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The Top 8 Summer Hazards for Dogs

Keep your dog safe as the weather gets nice with these tips from our resident vet.

 |  May 14th 2013  |   4 Contributions


I live in San Francisco, where the weather is famously mild. However, we recently enjoyed (and yes, I do mean enjoyed) a heat wave. It was a San Francisco heat wave, so it wasn't actually very hot. Highs were in the 80s, and almost everyone in town put on their shorts.

My pal Buster and I were not exceptions. However, I think I enjoyed the weather a bit more than he did. He's a Black Lab who spends plenty of time in the fog. Naturally I didn't push this dog too hard in weather to which he was not properly acclimatized.

On one of the beautiful days in question, I saw something that made me cringe. A woman was running, in the sun, during the heat of the day, with a French Bulldog.

Folks, if you want to run with a dog, I humbly suggest that you choose a breed other than the French Bulldog. Other so-called brachycephalic breeds -- the ones with snubby noses such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Boston Terriers, also don't generally make good running companions. These dogs are prone to a condition called brachycephalic syndrome. This condition is caused by a combination of factors relating to their short snouts, and it can trigger life-threatening respiratory crises. Two things tend to trigger crises: hot days and heavy activity.

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Heat can be bad for breeds such as Frenchies.

I thought about chasing down the woman to warn her, but she was going fast, and my pal Buster and I probably couldn't have caught her. Plus, nobody likes a busybody. Fortunately, the Frenchie seemed to be extraordinarily fit, and he appeared to be managing the run relatively well.

But the incident got me thinking about the myriad risks prevalent in the summer. There are so many that summer is universally known as the "busy season" at emergency veterinary hospitals. This is partly because more people and dogs are out and about, and so there's more opportunity for them to get into trouble. This sort of trouble is somewhat unavoidable, unless you don't want your dog to have any sort of life. However, some summertime risks are well known and avoidable. I'm here to help you avoid them.

Let's start with the obvious.

1. Heat stroke

Heat stroke occurs most commonly in the summer, especially early in the summer before dogs have had a chance to acclimatize. Older dogs, brachycephalic dogs, and overweight dogs are at a higher risk. It's best to keep your dog inside or in the shade during the heat of the day, especially early in the summer. Never lock your dog in the car during the warm months. And remember that shady areas may become sunny as the day moves on, so a yard that's cool and shady at 9 a.m. may be scorching hot at 1 p.m.

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Shade is best for the hottest times of the day. German Shepherd lying in the grass by Shutterstock.

2. Sunburn

The strong summer sun does more than warm. Sunburn and skin cancer are surprisingly prevalent in dogs. Short-haired dogs (especially white ones) may be burned almost anywhere on their bodies. Even dogs with plush coats may have thin hair on their abdomen. This is another reason to keep your dog out of the sun when it's strongest during the middle of the day.

3. Heartworm

Warm weather favors the transmission of heartworm disease. Also, the mosquitoes that carry the parasite are more prevalent during the summer. No part of North America can safely be considered free of heartworm during the summer. Fortunately, safe, monthly preventatives are highly effective. Talk to your vet about testing for heartworm and starting a preventative.

4. Fleas

Mosquitoes aren't the only insects that are more active and common in the summer. Warm weather also causes fleas to come roaring out. Dogs needn't have visible flea infestations to suffer from skin problems, ear infections, and other flea-related issues. Now is a good time to make sure your buddy is on a high-quality flea preventative.

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Gross. Just ... gross. Fleas by Shutterstock.

5. Ticks

Many of those flea preventatives also prevent ticks. These eight-legged pests spread all kinds of scary disease such as Lyme disease, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, and anaplasmosis. Heavy tick infestations can also cause life-threatening paralysis in dogs. In temperate areas, ticks are more common during the summer. In addition to using a high-quality tick preventative, I recommend that dogs be kept out of brushy areas and tall grasses, which are likely to harbor ticks.

Don't forget that many of the products available to treat fleas and ticks are not high-quality. They often are not effective and they may carry a high risk of toxicity. Grocery store brands and products made by Hartz, Sergeant's, and Bio Spot have poor track records, in my experience. Talk to your vet to confirm that your flea and tick product is safe and effective.

6. Fireworks

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Keep your dog safely indoors on Independence Day. Hiding Chihuahua by Shutterstock.

If God is a dog, then there will be a special place in hell for people who enjoy lighting off fireworks. July 4 is easily my pal Buster's least favorite day of the year. I am confident that more dogs are lost on July 4 than on any other day, as they burrow under or knock over fences in an effort to get away from what they perceive as armageddon. Even indoor dogs are at risk -- I have seen more than one who jumped through plate glass windows in their terror. If your dog hates fireworks, consider getting some tranquilizers from the vet. Or, better yet, go camping with him.

7. Foxtails

Half the vets in California would go out of business if foxtails went extinct. Unfortunately for dogs, there is no prospect of that happening. Also known as grass awns, foxtails are public enemy No. 1 for dogs in areas where they grow. Foxtails are a seasonal threat, with the greatest risk occurring in the summer. They are shaped like arrows, and they are prone to embedding in eyes, ears, noses, the skin, and even the genitals of dogs. They cause immense irritation and pain. They also cause infections, and they can burrow or migrate from one part of the body into another. Every dog owner needs to know what foxtails are. Keep your dog away from them at all times, and search your dog (especially his feet, abdomen, and ears) for foxtails after every walk.

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Foxtails by Shutterstock.

8. Trauma

Finally, I encourage you to enjoy the summer with your dog. But be vigilant. Dog fights, motor vehicle injuries, wildlife altercations, and all other sorts of trauma are more common during the summer simply because there are more dogs (and wild animals) frolicking for longer every day. Pay attention to your dog, use a leash when appropriate, and stay away from dangerous areas such as cliffs and highways (and, some would argue, dog parks).

Other stories by Dr. Eric Barchas:

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and your topic might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

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