Summer dangers for dogs

Estimated Reading Time 13 minutes
Summer dangers for dogs

Summer means that we can be more out in nature with our dogs, especially as Covid-19 lockdown restrictions are lifting. But with the heat, the great outdoors, swimming and barbecues come a number of risks for our pets. Read more about what to look out for during the summer, what you can do to prevent these dangers and how to act if an accident occurs! We discuss heat stroke; grass seeds; ticks; blue-green algae poisoning; toads and seawater, amongst many others.

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1. Heat stroke

One of the biggest summer dangers for dogs is the heat. Tragically, every year dogs die from heat stroke after being left in cars. Dogs can also get heat stroke when exercising in hot weather, especially without access to sufficient drinking water. Dogs are very sensitive to heat because they cannot regulate their body temperature by sweating to cool down, in the way that humans do. Heat stroke is a life-threatening condition that causes great suffering and can cause serious damage to internal organs. Read our article for more information about how to treat heat stroke in dogs.

2. Grass seeds

Seeds from grasses and other cereals can be very troublesome if they find their way into a dog’s eyes, ears or nose. Grass seeds can also cause skin problems, such as hives or rashes. If a dog has irritation in any of these areas, look carefully for any grass seeds, pollen residues or dust. If you suspect that your dog may have a grass seed in its eye or ear, always consult a vet.

3. Ticks

Warmer weather throughout the year now means that ticks are active for most of the year. Ticks can spread a number of diseases, through biting, including Lyme Disease (Borreliosis) and Anaplasmosis to our dogs. Effective tick control is key to preventing these diseases; avoid tick exposure whenever possible, remove any ticks found on a dog promptly and use a regular anti-tick treatment. Read more about ticks in dogs.

4. Algae poisoning

When blue-green algae blooms in lakes, streams and seas, a poison can form in the water. There are many species of blue-green algae; only some produce toxic compounds. If a dog drinks or swims in the water, it can suffer from rapid and often fatal algae poisoning. Read more about how to prevent blue-green algae poisoning in dogs.

5. Barbecue and picnic scraps

When the weather is nice, many people like to have picnics and barbecues. Our furry friends have an excellent ability to sniff out and raid leftover food. As a dog owner, it is important to dispose of waste and leftovers carefully so that our dogs can’t eat potentially dangerous items. Use a strong and sealable bag for waste, and dispose of it in a bin or place in a safe place where dogs cannot reach it.

Bags of rubbish can contain sharp pieces of glass, wooden skewers or metal grills, as well as packaging and food scraps, such as bones. If chewed and swallowed, pieces of bone can puncture the delicate stomach or get stuck in the dog's mouth, oesophagus or further down the intestine. Corn cobs are also not digestible, and therefore can easily get stuck in the intestine. Dogs with a foreign body or intestinal blockage will often start vomiting and show signs of abdominal pain. These cases are an emergency that will require surgery to resolve.

6. Insect bites

Bites or stings from insects such as wasps, ants and mosquitoes rarely make dogs ill, but they can be itchy and sore. Some dogs, however, are hypersensitive and may have allergic reactions to these insects. The more bites or stings a dog gets at one time, the greater the risk of a more severe reaction. Signs of an acute anaphylactic reaction include: swelling at the bite site, hives, difficulty breathing, pale gums, collapse, and potentially death. Itching, facial swelling, panting, vomiting and diarrhoea are further signs of an allergic reaction. If you see these, please seek prompt veterinary advice.

For those dogs that are known to suffer from allergic reactions, we recommend keeping your dog supervised or on the lead. Keep dogs inside during times of peak insect activity, use insect repellents or a pet t-shirt, where necessary. Pain associated with a sting can be reduced by holding a cold wet cloth, or ice cubes wrapped in a damp cloth, against the skin. Remove the sting, if possible, and bathe the skin with cool water. However, if your dog is stung by several wasps, a whole swam or near the mouth, seek vet advice immediately. Occasionally, your vet may need to give a corticosteroid injection, tablets or a topical cream to reduce swelling and other signs.

7. ‘Hot spots’ (Moist eczema)

In the summer, moist eczema (‘hot spots’) are common, especially in dogs with dense fur and those that are bathed frequently. Moist eczema often arises where a dog itches, for example on the neck or thigh. The skin becomes irritated and develops an ulcerated, red patch. Bacteria spread quickly in a hot, humid environment. The hot spot grows rapidly and they are often extremely painful. To try and prevent them, take time to dry your dog thoroughly after bathing. Prescription medication from your vet is usually required to treat a hot spot, including antibiotics and pain relief. Read our article for more information about how to treat hot spots in dogs. Read more about hot spots.

