Sun’s out, fun’s out! Summer with pets is arguably the best time of year. There are a multitude of fun, pet-friendly outdoor activities, from hanging out together at cookouts to popping your furry friend into a life vest and going out on a boat. But much like us, our outdoor pets need to be protected from sun and heat. Follow these tips for keeping your pet safe during those dog days of summer.
You already know that you need to slather on the sunscreen when you’re going out in the summer. Have you ever wondered if your pet might need the same protection as you? The answer might surprise you.
Any animal can suffer from sunburn, but “some are more at risk than others,” says Vetster vet Dr. Joanna Ditzel. The majority of pets have fur and skin pigmentation that provide enough protection against sunburn, especially if they’re not required to be in the sun all day, every day. In some unusual cases, sunscreen may be recommended for outdoor pets. Bald or shaved patches in an animal’s coat, or very thin and short, light fur, combined with all day outdoor exposure increases the risk for sunburn. If your pet is prone to getting sunburned, the first line of defense is to avoid going out in the sun, especially during the middle of the day or for long hours. This is the safest option.
If you have an at-risk dog and going out in the sun can’t be avoided, then some sort of UV protection should be provided. There are a few different options to choose from. Just like for people, clothing and eye protection provide the foundation for protection against canine sunburn. If you’re grabbing your sun hat before heading out on the boat, you might want to put a UV-protective garment on your sunburn-prone pooch as well. Dogs with UV-induced eye diseases like pannus can benefit from the protection provided by UV-blocking goggles. But if these options won’t work for your sun-sensitive dog and exposure to long hours of peak rays can’t be avoided, you may need to consider using sunscreen.
If you must use sunscreen on your dog, stay away from products designed for human use. You can assume that at least some of the sunscreen you apply to a pet is going to end up getting licked off and ingested. Any topical products used on animals should be safe for consumption, and most human sunscreens contain ingredients like zinc and salicylate which are toxic to animals when ingested. The safety and effectiveness of pet sunscreens has not been sufficiently studied, and many that are marketed as “safe” and “pet friendly” still have the potential to cause problems for your pets. The ASPCA Pet Poison Hotline receives multiple calls every summer from pet parents whose dogs are showing symptoms like vomiting and diarrhea after ingesting sunscreen. Play it safe by sticking with an FDA-approved sunscreen for dogs. The best use for sunscreen is on a small area of bald or thinly-furred skin that’s well out of reach from your curious canine’s tongue. If your dog suffers from nasal solar dermatitis, for example, the risk of ingestion is high in that easily reached location so sunscreen is not recommended. “Remember, keeping your pet out of the sun is the single best thing you can do, and usually effective on its own,” says Dr. Ditzel.
Mosquito bites and bee stings
Mosquitoes can carry several diseases, including heartworm, that can be transmitted to your pet. Make sure your pet’s flea, tick, and heartworm prevention is up to date to keep them safe all summer long.
But what about the mosquito bites themselves? You might wonder if you can use mosquito repellent on your pets the same way you use it on yourself. Many human products have the potential to be toxic for pets. For example, insect repellents containing DEET should never be used on pets. Even though repellents based on permethrins and pyrethrins can be safe for dogs when used judiciously, they’re highly toxic to cats and should never be used on a cat or even on a dog who is around cats. Instead of reaching for your bug spray, it’s best to stick with a product that’s labeled for this specific use on your pet, like K9 Advantix II for dogs.
Many pet parents are concerned about exposing their fur babies to toxic chemicals, so it's tempting to reach for a “natural” insect repellent for your pet. Unfortunately, so-called “natural” product marketing can be misleading. There is no evidence to support the efficacy of “natural” insect repellants and many of them contain essential oils, which are potentially toxic when applied to your pet’s skin, especially cats.
Although safe and effective mosquito repellents for pets are few and far between, the good news is most pets aren’t severely bothered by mosquito bites and heartworm preventives provide excellent protection against the most common mosquito-borne disease.
If you are concerned about the risk of bee stings, avoidance is the name of the game. Try to keep your outdoor pet away from any nests, hives, or areas with lots of blooming flowers as much as possible. That being said, most of the time bees are not particularly dangerous to pets —a sting usually causes nothing more than some uncomfortable swelling for several hours. The lips, muzzle, and eyelids are most commonly affected since dogs like to try to catch bees in their mouths. If more serious symptoms like severe pain and swelling develop, it’s better to have your pet seen by a veterinarian just to be on the safe side. In rare cases, a more severe allergic reaction or anaphylaxis can result. This is a life-threatening emergency characterized by symptoms like:
Seek emergency care immediately if your pet has any of these symptoms immediately after receiving a bee sting.
Even if your pet is not particularly sensitive or allergic to bees, it can be life threatening if numerous stings are received simultaneously. If this happens to your pet, it is a medical emergency and you should get to a veterinarian right away.
Treatment for a minor bee sting is straightforward. Look for the stinger and if you find it, gently scrape or flick it out of the skin with something like the edge of a credit card. A cold compress can provide relief from minor swelling, if your dog will tolerate it. Talk to a vet before administering an antihistamine like diphenhydramine (Benadryl).
Test the pavement
Did you hear about the TikToker whose shoes melted on the ground in the Las Vegas heat? It’s an important (and kind of funny) reminder that our pets need protection from hot pavement even more than we do since they don’t usually wear shoes.
“Always test the pavement with the back of your palm first,” Dr. Ditzel says of preparing to walk your pet outside in the summer. “If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for them!” If you cannot leave the back of your hand in contact with the road surface for more than seven seconds, don’t make your dog walk across it.
Paw pads can burn on hot asphalt, leading to painful feet for your pet. If the pavement is too hot, don’t make your dog walk across it. Opt for a shady route over grass or dirt instead. If you cannot avoid hot pavement on a regular basis, consider investing in booties to protect your dog’s paws. The best plan is to stay off the pavement and walk your pets on grass or in the shade and venture out early in the morning or late at night to avoid the worst of the heat.
Create cooling stations
If you plan to be outside with your pet for a long period of time, make sure to create cooling stations so they have a place to chill out. Carry water on walks so you can cool your dog’s feet or use it to soak him down if he’s getting overheated. Frozen water bottles make excellent bed coolers for rabbits in outdoor hutches on hot days. Let your dog play in a sprinkler or swim on a hot day, just like the kids. Always provide access to shade and cool water for your pets, and don’t ever leave them in a hot car — even with the window cracked. It won’t be enough.
All of these tips are especially important for pets with short noses (brachycephalic) or pre-existing conditions that put them at high risk for heat stroke.
And don’t hesitate to contact your Vetster vet if you want more suggestions for fun ways to keep your fuzzy friend cool!
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