Summer safety for dogs: Expert advice for keeping them healthy in warmer weather

A French bulldog drinking water in the grass, from a clear water dish.
(Credit: iStock/Getty Image)

Summer is in full swing, and no one is happier about this than our dogs. The warmer weather offers endless opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities, whether it’s hiking, swimming or exploring what’s lurking beneath the wet sand at our nearest beach — so it’s no surprise that it’s a favorite time of year for pet owners, too.

But even though the season invites us all to be a little more carefree, it’s important to be aware of the health and safety issues that can impact dogs during the hotter months. To help you prioritize your pup’s well-being, Dr. Colleen Fisher, a veterinarian in Brandon, Man., and Dr. Karen Sheehan, a clinical associate at Saskatoon’s Western College of Veterinary Medicine offered these tips.

By taking a few precautions and being prepared, you’ll be set for an unforgettable summer with your pooch.

Stay up to date with vaccines

Making sure your dog has all their vaccines should be high on your summer-safety checklist since many diseases and viruses are more transmissible in warmer weather (think rabies, distemper, parvovirus and leptospirosis). “Just like people in the summer in Canada, dogs typically are going to be more active outside and potentially engaging with wildlife,” Sheehan explained. Both Sheehan and Fisher say it’s crucial to speak with your veterinarian about what shots will be best for your dog.

Sheehan also recommends consulting with your veterinarian if you’re planning on traveling. Certain vaccinations may not be necessary where you live but could be critical in another province or country, she said.

For dogs who will be visiting dog parks or doggy daycare, Fisher recommends having them vaccinated for “kennel cough,” which can easily spread in areas where multiple dogs are congregating.

Protect them from fleas and ticks

The summer months will likely have your pet walking in areas populated with fleas and ticks. Preventative medications are available from veterinarians, but adding an extra step to your routine will help thoroughly protect your pup.

Fisher recommends doing a tick check every night, especially for black-legged ticks, which carry Lyme disease and other diseases that can make people and dogs sick. “We’re seeing more and more of the deer ticks … in different areas of the country,” she said.

Sheehan also emphasized the importance of speaking to your veterinarian about prevention and the role he can play in protecting your pup against Lyme disease. “Lyme is going to be more prevalent in certain parts of Canada,” she said. “If you’re going to be traveling, make sure that your dog has protection if it is endemic in your particular location.”

Find ways to keep them cool

As they spend more time doing outdoor activities, dogs are at risk for dehydration and heatstroke. Heavier and short-nosed breeds, Fisher notes, can have an especially hard time releasing heat. Fortunately, there are several ways to keep pets cool that are budget-friendly and don’t require much planning.

“The cooling bandana, the cooling vests … we can actually get pads that you can put into their kennel when they’re traveling, or into the back seat, which can be very helpful to keep their skin cool,” said Fisher. You can also go the DIY route and freeze a wet bandana or t-shirt. (Just be careful if your pup has health conditions or is very lean; you don’t want them to get too cool.)

Fisher also highlighted the difference regular grooming can make, particularly for dogs with thick coats, like poodles. “We want to make sure that they’re getting their haircuts in the spring and summer so that when they are going outside the coat isn’t too heavy,” she said.

Cool treats are another easy option, and your dog is sure to love some of the frozen chicken breast inside his Kong toy. But certain snacks require caution. Fisher says that ice cubes can crack a dog’s teeth with aggressive chewing, and ice cream — even those marketed for pups — can cause stomach upset and diarrhea. You’ll also want to introduce frozen fruit like apples and blueberries slowly to see if your dog is tolerating them (remember: grapes are toxic for your pet).

“There’s all kinds of recipes out there to make dog popsicles or frozen treats,” Sheehan said, but adding that plenty of cold, fresh water will still be your best bet. “You don’t have to do anything fancy. It’s just [about] making sure that they don’t get overheated and they don’t get dehydrated by not having access to water for an extended period of time.”

Watch for sticks and saltwater

Two of the most popular summer activities in Canada — hiking and spending a day at the beach — can pose a range of risks for pups.

When it comes to hiking, Sheehan recommends owners pay attention to any sticks a pet picks up. While working as an emergency vet, she encountered dogs that needed medical attention because a stick had gotten caught in the roof of their mouth while running. Large sticks can also snag on wooden trails, damaging the teeth. While dry, dead sticks can splinter off and become ingested.

At the beach, dogs should avoid lapping up large volumes of salt water, Sheehan says. This can result in vomiting and even salt toxicity, although the latter is “extremely uncommon.”

“You also want to make sure they’re not getting overheated if they’re on the beach or fatiguing themselves from staying in the water for extensive periods of time,” she said. As you would for any other summer activity, it’s vital to provide your pet with a shady spot to rest, along with enough water and appropriate food.

If your dog hasn’t been swimming before or if they feel uncomfortable in the water, monitor them closely and consider using a doggy life jacket, says Sheehan. Be sure to keep an eye on the tides and currents, too, to make sure it’s safe for your dog to be in the water.

You may also want to consider keeping your pet on a leash while swimming and as you wander along the beach. This can prevent your pup from jumping in boats, picking up unsafe items left behind by visitors, ingesting a foreign body and having less-than-ideal interactions with others.

“There’s always the potential for dogs that are loose to get into a dog fight, or be around children or people who are not comfortable with dogs,” Sheehan said.

Keep safe on smoky days

Air quality warnings are becoming increasingly common as wildfire smoke impacts regions across the country. In these situations, Fisher says it’s important to treat your pet as you would a person.

“We want to make sure that we’re keeping them inside as much as we can and that we’re doing things like wiping their coats down to make sure that they don’t have actual smoke particles on them,” she said. According to both vets, short-nosed breeds and dogs with heart or lung disease should also be monitored for changes in their breathing and behavior.

Sheehan encourages owners to come up with activities that will engage their dogs indoors so they’re prepared for days when it isn’t safe to take them outside. “There are all kinds of creative ways to help mentally stimulate [your] dog,” she said.

Go at their pace

Remember that your dog may not be in the right shape for the amount of activity you’re eager to do. If your furry friend is usually a couch potato, an entire day at the beach full of running, jumping and swimming will be a big change. “They can tire easily and get heat exhaustion more quickly as well because they’re not fit enough to be doing strenuous activity for any length of time,” said Sheehan.

“I think it just comes down to making sure while [we’re] enjoying the summer — because it is short in Canada, and we always look forward to it — that we are also simultaneously not forgetting about our canine companion.”

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