Ah, summer. Time to get out and play — at the mountains, the woods, the beach, the dog park…
Wait, the dog park? Well, your canine companions want to be outside at least as much as you do, and probably more. But before you grab the leash and the water dish, you should bear in mind that summer carries hazards not just for human weekend sports enthusiasts, but also for their pets — and, whether or not you have pet insurance, those hazards can get very expensive.
According to Nationwide, formerly known as Veterinary Pet Insurance (VPI), there are plenty of reasons to be extra conscious of safety when venturing out into the wilds with your canine companions. Injuries, illness and infections are just some of the potential hazards that can befall a dog, especially when the fun gets a little too rambunctious.
The lure of the Frisbee — or other activities, like agility — can result in sprains and other soft tissue injuries. According to Nationwide, those are the most common medical condition, with 24,000 Nationwide-insured dogs last year needing treatment for them. And treatment isn’t cheap, with the average cost running $232. There’s also the potential for head trauma from overenthusiastic play or even a fall; that’s not just scary, it’s also expensive. The average treatment bill last year ran $552.
Of course, there are other hazards — and higher costs — that can threaten a pet’s joyful summer. They include lacerations or bite wounds — such as if tempers run too high at the dog park, or Rover encounters a woodland beast that chooses to see him as a threat rather than a playmate — and treatment for those can cost $384.
Meeting up with canine buddies at the dog park or even strolling around the neighborhood could result in kennel cough, or other upper respiratory infections — heck, even if you park Fido at a kennel while you go off kayaking, without the right vaccination (and the right kennel, with vaccination requirements), your poor dog could be coughing while you’re splashing. And treatment for those can cost $171.
It is outdoors, after all, so that means insect bites — whether mosquitoes, ticks (potential carriers not just of Lyme disease, but other serious illnesses), bee stings or spider bites. Insect bites typically ran dog owners $155 last year, but if one of those ticks is infected with Lyme disease, it could cost you a lot more for a course of treatment.
And then there’s the weather to contend with — animals can get heatstroke and sunburn, just as people can, and if you’re at the beach you need to be sure the sand isn’t hot enough to burn your pet’s paws and she doesn’t go far enough out in the water to be swept away by the undertow. Last year, dog owners paid an average of $704 for pets to be treated for hypothermia/heat stroke; it’s serious and can be deadly, just as it can be in humans.
Pet owners who have coverage through their employers will find it financially easier to deal with any subsequent vet visits and treatment, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be any less worried about their pets’ well-being. The easiest way to cope with potential summer hazards is to take precautions, and Nationwide has offered a number of suggestions on how to be safety conscious on behalf of pets this summer.
10. Obey the rules
When at the dog park, make sure you follow the posted regulations. Keeping dogs leashed in appropriate areas and in the company of other dogs of compatible size can forestall lots of problems, making it safer not just for your pet, but for the other dogs as well.
9. Watch to be sure that play doesn’t get too rough
While there might be plenty of show-fighting and wrestling at a dog park, make sure you keep an eye on your dog to make sure it doesn’t suddenly turn serious. The last thing you want when taking your dog for a play day is for it to turn into a canine free-for-all.
8. Make sure vaccinations and flea/tick preventives are current
Up-to-date shots and whatever countermeasures you take against ticks and fleas can protect your dog from bite-spread illness, flea dermatitis and other problems. In addition, if you have other pets at home, such as a house cat, your dog won’t be ferrying home a crop of unauthorized passengers to infest and endanger them.
7. Use leashes, harnesses and crates when traveling
Taking Spot for a ride in the car is great, but make sure that ride is as safe as you can make it. Either a sturdy crate — with documentation for your vet, should an accident require strangers’ intervention — or a safe harness to restrain your dog is a must. After all, if a child has to either wear a seatbelt or sit in a special seat to prevent serious injury in case of an accident, the danger of such injury is no less real to your dog.
And leashes in unfamiliar areas are a must, even if Spot doesn’t wear one at home; not only is there a greater chance of a fright-and-flight response in strange surroundings, leash laws could land you in hot water and your dog in the pound if those laws aren’t followed.
6. Always carry water and a bowl
Don’t take a chance on finding a functioning fountain at the dog park — and, for that matter, remember that your dog can’t necessarily safely drink from streams. And where will he find clean water at the beach? Summer heat will mean that your dog will be thirsty with or without playtime; don’t take a chance on dehydration.
5. Watch for signs of heat stroke
Keep an eye on your dog; if you see signs of profuse and rapid panting, a bright red tongue, thick drooling saliva, glassy eyes and/or lack of coordination, run, do not walk (figuratively speaking) to the vet immediately.
Oh, and use common sense; stay out of the sun and away from strenuous activity at peak heat times of the day, whether it’s at the dog park or the beach.
4. Watch out for sunburn, and check long-haired pets for ticks and injuries
Short-haired, light-colored dogs can get sunburn, as can dogs on some kinds of medication and those whose hair is usually long but has been clipped short for the summer. Make sure they don’t spend too long in the sun.
And if your dog’s hair is still long, you may not be able to see any potential problems without close examination, so make sure you ruffle those long locks to be sure there aren’t any unwanted passengers lurking on Fluffy’s skin, or that she hasn’t injured herself on a sharp twig or rock in a place where it’s not obvious.
3. Don’t let your dog run wild
Just because you’re outdoors playing doesn’t mean that you should encourage potentially dangerous behavior. Some dogs can break a leg or dislocate a hip just jumping down from the bed; don’t let Fido get into unsafe situations or try to make unrealistic leaps from great heights — like from the top of a big rock to the forest floor.
2. Beware of other animals
If you’re out in the woods or up in the mountains, it’s not unrealistic to consider that you might encounter other wildlife — anything from a skunk or porcupine to a bear. Watch for wild creatures and keep your dog from any too-close encounters, or all of you may regret it.
And if you’re at the beach, keep Spot away from jellyfish. They can sting him just as well as they can sting you.
1. Look out for poison ivy
And poison oak, and poison sumac, and even beehives. There are lots of natural hazards that can turn a jaunt in the woods into a very painful experience.