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The Ruff Report: Summer's hidden dangers can kill your pet

Some dangers that summer poses for dogs and cats are obvious - like heat stroke - but many others are covert and can easily result in the death of pets, an animal welfare agency warns.

Many pet parents may be surprised to learn that dogs and cats are susceptible to less obvious dangers like high-rise syndrome falls, drowning and food poisoning, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"It’s important to consider the hidden, and sometimes not-so-hidden dangers, that can harm our furry companions,” ASPCA veterinarian Steven Hansen states in a media release.
Food and beverages served at backyard barbecues and parties - such as raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol - can be poisonous to pets, Dr. Hansen says.

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Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets, as they can cause intoxication, depression and comas,” Dr. Hansen states. “Similarly, remember that the snacks you serve your human friends should not be a treat for your pet; any change of diet, even for one meal, may give your dog or cat severe digestive ailments."

Swimming areas also pose hazards for pets, Dr. Hansen warns. Pets should never be left unsupervised around a pool because not all dogs are good swimmers, and pets should wear flotation devices while on boats. Pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals, can cause stomach upset for a pet who drinks it.

During the warmer months, the ASPCA also sees an increase in high-rise syndrome, which occurs when pets fall out windows or doors and are seriously or fatally injured, according to ASPCA veterinarian Lousie Murray.

Pet owners need to know that this is completely preventable if they take simple precautions,” Dr. Murray said. "Keep all unscreened windows or doors in your home closed and make sure adjustable screens are tightly secured."

Heat and humidity also can mean trouble for dogs and cats, because pets can get dehydrated quickly, Dr. Murray said. Pets should be given plenty of water, be kept in a shady place and stay indoors on hot days.

Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle,” Dr. Murray states in a media release. “On a hot day, even with the windows open, a parked automobile can become a furnace in no time, and heat stroke can develop, which is often fatal.”

According to the ASPCA, other hazards that occur in the warmer months include:

Poisoning from pest products. Commonly used flea-and-tick products, rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), and lawn and garden insecticides can be harmful if ingested. Some flea products can be used safely on dogs and cats, but products labeled as “dog only” containing permethrin can be deadly to cats.

Poisoning from citronella candles, insect coils and oil products. Ingestion can produce stomach irritation and central nervous system depression, and if inhaled, the oils could cause aspiration pneumonia.

Temper flareups. More people take their dogs out during warmer weather and tempers may flare over territory, so keep an eye on those around you. Make sure your dog is safe and secure around strangers and other animals.

Fireworks. Never use fireworks around pets, because exposure can result in severe burns or trauma to curious pets. Many fireworks contain toxic substances such as potassium nitrate, copper, chlorates, arsenic and other heavy metals.

The Humane Society of the United States also has some tips to keep pets safe in the warm months:

Keep pets up-to-date on vaccinations and preventative medications. Fleas and ticks stay busy in warm weather and summer is also the prime time for heartworms.

Beware of cocoa mulch and other gardening products. Cocoa mulch can be deadly if ingested and has an appetizing scent to some animals. Pesticides, fertilizers and other harsh chemicals also can be fatal if ingested.

Plan dog walks. On a hot day, take a shorter walk at midday, when the temperature peaks, and longer walks in the morning and evening, when it is cooler. Hot sidewalks can burn the pads on your dog's paws, so walk on the grass when possible.

Never leave a dog outdoors unattended on a chain or tether. Long-term chaining during the hot months can result in countless insect bites, dehydration and heat stroke. Even short-term unattended tethering can pose risks such as theft or attacks by people or animals.

Keep pets properly restrained in a vehicle. Special seatbelts and secured carriers can protect pets during accidents and prevent them from distracting the driver. The back of a pickup truck is never a safe place for a pet to ride.

Bark Busters USA, a Colorado-based dog training service, also has some advice to keep pets safe in the warm months:

Protect dogs from sunburn and skin cancer. Ask your veterinarian about sun block, preferably in a formula that your dog cannot lick off. Light-colored dogs - especially those that lack black pigment around the eyes, ears and nose - are susceptible to the sun's ultraviolet rays and should be kept out of the bright sun.

Ease trauma from thunderstorms. Many dogs can sense a thunderstorm coming from the rapidly falling barometric pressure, and they will become anxious in advance of the storm. Keep windows and curtains closed to reduce noise and bright flashes. Turn on a TV or radio at normal volume as a distraction and to help your dog relax. Let your dog stay close, and try to distract him with play. Do not try to comfort him in a sympathetic voice; this will sound like praise and may increase his nervousness and confusion.


The Ruff Report is a column that appears on, a blog written by Joseph A. Reppucci, a retired editor from The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Massachusetts. Mr. Reppucci worked as a reporter and editor on major daily newspapers in the Boston area for more than 30 years. He is the author of the book, The Hunt of Her Life, a heartwarming story about his once-in-a-lifetime rescue dog. Find it on


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