Summer Time Blues

Summer is the season for outdoor fun. Our pets enjoy sharing that time with us at the beach, in the yard, camping, hiking and swimming. Many potential dangers present themselves during this season. Pet owners should know about these risks and do what they can to avoid injury.

Foxtails, a California specialty, are spike-like clusters of a grass that resemble the tail of a fox. Due to the unique shape, the foxtail only travels in one direction. It can be inhaled into the nose or lungs, caught in the fur or enter the ear canal and cause damage. In twenty years of practice I have taken foxtails from about every orifice you might imagine including lungs and unfortunately even the brain in one case. Keeping your yard free from foxtails and encouraging your pet to avoid running through any fields with foxtails is a start. Dogs with longer fur on their feet who frequent areas with foxtails should have their feet shaved to avoid getting these caught in the fur because they can migrate up between the toes through the skin. Check your dog’s ears, feet and coat for evidence of foxtails upon returning from an outing where foxtails are present.

Cocoa mulch is a popular additive to gardens and on sale at many garden stores. Because the mulch is made from shavings of cocoa beans, it often contains a percentage of theobromine—a caffeine-like substance used in chocolate that can have negative effects on your dog. Smaller amounts will just cause intestinal upset, but as the amount increases—say 4 to 8 ounces of mulch for a 50-pound dog—then the risk increases as well. Symptoms include increased heart rate, seizures and in extreme cases, death. If you use cocoa mulch in your yard check the brand since some companies remove the chemicals harmful to dogs. Any form of chocolate or caffeine can be toxic to dogs.

Snakebites and bee stings are another concern in the summer. Rattlesnake bites can be very dangerous for dogs particularly because they stick their curious noses into the sound of the rattle and often get bit on the face or the neck. Swelling, pain and anti-clotting affects of the venom create serious swelling for dogs. Anti-venin can be used to decrease the reaction but is very expensive. A vaccine is in place for rattlesnake bites but is controversial as to its effectiveness. Many people who hike in dry hot areas with their dogs in summer will get the vaccine in hopes it will decrease the reaction of their dog. Dogs also get stung around the face by bees, since they are often chasing the bees with their mouths. Cats more often get stung or bit on the feet since they engage these animals with their paws. Your pet may have an allergic reaction when stung by a bee.  Monitor your pet for swelling where bit, hives in the skin or change in breathing pattern. If you see any of these, a visit to the veterinarian is indicated to prevent severe allergic reactions.  Some people will use anti-histamines to help decrease the swelling but that might be inadequate therapy for a pet with a serious reaction.

Summer is one of the best times to be a pet owner enjoying the outdoors. Camping and hiking with your pet can bring such a sense of peace and appreciation for nature. Enjoy it well and be aware of the risks for your pet and do what you can to keep them safe.

Blog Post Author: 

Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM