Many of us will be celebrating (mourning) the official end of summer today. Don’t forget about the safety of your pets though as you fire up the grill, frolic at the lake, or jump in the car to head out of town. The typical BBQ, jaunt to the lake/ocean/river, and an unsecured drive in the family car are all potential ‘emergency minefields’ for your dogs (and, to a lesser extent, your cats too). Aside from the illness, pain, and potential death that such accidents, poisonings, and other emergencies can cause for your pets, they can also deplete you of your hard earned savings and relaxation. Though they are one of the last places that many of us would want to spend our Labor Day holiday, the veterinary ERs across the country fill up on this day year in and year out. Read on to learn what you need to know and what you should do to avoid being one of the people sitting in your local pet ER. Good luck, and have fun!
Ah the quintessential summer BBQ, who doesn’t love it? Be it a steak, a hot dog, an ear of sweet summer corn, or any number of other foods - things just taste better when they’ve come from the grill, don’t they? Just keep this in mind while you’re enjoying your BBQ, those same foods that you are safely eating can cause a whole host of problems for your pets should they get ahold of them. And the same applies to the alcohol that you might be partaking of this holiday weekend too.
So, though your pet may look longingly at you with those pitiful (but adorable) eyes while you’re enjoying your food, remember that it truly is best (both for you and for them) not to give in. Here’s a few reasons why…
- An abrupt change in your pet’s diet, even just one small bite, can lead to inflammation and irritation of their stomach and intestines (‘gastroenteritis’) and/or their pancreas (‘pancreatitis’) - either of which can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence. This can cost you hundreds to thousands in unexpected (and likely unwanted) vet bills. And some cases of gastroenteritis and pancreatitis can be fatal!
- Bones, corncobs, skewers, apple cores, bottle caps, wine corks, and a whole host of other things commonly found at BBQs are frequent culprits in the obstruction of the gastrointestinal tracts of dogs all across the country at this time of the year. (It could be said that cats are too intelligent to ingest such things, but then you consider the dental floss, rubber bands, and other linear objects that cats routinely consume and become obstructed by and it becomes abundantly clear that they just have different tastes, not necessarily greater intelligence.)
- Although not (typically) off the grill, some of the other foods that are common at BBQs can actually be toxic to your pets too. Many people are likely to have potato salad at their festivities this weekend, and some potato salad recipes call foronions or garlic - both of which can be toxic to a dog or cat’s red blood cells. Sure, in many cases a few pieces of either isn’t likely to harm your pet, but in a pet that already has a low red blood cell account (‘anemia’), even a small amount of onion or garlic can be very problematic. Similarly, grapes are often common treats at picnics and BBQs, but did you know that even just one grape can be enough to put certain dogs into acute kidney failure? Acute kidney failure means a multiple-day stay for your pet in the hospital, thousands in veterinary bills, and possible death. We still don’t know what component of grapes causes this toxicity (it happens with raisins too), and it’s not currently possible to predict which dogs will be susceptible to it, but given the potential for, and the severity of, the complications and costs that can arise… why would you risk it? Speaking about pet toxicities that are not common knowledge… some people at the party may be diabetic, or otherwise watching their sugar intake, and may bring along ‘sugar-free’ baked goods. If the sugar substitute in those baked goods is xylitol and your dog gets a hold of it, even if its a small piece, they will be at risk of a sudden and precipitous drop in their blood sugar with resulting ataxia and possible seizures or coma. If the ingested amount is high enough though, they can suffer (often) irreversible and fatal liver failure too. Oh, and while I’m n the topic of neurologic problems and liver failure, alcohol is another common BBQ fixture that is a ‘no-no’ for pets! Some people (mostly college kids and idiots) may think its funny to get their pet drunk (or high) - trust me, its not. And it can be financially and medically costly to find out firsthand, so just take my word on it - I’ve seen it enough times to know.
To best avoid the common BBQ-associated pet emergencies, heed this advice (and where applicable, request that your kids and guests do the same)…
- In theory this should go without saying now, but it’s too important not to mention just in case… do not feed your pets anything other than their regular and appropriate diet. If you truly want to minimize episodes of vomiting and diarrhea (and begging) in your pets, as well as trips to the vet, no ’people food’ should ever pass through your pet’s lips without your veterinarian’s suggestion to do so.
- Keep your pets indoors when the BBQ is at your house, and ideally restrict them to their own quiet room or area of the house where they can relax, away from all the commotion and safely away from any open windows or doors through which they can escape to join the party.
- If the party is at someone else’s home, don’t bring your dog. Though you may think you’ll be torturing them by leaving them at home, it’ll be worse to bring them along only to tie them to a post to watch everybody else having fun. And if they do get a hold of something, you’ll be regretting not leaving them safely at home when you’re stuck at the ER with them and having to leave them (and a wad of cash) at the hospital for treatment and monitoring - and possibly surgery!
- If for some, unavoidable reason your dog must join you for the BBQ festivities, put a ‘basket-type’ muzzle on them to prevent them from eating those morsels that will invariably drop from the grill or people’s plates. Don’t worry, your dog can still easily breathe and pant with such a muzzle on, and they can drink with them on too (so you still have to be aware and prevent them from getting to the alcohol!).
- After the party, keep your dogs safely inside until everything has been cleaned up and you’ve had a chance to ensure that all dropped food scraps and trash has been picked up, and all fence gates closed.
