Summer Hazards for Dogs and Cats

Beware! Summer Hazards for Dogs and Cats

By Joe Musielak, DVM, Pilchuck Veterinary Hospital’s
Small-Animal Emergency Department

For people and their pets, every season of the year has its own set of delights … and hazards.

During summer months, more people are out and about with their pets. Children are home from school, and may leave the door to the house or the gate to the yard open. Roaming exposes your pet to attacks from other animals (wild and domestic), trauma from being hit by motor vehicles, and toxins and contaminated food. If your pet is injured in the summertime, seek veterinary care quickly. Flies are more prevalent this time of year and will often lay eggs on open wounds, which develop into maggots (sorry!!). Wounds also heal faster if treated sooner than later. Here are some of the more common emergencies we see in the summer:

Heat-related emergencies: Even though we live in the Pacific Northwest, with an average yearly temperature of 50°F, we in the veterinary emergency department see a greater-than-expected number of heat-related diseases. Many people feel that because our temperatures are not usually as hot as the rest of the country, we don’t have to worry about heatstroke. Not true! The inside of a car on a sunny day can easily exceed 100°F, even parked in the shade. Prolonged high temperatures can result in permanent brain damage or death for your pet. If your pet stays outdoors, provide adequate fresh, cool water during the summer months. Some other tips to remember:


  • Know the signs of heatstroke (excessive panting, drooling, rapid pulse, fever).
  • If you suspect heatstroke, call a veterinarian immediately. Prompt, aggressive treatment is important.
  • On your way to the veterinarian, you can apply cool, moist towels to your pet, soak the feet in cold water and apply cool water to your pet’s coat.

Gardening poisons: During the spring and summer, many of us who like to garden are out battling weeds, slugs and other pests. In our part of the country, we emergency veterinarians see many pets hospitalized for ingesting slug and snail baits that contain metaldehyde. This particular substance causes seizures if ingested. Prompt treatment is needed to save your pet’s life. Even if you don’t put it out yourself, and your pet roams, he or she could easily ingest the substance from someone else’s yard. There are pet-safer slug baits that contain iron phosphate. They are a little more expensive than the ones that contain metaldehyde – but much less expensive when compared to your pet’s health and your veterinary bill. Note that compost also contains mold compounds that lead to seizures. If you do compost, keep the pets away! To us, compost may not smell very good. To your dog, however, it is irresistible!

Antifreeze toxicity: Many of you are aware that your dog would rather drink out of a puddle than out of a clean bowl. Remember that you don’t know what is in that puddle, especially puddles on the street. They could contain anything: oil, brake fluid, transmission fluid, antifreeze. These substances require immediate care to save the life of your pet. The worst offender is antifreeze. Kidney failure and death can occur if an animal ingests enough antifreeze. There is an antidote, but it must be started within hours of ingestion for the best outcome.

Rodenticide toxicity: In the spring, wild rodent populations expand almost exponentially. You or your neighbors may put out rat poisons to help control this public health threat. There are several types of rodent poisons. In case of ingestion by your pet, it is vitally important that you provide your pet’s veterinarian with the active ingredient, not the manufacturer. Some manufacturers make many types of rodent poisons that contain different toxic ingredients, all requiring different treatment. Some companies produce rodent poisons that contain multiple toxic ingredients. The most common rat poison causes bleeding and can often be treated if caught early. Other types of rat poisons have different treatments. We cannot give the correct treatment if we do not know the ingredients. Ideally, bring the container with you and your pet to the veterinary ER, and do not “wait to see how your pet does.” If you wait for signs to develop, the chances your pet will survive dramatically decrease.

Hit-by-car emergencies: Unfortunately, animals struck by motor vehicles are some of the most common traumas seen in the veterinary ER. Here’s what to do:


  • Remain as calm as possible. You rarely do anyone any good by panicking.
  • Safely transport your pet to the nearest (open) veterinary hospital. “Safely” means ensuring safety for you and your family, as well as your pet. Note that your pet may bite when picked up if they are in pain, even if she or he has a normally sweet temperament.
  • For pets that cannot walk, you can use a firm, flat surface to transport them. Use caution so you don’t allow the pet to slide off and incur more damage when falling from your improvised stretcher.
  • Come prepared financially. Your veterinarian will often want to do diagnostics such as blood work and X-rays to gain as much information as possible about possible internal injuries.

Special Fourth of July note: The holiday is same date every year, yet it can sneak up on us. Fireworks on the Fourth can lead to extreme anxiety in some pets, and even to aggression, running away and all the hazards that roaming can expose your pet to. Plan ahead and make sure your pet has a safe place. Any necessary medications (sedatives) and identification (microchip or tags) should be thought of before July 3. If your pet cannot tolerate sedatives for medical reasons, this is a good time of the year to visit Canada with your pet and the appropriate paperwork.

Dr. Joe Musielak graduated from the University of Illinois, College of Veterinary Medicine in 1990. After working in mixed practice for nine years, he became a staff veterinarian for Pilchuck’s small-animal emergency department in 2003, and has a special interest in transfusion medicine and surgery. Dr. Joe, as he prefers to be called, is an active member of the Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care Society. He lives with his partner, two dogs and three cats.

Pilchuck’s small-animal emergency department is open 24/7: 360.568.9111.