Summertime is here along with lots of fun - and a few dangers. You are probably aware of the most publicized warm weather threats for pets like heat stroke and dehydration. So, let’s discuss some of the less obvious summer follies.
Summer means festivals and parties. Summer celebrations, such as the Fourth of July and Canada Day, present common dangers like bottle rockets and firecrackers. But did you realize that even harmless-looking glow sticks can be a danger to your pet?
People wear glow sticks as bracelets and necklaces and often attach them to their pet’s collar. Glow sticks contain an oily liquid called dibutyl phthalate (DBP). While non-toxic in small amounts, DBP can be harmful if curious pets bite the glow stick. The bitter tasting liquid causes gagging, drooling, and irritation of the eyes, mouth, and skin.
Some glow sticks contain a small glass vial that activates the “glow” when snapped. If a pet chews a glow stick, breaks the vial, and swallows the glass fragments, gastrointestinal (GI) injuries may result in bloody stool or vomiting, or worse.
If your pet chews a glow stick, tame the bitter taste of DBP by offering him water or a treat. Turn off the lights and wash any areas of your pet’s fur that are glowing. That way he won’t lick his fur and get another DBP dose.
Summer cookouts mean fresh corn on the cob. Instead of nibbling the kernels, pets often gulp the whole cob. Corn kernels are fairly digestible, but corn cobs are not, and they can get stuck in the stomach or intestinal tract, causing an obstruction. Sometimes, the only way to relieve the obstruction is to surgically remove the corn cob. If the intestines are damaged, sections of the GI tract may have to be removed as well.
If your pet swallows any portion of a corn cob, they may vomit, strain to defecate, or experience abdominal pain. Take them to your veterinarian immediately because quick medical attention may prevent GI damage.
You may enjoy barbecued chicken, ribs, or steaks so much that you lick the bones, but you know better than to eat them. Not so with pets! They may eat the entire chicken leg, bone and all. Unfortunately, bones present several potential dangers.
- Bones are not very digestible and, like corn cobs, can cause intestinal blockage.
- Bones that are brittle (e.g., cooked chicken bones) may break into shards that can puncture the intestinal wall. If GI contents leak into the abdomen, a serious, life-threatening infection may develop.
- Bones can break teeth or become wedged in the mouth. Commonly, bones become stuck between molars and cause irritation and infection on the roof of the mouth.
- Bones can be a choking hazard.
If your dog has had a bone and begins to drool, loses their appetite, starts to vomit, or strains to defecate, call your veterinarian. To be safe, avoid giving your dog bones, even the ones sold as canine chew toys. If you do give your dog a bone, pick a large one (about the size of your dog’s head) to decrease the chance that they’ll break off a fragment and swallow it.
Cookouts and campfires can be dangerous. Pets are curious and will investigate the grill or fire pit. Going in for a closer look may mean singed fur and burned skin. Plus, sparks and ashes that float up and land in the eye can cause pain and injury. Even after the fire goes out, hot ashes and coals will burn paws if your dog or cat walks through the fire site. Keep your pet away from open flame and douse all campfires thoroughly when done.
A juicy peach is a treat on a hot summer day. Pets may want to munch on a peach, too. But swallowing the pit is a problem! Fruits like cherries, nectarines, and peaches are called stone fruits. It’s important for pet owners to remove the "stones" before offering the fruit to their fur babies.
Hard pits can fracture teeth, cause choking, or obstruct the GI tract. And pits with rough edges can injure the esophagus as they are swallowed, resulting in esophageal ulcers or tears. After swallowing a pit, your dog may gag, drool, vomit, have difficulty passing stool, and experience abdominal pain. If you note any of these signs, call your veterinarian.
Also, the pit contains a small amount of cyanide. Fortunately, pits are so hard that pets don’t usually chew down to the core where the poison lies. Cyanide poisoning from stone fruits is rare, but pets can become ill after ingesting just a tiny amount. They may salivate, have difficulty breathing, or convulse. Cyanide toxicity in any amount is an emergency. Call your veterinarian right away if your pet breaks open a pit.
Pits are a problem, but fruit flesh can also be harmful if it’s moldy. Fruit ages quickly in warm summer weather and mold develops. Some types of molds are harmless, but others can cause GI upset, liver failure, or seizures. Fruit may look fresh on the outside but have moldy pits or seeds. To be safe, examine the fruit thoroughly, inside and out. Then remove the seeds or pits and cut the fruit into small pieces before your pet eats it.
Here’s another old fruit issue: rotting fruit ferments. Fermentation changes sugars in the fruit to alcohol. Make sure to throw rotten fruit out.
Lots of summer cookouts end with cool, refreshing watermelon. Watermelon is fun for pets; the high water content hydrates them and the glucose gives them energy. However, pets often swallow the seeds or eat the rind, and both can block the GI tract. To avoid GI blockages, cut the melon from the rind and remove the seeds before sharing this classic summer treat.
With all the yummy grilled food and fresh fruit around, outdoor cookouts attract flying insects. As a deterrent, many people use citronella candles, but they are the source of three potential summer follies. Open candle flames can burn sensitive whiskers and curious noses. Also, the fumes of citronella candles can cause breathing difficulties when inhaled. Plus, if your pet eats the sweet-smelling wax candle or absorbs citronella oil through the skin, they can develop GI upset or nervous system issues.
Balloons on your mailbox may mark the location of a summer celebration, but they can also mark a potential hazard to your pets. Popped or non-inflated balloons can choke a pet, and the string that anchors the balloon can create serious intestinal issues if swallowed. It’s also hazardous if a pet’s feet or neck become entangled in the string.
A dip in the pool on a hot summer day is refreshing. Dogs like to cool off too, but while jumping into the pool is easy, getting out may be a struggle. Dogs can’t climb ladders or heave themselves onto the pool deck. Teach your dog where and how to navigate the swim-out area. Always play lifeguard when your pet is in the pool. Even good swimmers tire of treading water and can drown.
Cats usually shy away from water, but both cats and dogs can fall in accidentally. They may not discern the difference between deck and water or they may see their own reflection in the water and try to “connect” with a new friend.
Summer is fun - just be aware of the potential follies and enjoy!