Summer hazards for pets: How many can you name?

If you’re a cup-half-full person, you’ll love the summer for the sunshine and blissful walks through green fields with a fur-friend. If you’re a half-empty kinda guy then you’ll worry about sunburn, heatstroke, and dehydration. But when it comes to our pet pals, we have to think for them. Being aware of summer hazards helps your pet to swerve them.

I set myself the mental challenge of seeing how many summer seasonal hazards I could think of. A quick brainstorm and the answer was 47. And if you think this is an exaggeration, I have treated at least 38 of these summer-related problems…but thankfully not all of them… bubonic plague for example!

  1. Sun stroke: Also known as heat stroke, this is when body temperature rises about 40C and the pet is unable to lose heat. Ultimately this leads to the blood thickening and the danger of micro-blood clots clogging up the organs, causing them to fail. This is a life-threatening condition and requires immediate first aid to cool the pet, and then get them veterinary attention.
  2. Heat exhaustion: Subtly different from heat stroke. This is the preceding stage where the dog (or cat) suffers from the effects of extreme heat, but their body temperature hasn’t reached dangerously high levels. Symptoms include excessive panting, thick saliva, and a reluctance to move. Take note of these warning signs and immediately cool the animal.
  3. Ticks: Ticks love long grass and warm weather. There’s a high risk of a pet enjoying the countryside acquiring these unwanted visitors. Always perform a once-daily tick check and remove them before they get a chance to feed.
  4. Tick-borne diseases: Ticks are icky creatures, but worse still they can carry disease. A tick needs to be attached for 24 hours before they start to feed, which involves sucking blood and transmitting any pathogens they carry into the hosts blood stream. Examples of diseases to be avoided include babesiosis, Lyme disease, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
  5. Saltwater poisoning: “Water, water everywhere, but never a drop to drink.” Whether its a thirsty dog drinking seawater or merely ingesting when swimming, saltwater is bad news. The high salt content is likely to cause vomiting, and in the worst cases draws water out of the body’s cells risking organ damage and seizures.
  6. Fleas: The flea life cycle goes into over-drive in the summer. With a single female flea capable of laying 20-40 eggs a day, each of which can reproduce just 2- 3 weeks later (under optimal conditions) you can why they are such a summer pest. Flea bites cause irritation, leading to itching and scratching, and sometimes the condition known as flea allergic dermatitis.
  7. Feline Infectious Anemia: Fleas carrying the parasite mycoplasma pose an extra risk to cats. When the flea sucks blood, they inject the mycoplasma into the cat’s bloodstream, where they parasitize red blood cells. The immune system then spots these cells are damaged and destroys them, leading to anemia.
  8. Bubonic plague: We aren’t done with fleas yet, because they can also carry the bacterium Yersinia pestis, which is the cause of the bubonic plague. Although rare, the plague is still a thing as in this report from CNN and can infect cats and dogs.
  9. Sandflies: These are small midge like flies that thrive in hot, humid conditions and come out at dawn and dusk to feed. Unfortunately, they also carry Leishmania, which can infect animals. This is linked to a number of symptoms including skin problems, sore joints, anemia, and gastric complaints.
  10. Snakes: Basking snakes don’t like to be disturbed. Depending on the species they can deliver a painful bite to an inquisitive dog or cat’s nose or paw. If your pet is bitten, don’t approach the snake but if you can do so safely, take a photo. This can help the vet identify if it was a venomous snake and the treatment which may be needed.
  11. Shellfish toxicity: Many shellfish are filter feeders and ingest micro-organisms, some of which produce toxins. A dog that eats washed-up shellfish may be at risk of poisoning and end up with an unpleasant upset stomach.
  12. Jellyfish: A washed up jellyfish on the beach is an intriguing find for a dog. However, that jellyfish doesn’t have to be fresh to give a nasty sting. Dogs are particularly vulnerable on thin furred areas such as the nose and paws. Signs of a sting vary but include heavy drooling, sickness, and diarrhea.
  13. Palm oil: Sadly, palm oil washed up on the beach is all too common. This is a result of transport tankers washing out their tanks at sea. If eaten by a dog the high fat content can trigger pancreatitis, or cause sickness and diarrhea.