- To avoid problems in the event that your dog does inadvertently get out of the house to join the party, use sturdy and covered trash cans for people to dispose of their trash and leftovers. Be prepared with plenty of trashcans, to avoid overflow, and be sure to secure the trash bags safely away from your pet’s reach until trash day.
No, I’m not talking about their bowl of drinking water - they should be fairly safe around that. I’m talking about the water that dogs are likely to be around this weekend as many of us spend time by the pool or head to the lake/river/ocean/stream to camp, boat, fish, swim, or whatever else you can think of that involves such bodies of water. Water safety is a huge and (often) neglected aspect of pet safety, but one where the ‘margin of error’ is so dangerously thin.
Drowning is obviously the primary concern for pets around water, and even a dog that is a strong and frequent swimmer can drown in the right (or perhaps I should say ‘wrong’) conditions, so keep in mind the following as you head to the water this summer…
- This has been a very wet (and extended) winter in many parts of the country, which translates to a heavy snow base with a lot of run-off and higher river flows. These higher river flows can not only carry away and drown dogs, but they also carry with them more debris, including tree trunks and branches that can act as ‘strainers’ as they get caught up along the shoreline. Not even the best swimmer, be they human or canine, is immune to the often fatal combination of a high river flow and an unfortunately-placed ‘strainer’.
- Rip current and tides can be deceptive at the coast. Learn how to recognize them, and follow all posted signs and lifeguard instructions.
- Dogs can swim themselves to exhaustion, and those that fall into pools without steps can drown in the struggle to get out. (Pool ladders are typically useless to dogs.) When it comes to pool safety, you really should treat your pets like your two-legged kids and prevent their unobserved access to the home pool. Install a sturdy and high fence, and use secure and sturdy pool covers. Consider using a pool water safety monitor that can alert you any time someone (or something) falls into the pool - such a gadget can easily safe the life of your pet or child. And, speaking of kids - don’t let your dogs and young children swim together unobserved - either can easily drown the other in a moment of panic.
- Boating accidents happen all the time, and if your dog boats with you, they are at equal risk to the rest of the boat’s occupants and should therefore be similarly protected. Use an appropriately fitted personal flotation device (PFD) on your dogs any time they are on or around the water. RuffWear has a great line of dog-specific PFDs, check them out here. The same precaution applies to dogs that you bring on the water to surf or stand-up paddle board too.
Even if your pet survives a ‘near drowning’ event, they are still not out of the proverbial ‘woods’. The water that is now residing in their lungs can continue to cause significant and even fatal problems that may take up to 48-72 hours to fully develop and become obvious. Pets that have suffered ‘near drowning’ emergencies and develop respiratory problems are typically in need of prolonged, in-hospital, intensive care. And such care can cost you well into the thousands of dollars range, as supplemental oxygen therapy and/or heavy sedation to allow for mechanical ventilation are often necessary - and even then, there’s no guarantee of survival. So, regardless of your financial resources and the skill of the veterinary team that would be caring for your pet - keep this emergency in mind, and do all that you can to prevent it.
Drowning isn’t the only pet emergency that is common as people bring their pets to water. Here’s a couple more…
- When hiking, camping, or fishing around lakes and ponds in these warmer months, be sure to keep on the look out for algae overgrowths. The toxins associated with such blooms can cause neurologic problems and death, both in dogs and people too. If these blooms are noticed, do not let your dog drink the water and do not let them swim in it either. If they do jump in, be sure to rinse their coat well with fresh water before they are able to lick the algae and their toxins off their coat. For those of you here in Oregon, you can check for Harmful Algal Bloom Advisories here. And no matter where you are, if you see such a bloom, do your part and alert the appropriate public health department in your city/state.
- If you bring your dog fishing during this holiday weekend, or at any time throughout the year, be careful where you leave your tackle box and don’t let your dog sniff around your fishing rod (or eat your catch)… many a dog has been brought to the veterinary ER with a fishing hook stuck in their nose, lip, tongue, and even esophagus. Its a sure-fire way to ruin an otherwise peaceful fishing trip, and trying to remove the offending hook yourself can actually make the problem worse. I’m sorry to say, you’ll have to be visiting the vet to get help with this one.
In parts of the country where the temperatures are expected to be above 65 degrees, potentially-fatal Heat Stroke becomes a concern that all pet owners need to be aware of. Those with pets with certain ‘factors’ that increase their risk for Heat Stroke should be particularly cautious. For more information on this condition and the things you need to know and do to prevent it, click here for my previous post on this important subject.
Many of us will be taking to the roads this Labor Day, and quite a few will be taking their pets along for the ride. Whether they’re riding in a car, SUV, wagon, pick-up, RV, or other, to keep them and everybody else on the road safe, they should do so safely and properly restrained. Unrestrained dogs are estimated to cause upwards of 30,000 accidents each year! These accidents not only injure and kill pets, but the human occupants of that vehicle and those riding in others as well. Proper pet restraint is easy to do, and its to the benefit of everyone in your vehicle and on the roads. For more information on the importance of and how to achieve proper pet vehicle restraint, click here for my previous post on this important subject.
To read my previous review of the Bergan Pet Travel Safety Harness click here.
Here’s to a wonderful and safe Labor Day for you, your family, and your pets! Let us know in the comments section how you plan to/did spend your Labor Day - and feel free to post photos of your pets enjoying the day too!
As always… Be proactive, be preventive, and be safe! Being so may save your pet’s life, and may save you time, money, and heartbreak as well.
Jason Nicholas, BVetMed(Hons)
The Preventive Vet™
© 2011 The Preventive Vet
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