With summer here, you may be venturing out longer and farther afield with your dog, or letting your cat out to enjoy the extra hours of sunshine.
There are some common dangers that come with the season, however. Here are a few to watch out for, along with tips for preventing illness.
Plants and flowers
Unlike bugs, plants can’t run away from preying cats or dogs. Instead, they “use chemical warfare to stop from being eaten,” said Tina Wismer, senior director of the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center. For example: Sago palms — which are commonly planted outdoors in the Southern United States and grown indoors in colder climates — are lovely to look at but toxic to pets. All parts of the plant are poisonous, but the seeds (also called the nuts) are the most toxic part, Wismer said. Consumption can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, liver failure and even death.
Other vegetation to be mindful of: Consuming any part of the oleander plant can cause vomiting, along with changes in heart rate and heart rhythm, Wismer said, and the seeds, or beans, of castor oil plants can cause an upset stomach, tremors and organ failure. Ingesting philodendrons can cause pain and irritation to your pet’s mouth and lips, and bulbs such as tulips, hyacinths and daffodils can lead to vomiting, diarrhea and drooling. “All parts of these plants contain toxic components,” Wismer said, but the bulbs are “especially concentrated, making [them] the most dangerous part.”
If you have cats, think twice before bringing lilies into your home. Ingesting even a small amount of the plant — or its pollen or the water it’s been sitting in — can cause severe kidney damage.
Exactly how often pets ingest toxic plants varies throughout the country, depending on climate and most common plantings, said Jerry Klein, the American Kennel Club’s chief veterinary officer. He’s been an emergency vet in Chicago for more than 30 years. Most encounters don’t end tragically, but “we have to always err on the side of safety,” he said.
In 2020, the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center fielded 9,000 more plant-related calls than it did the previous year.
Tick activity is expected to be higher than usual this year, and some health experts recommend wearing clothing that’s been treated with permethrin, an insecticide. However, a concentrated dose of permethrin is “very toxic to cats,” said James Barr, chief medical officer for BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital, which has locations throughout the country. Exposure can cause tremors and seizures.
“I wouldn’t have any contact with my cat wearing that,” he said; he instead opts to change into permethrin-free clothing first. “Now, that being said, it’s probably not going to actually get on them. But at the same time, I wouldn’t take that chance.”
What happens most often, he said, is that pet owners purchase flea and tick medication that contains permethrin for their dogs — and then use it on their cats. Such products are species-specific and can’t be shared.
Food scraps at barbecues
Trouble can arise at food-related gatherings, when dogs swipe at unattended plates or break into the garbage. Skewers can injure the stomach and intestines, bones from meat are choking hazards, and corn on the cob can be lethal. “I’ve had dogs swallow [corn on the cob] and have intestinal obstructions requiring surgery,” Klein said. “Unfortunately, if it’s not caught early enough, they can die.”
Watch your pets closely at gatherings and use lidded trash cans to help keep them out of the garbage.
Insect stings and bites
It’s not unusual for dogs to be stung or bitten by bees, fire ants and spiders, though the effects will typically be mild.
If you think a stinger is stuck in your dog’s fur, try one of Klein’s favorite at-home remedies: Blend baking soda and water until it’s the consistency of toothpaste, and then spread it on the area that was stung. “That will help draw out the stinger and may alleviate some of the discomfort,” Klein said. “And then you can ice the area.”
Animals are at risk of experiencing allergic reactions to wasp or bee stings, just like a person might be, so watch out for swelling of your dog’s face — or a limp if they were stung on the paw. If the swelling is accompanied by vomiting or diarrhea, seek medical attention.
Sunburn and burned paws
If your dog’s skin looks pinker than normal, it might be a sunburn. Light-skinned breeds and hairless dogs, such as bulldogs, white boxers and Chinese crested, are especially susceptible to burns, Klein said.
He recommends applying sunscreen that’s specifically made for dogs. Look for a brand that has no fragrance and doesn’t contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid; dogs often lick sunscreen off their skin, and both ingredients are toxic.
Before heading out for a walk in the summer, consider how quickly asphalt can become scorching hot. Dogs’ paw pads are at risk of getting burned; sometimes they’ll let you know by licking their feet, but other times they’ll be “quiet about it,” Barr said. “Dogs have tough pads, but I’ve seen tons of burns.” While canines aren’t always fond of doggie booties, he says they’re worth trying.
If it’s too hot for you, vets say, it’s too hot for your pet. Check your cats’ favorite hideaways, like crawl spaces in old houses, which can get quite warm.
So far this year, there has been higher than usual humidity, and that’s problematic for dogs spending lots of time outside. “People don’t realize how easy it is for dogs to have heatstroke,” said Mark Freeman, a clinical assistant professor in community practice at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech. “Dogs can have heatstroke when it’s 65 degrees out.” That’s because humidity makes panting a less efficient way for dogs to cool themselves.
Ensure that animals have access to shade and water, and watch for early signs of heatstroke, such as excessive panting, a rapid heart rate, bright red gums, a purple tongue and a dry nose.
If you think your dog is getting too hot, one of the best things you can do is immediately get them wet, perhaps by spraying them with water from a hose, and taking them into an air-conditioned room. (Dogs don’t always know what’s best for themselves and will often continue playing, even when they’re suffering.) If your pet’s symptoms linger for about 15 minutes, contact your vet. “It can be a life-threatening emergency and sometimes require intervention,” Freeman said.