  14. Blue-green algae: This algae causes a green ‘bloom’ on the surface of stagnant water, especially in the summer when levels of nitrogen and phosphorus rise in the water. Unfortunately, this bloom contains cyanobacterium which produce a toxin that can be fatal when ingested. Thus a dog swimming in a green pond or drinking from stagnant water is at risk of severe diarrhea and possible respiratory arrest. If you see a lake that looks like a lawn, keep you dog on a leash and don’t let them swim or drink.
  15. Drowning: A quick dip in the sea or a lake may seem a great way to cool off but no all dogs aren’t natural swimmers. Flat-faced breeds such as pugs are especially at risk as they have breathing difficulties at the best of times and can accidentally inhale water. Take a leaf out of Pog’s book, and always wear a life vest when enjoying water sports.
  16. Burned paws: If you’ve walked barefoot on hot sand, you’ll understand where this one is coming from. Concrete and tarmac get hot enough to cause burn pads. Try the 7-second rule. If you cant comfortably hold the back of your hand on the sidewalk for seven seconds then it’s too hot for the dog to walk on.
  17. Sunburn: Just like people, canine and feline skin can burn when exposed to excessive UV. Dogs and cats are most at risk on the thin furred parts of their body such as nose, ears, or belly. Pet sunscreens are available.
  18. Sun screen poisoning: To protect your pet from sunburn you apply a human sunblock. Unfortunately, the dog licks it off and ingests zinc as a result. A single dose of zinc is unlikely to be toxic, but repeated applications could result in a dangerous accumulation. This causes damage to red blood cells, leading to depression and a potentially life-threatening anemia.
  19. Skin cancer: Cats and dogs with pink skins and white fur are particularly at risk of squamous cell carcinoma. The classic case is the sun-worshipping white cat which over the years develops gnarled, shrivelled ear tips, but dog skin cancer is also a thing, due to repeated sun damage which progresses to cancer.
  20. Dehydration: The main way a dog loses heat is by panting. This involves water evaporating from the tongue. Without access to fresh water, dogs rapidly become dehydrated. Signs include thick tacky saliva, red gums, retching, and disorientation.
  21. Hot cars and overheating: It is not safe (or legal) to leave a pet in a hot car. What seems a reasonable 22C in a car, can climb to a dangerous 47C within half an hour. But it’s not just cars that are a danger. I once took an emergency call from a distressed owner who had left their pet gerbils in a conservatory in mid-summer. Things didn’t end well.
  22. Worsening current health problems: Coping with heat puts pressure on the heart and respiratory system. If the pet is already struggling with an underlying health condition, such as heart failure or bronchitis, then the extra stress can destabilize them. Take extra precautions to keep them cool, such as a fan on floor level and access to plentiful cool water.
  23. Breathing difficulties: Our adorable smoosh-faced friends, such as pugs, boxers, and bulldogs, may already find it difficult to breath. Throw in the extra effort of panting to lose heat, and they don’t always cope. This can lead to overheating and respiratory distress, so again, take positive steps to keep these guys cool.
  24. Anaphylactic reactions: Some pets have an allergy to particular insect stings. The extreme version of which is anaphylaxis, where the body goes into shock. Signs of this include weakness, trembling, distressed breathing, and pale gums. If you see these symptoms contact a vet immediately.
  25. Bee stings: Lazy bees cruising at ground level can easily sting a dog. To reduce the zing of the sting, flick away the stinger, then bathe the area with a solution of bicarbonate of soda which neutralizes the toxin.
  26. Wasp stings: The antidote to a painful wasp sting is to apply vinegar. Again, this neutralizes the zingy-bit.
  27. Fire ants: They may be small but a venom-barbed bite from these critters can cause painful swelling and itching. There’s also a risk of allergic reactions resulting in anaphylaxis and shock.
  28. Lacerations: From broken glass bottles to barbed wire, being out in the great outdoors exposes pets to the risk of cuts and lacerations.
  29. Grass awns: Grass awns or foxtails are shaped like darts and have surprisingly sharp tips. These pierce the skin or migrate down an ear canal to causes irritation, discomfort, and infection. Always check between your dog’s toes and in their ears after each summer walk.
  30. Fights: With more animals out and tempers short in the heat, cat fights and dog fights happen more frequently in the summer.
  31. Sand ingestion: Eat enough sand and it blocks the bowel. It happens! I once performed a laparotomy on a Boxer dog, to open their intestine in multiple places in order to remove impacted sand.
