Leftovers from the barbecue, from fatty scraps to corn on the cob, can also get lodged in a pet’s intestines and cause abdominal pain or even pancreatitis.

Keep your animals away from picnic leftovers too, as citrus fruits, stems and seeds, chicken bones and peach pits can seriously irritate their stomachs and cause gastrointestinal problems. We know it’s hard to resist the begging, but trust us, your dog will be much better off!