8. Seawater

If dogs drink a large amount of salt water they are likely to suffer from salt poisoning. However, they may not show signs, or only vomit once. In these instances, offer fresh water to drink, little and often. Do not allow them to drink large volumes in one go to avoid further vomiting. Next, offer a highly digestible meal little and often, for example Purina EN, or cooked rice or pasta with a little cooked chicken/turkey/rice/white fish/egg. Signs of more severe salt poisoning include continuous vomiting, diarrhoea, lethargy, stiffness, cramps and coma. If your dog vomits multiple times, retches repeatedly or is salivating, seek veterinary advice, as your dog may require fluid therapy.

9. Wounds

Small wounds and sores can often be taken care of at home, while large and deep wounds will usually need to be sutured by a vet. If your dog has difficulty standing or walking, is bleeding heavily, or appears to be in pain or shock, visit a vet immediately. For severe bleeding, keep the dog quiet. Apply a firm pressure dressing to stem the flow and protect the wound. If the bleeding does not stop, add another layer, and repeat as necessary. If possible, carry your dog and keep it quiet on the way to the vet.

Superficial wounds or abrasions can usually be taken care of at home. The most important thing is that the wound is kept clean and moist. Bathe the wound with clean warm water or saline (1 teaspoon of salt in 500ml/1 pint cooled boiled water). Flush dirt and debris out of the wound. Larger foreign bodies will need to be removed by your vet. Apply sterile unmedicated wound hydrogel and a sterile dressing. Check the dressing regularly, and change it daily for the first three days. Use a Buster collar, inflatable Buster collar or bodysuit to prevent your dog from chewing the bandage. We recommend keeping walks short until wounds have fully healed because movement and contamination slow down wound healing. Dog booties are useful for keeping paw bandages clean and dry outside.

Diluted Hibiscrub (1:20) can be used for heavily contaminated wounds in the first 24 hours, or for the first clean of a chronic wound; prolonged use will slow down healing as it damages delicate, healing cells. It is important not to use any harmful chemicals, such as alcohol or iodine, that will destroy delicate cells and delay wound healing. Ointments and oil/paraffin based products should not be applied, for the same reason.

Wounds that are full thickness (all the way through the skin), deeper or more than 1cm long will need to be assessed by a vet. Wounds should ideally be sutured within 4-6 hours. Wounds over a joint must also be investigated by a vet. Other wounds, such as those on the pad, may be more difficult to assess, so we would recommend seeking veterinary advice. Read more in our article about first aid for your dog.

10. Sunburn

Just like humans, dogs can get sunburn. Dogs with thin-skin or very thin fur are most at risk. Dogs with pink skin have less of the protective pigment melanin, in the skin, which therefore increases their risk of sunburn. Dogs, like humans, can be at increased risk of developing skin cancer if they get sunburn. To prevent sunburn, use a pet-specific perfume-free sunscreen on all exposed areas. If in doubt, it is best to ensure that dogs have plenty of access to cool, shady spots, and avoid long periods of time in the sun.

11. Drowning

Dogs are usually good swimmers, but each year in the UK, a number of dogs unfortunately drown. If a dog falls into the water from a boat, pool edge or jetty it can be very difficult to get them out of the water, especially if it is a heavy dog. If they are unable to climb out by themselves, there is always a risk of drowning, even under full supervision. A dog that gets into the water will swim as long as they can, but after a while will become exhausted. Falling into the water by accident will cause a dog to panic and it will therefore become exhausted very quickly. A panicked dog can also be very difficult to rescue from the water, especially if it does not have a life jacket.

To help a dog that has aspirated water, a quick response is needed. For small dogs, hold them vertically, with their head pointing down towards the floor, to enable water to drain out by gravity. For larger dogs, place them on one side, ideally on a downhill slope with their head and neck lower than their trunk, so that the water can run out. Carefully pull the tongue forwards and place it hanging out of one side of the mouth. Check that there is nothing inside the mouth and that the airways are clear.

If the dog is not breathing, cardiac resuscitation must be given. Contact your vet for instructions on how to do this and what steps to take before transporting the dog to a veterinary clinic. Dry the dog to prevent it getting cold (hypothermia) on the way to the vet.

How can you prevent your dog drowning?

  • Always use a life jacket on a boat or around the dock, even if your dog is well behaved. Dog life jackets have a handle on the top, which makes them easier to lift
  • Never tie a dog using a life jacket as fatal accidents can occur if they try to jump into the water and get stuck on the leash
  • Help dogs to climb on and off boats, so that they do not slip
  • Make sure your dog has a sheltered berth on board
  • Always keep a close eye on your dog at all times near water

12. Toads

The common toad (Bufo bufo) is found across Britain, and western and central Europe, but is not found in Ireland. Toads have glands on their back, which secrete a poison. If a dog licks a toad or carries it in its mouth they can develop signs of poisoning. These include hypersalivation, with frothing at the mouth, vomiting and restlessness. Their gums may become bright pink, they may paw at their mouth and vocalise. The mouth should be rinsed with copious clean water. Ensure that the dog does not swallow the rinsing water. If further signs do not develop within two hours of exposure, then serious toxicity is not expected. If you have concerns, please seek veterinary advice.