  32. Leptospirosis: Contact with standing water puts dogs at increased risk of lepto, which is yet another reason not to let a dog jump into a pond on a warm day. The one bright spot is that strong direct sunlight can kill spirochaete that causes lepto, which makes humid, overcast days or pools in shaded places the biggest concerns.
  33. Road traffic accident: On a hot day our guard can be down, and there’s an increased risk of both dogs and cat running into the road and traffic accidents.
  34. Falls from a height: With windows open to catch the breeze, its not unusual for a cat to sun themself on a window ledge. From their it’s only a hop, skip, and a jump to chase a butterfly and fall from the window. If the window is several storeys high, this can result in serious injury.
  35. Barbecues: Be wary of dogs stealing food from the BBQ. A hot sausage that gets stuck in the gullet can cause burns which result in strictures and swallowing difficulties.
  36. Pancreatitis: Fatty burgers and other BBQ foods can trigger pancreatitis in pets prone to this condition.
  37. Alcohol poisoning: Imagine the scene: It’s a beautiful summer’s evening and you have friends round to chill in the garden. The beer is flowing and everyone’s relaxed. The trouble is it can be all too easy to leave alcoholic drinks where pets can reach them. Dogs and cats have a much lower tolerance to alcohol and their smaller size means it’s easy for them to become drunk. Far from being cute and amusing, this is dangerous and should be avoided.
  38. Fly strike: Flies are attracted to moist warm places to lay their eggs. If a pet is elderly or disabled, and soils their behind, then there’s a real danger of flies laying eggs in their fur. Once those eggs hatch out into maggots, they may burrow into damaged skin and with dire consequences. Always check your pet’s coat is clean and dry to avoid this happening.
  39. Foreign bodies: A peach or plum tree in the yard is a wonderful thing. But beware if the dog eats fallen fruit. If they yaffle down the whole plum, including the pit, this could cause a bowel blockage that requires surgery to relieve it. Also hazardous are those barbecued corn cobs, discarded in the trash. Make sure the bin has a screw-on lid.
  40. Food poisoning: The summer heat can lead to food spoilage and the growth of icky bugs that can cause food poisoning, such as salmonella or listeria. Up the ante when it comes to food hygiene, and keep food chilled and discard what’s left uneaten.
  41. Poisonous plants: Watch out for summer flowering plants that are toxic when eaten. Examples include oleander, water hemlock, Jimson weed, and white snakeroot.
  42. Skin allergies: You wouldn’t think something as natural a grass sap could cause a problem, but it frequently does if your pet has allergies. The condition atopic dermatitis is characterized by itchiness and skin irritation throughout the months that the pollen, sap, or spore is present.
  43. Eye damage: How can summer damage a dog’s eyes? By having their head out of a moving car’s window that’s how. A piece of dust or grit that impacts the eye at 30 mph causes a nasty dog eye ulcer and damage to the cornea.
  44. Jumping from a moving convertible car: Nope, I haven’t made this one up. A lovely Lab I treated did just this, resulting in nerve damage to a front leg that necessitated eventual amputation. Happily, in future years that dog went on to sire puppies, all of whom were born with four-legs (much to the owner’s pleasure, who had got used having a three-legged dog).
  45. Skin infections: So-called ‘hot spots’ are common in summer. These are localized patches of skin infection, or pyoderma, which are red, angry-looking and sticky. Dogs with double coats are particularly prone, possibly due to t the combo of heat and lack of ventilation to the skin.
  46. Urticaria (or Hives): When its a good year for weeds such as nettles, watch out for urticaria. The dog that plunges into a nettle patch is liable to develop lumpy-bumpy swelling over their coat. This is down to small patches of inflammation that make the hair stand on end. More severe cases can involve general swelling, and always contact the vet if this involves the face or throat.
  47. Escape: We hinted at this already, but leaving doors open to catch the air, makes it a gift for pets to sneak out. If the dog or cat then gets spooked and runs off, they can easily get lost.
Pogs in her life preserver.

Can you help make the list up to 50? If your pet has encountered a summer hazard that’s not mentioned here, please leave a comment to update the list.

Now go and enjoy the sunshine, but pack plenty of water and sunscreen for both you and your best buddy.