13. Fly strike

Fly larvae are most likely to attack dogs during the summer months when the weather is warm. Adult flies are drawn to wounds, stools and hot, humid environments. Flies will lay their eggs in fur that is warm and moist, or contaminated with faecal material, urine or discharge from a wound. After as little as 24 hours, these eggs hatch into larvae that can eat into damaged skin. Fly strike is very painful for the dog. The larvae are white and 5-10 mm long. If they are not found quickly, they can cause serious harm. It can be fatal in severe cases. Dogs with dense fur, and those who have had diarrhoea or urinary tract disease are particularly at risk. Fly strike is also a serious concern for rabbits, especially in the spring and summer. Read more about how to protect rabbits here.

If you discover fly larvae, always take your pet to see your vet. The problem often appears smaller than it is because the larvae burrow into the tissue. At the vet, the dog is usually given a sedative. The fur in the affected area is clipped and all visible fly larvae are removed. Pain relief and often antiparasitic treatment will be given. To prevent fly strike, check your dog's skin daily for signs of ulcers, skin irritation or faecal contamination. If necessary, bath your dog with pet shampoo and trim their fur during warmer months.

14. Fleas

There are two main species of flea, cat and dog fleas. Both can infect cats and dogs. Fleas are rarely dangerous but can be very troublesome for dogs, especially cat fleas. The adult female flea jumps onto the host to take a blood meal, before jumping off and laying eggs in the environment (for example, in carpets and soft furnishings), where the rest of the flea life cycle takes place.

Fleas can cause severe itching and skin problems, such as hair loss, dandruff and rashes. Areas typically affected are the lower back, flanks and buttocks. Some dogs and cats develop allergies to fleas, Flea Allergy Dermatitis (FAD), which causes intense itching and often secondary skin infections. Read more about fleas in cats and dogs, and how best to manage them in our articles.

15. Travelling abroad with your dog

Many people in the UK like to take their dog on holiday, either for a ‘staycation’ or abroad. It is important to know that traveling abroad can pose certain risks. In the UK, wild habitats have high populations of ticks, so it is important to have preventative treatments in place to avoid catching diseases, such as Lyme Disease. For trips to Europe, a pet passport, additional vaccines, and anti-parasite medication are required. These take time to arrange, so please plan at least 3 months in advance of any anticipated trips to avoid disappointment. Certain parasites and infectious canine diseases are much more common in other countries, compared to the UK. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to find a dog sitter or boarding kennels for your dog whilst you go on holiday. Read our article for more specific information about travelling inside and outside the UK with your furry friends.

16. Other summer hazards

Snake bites

The summer heat attracts snakes, who bask in the sun to raise their body temperature. Fortunately, snake bites in the UK are rare. We have one venomous snake, the Adder, whose bites are toxic to animals and people. If a dog gets bitten by an Adder, it can have serious consequences. It is important to know what to do if you suspect that your dog has been bitten. As a pet owner you will rarely see the snake, but may hear your dog yelp and run away from a particular place. A dog that has been bitten by a snake will quickly become tired. A large, sore swelling will develop where the bite occurred, often around the nose or on the leg. If your dog has been bitten, keep it as still as possible to prevent the poison from spreading. Take your pet to the nearest vet clinic immediately. Treatment will often require hospitalisation for intravenous fluids with pain relief and close observation. Read our article for more information about how to manage snake bites in dogs.

Cold water tail syndrome

This is also known as limber tail syndrome, broken wag or broken tail. It’s formal name is acute caudal myopathy, and it is a relatively common condition in sporting dogs. It is caused by restriction of the blood supply (ischaemia) to the tail muscle, generally after swimming, or exposure to cold or wet weather. A limp tail usually confirms the diagnosis. Treatment involves gentle warming with heat packs, pain relief prescribed by your vet, and rest. The prognosis for a full recovery is excellent; most affected dogs will regain their tail tone and wag within a few days, but this may take up to a week. Read more about limber tail.

Fish hooks

Dogs who go out with their owners on a fishing trip can sometimes get a fishing hook stuck in their mouth or skin. Fishing hooks often have a barb to prevent the fish detaching. If this is the case, do not try to remove the hook backwards (the same way it went in) as you may cause more tissue damage, or get bitten. Instead, try to push the hook forwards through the skin, or use pliers to cut the hook in order to remove it safely. This is not always easy, especially if the dog is stressed and moving. In many cases, fishing hooks will need to be removed by a vet after a sedative has been given. These types of wound typically heal very quickly and do not require sutures.

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Published: 09/06/2020
Last updated: 08/06/2021

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