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Summer Fun and Follies

Summertime is here along with lots of fun… and a few dangers. You are probably aware of the most publicized warm weather threats for pets like heat stroke and dehydration. So, let’s discuss some of the less obvious summer follies that can occur when the ‘weather is warm and the livin’ is easy’!

Glow Sticks

Summertime means festivals and parties. Summer celebrations, such as the Fourth of July and Canada Day present common dangers like bottle rockets and firecrackers. But did you realize that even harmless-looking glow sticks can be a danger to your pet?

People wear glow sticks as bracelets and necklaces and often attach them to their pet’s collar. Glow sticks contain an oily liquid called dibutyl phthalate (DBP). While non-toxic in small amounts, DBP can be harmful if curious pets bite the glow stick. The bitter tasting liquid causes gagging, drooling, and irritation of the eyes, mouth, and skin.

“If a pet chews a glow stick, breaks the vial and swallows the glass fragments, gastrointestinal (GI) injuries may result in bloody stool or vomiting, or worse.”

Some glow sticks contain a small glass vial that activates the ‘glow’ when snapped. If a pet chews a glow stick, breaks the vial and swallows the glass fragments, gastrointestinal (GI) injuries may result in bloody stool or vomiting, or worse. 

If your pet chews a glow stick, tame the bitter taste of DBP by offering him water or a treat. Turn off the lights and wash any areas of your pet’s fur that are glowing. That way he won’t lick his fur and get another DBP dose.

Corn Cobs

Summer cookouts mean fresh corn on the cob. Instead of nibbling the kernels, pets often gulp the whole cob. Corn kernels are fairly digestible, but corn cobs are not and can get stuck in the stomach or intestinal tract causing an obstruction. Sometimes, the only way to relieve the obstruction is to surgically remove the corn cob. If the intestines are damaged, sections of the GI tract may have to be removed as well.

If your pet swallows any portion of a corn cob, he may vomit, strain to defecate, or experience abdominal pain. Take him to your veterinarian immediately because quick medical attention may prevent GI damage.

Bones

Back to the cookout! You may enjoy barbeque chicken, ribs, or steaks so much that you lick the bones, but you know better than to eat them. Not so with pets! They may scarf down the entire chicken leg, bone and all. Unfortunately, bones present several potential dangers.

“If your dog has had a bone and begins to drool, lose his appetite, starts to vomit, or strains to defecate, call your veterinarian.”

First, bones are not very digestible, and like corn cobs, can cause intestinal blockage.

Secondly, brittle bones (i.e., cooked chicken bones) may break into shards that puncture the intestinal wall. If GI contents leak into the abdomen, a serious, life-threatening infection may develop.

Thirdly, bones can break teeth or become wedged in the mouth. Commonly, bones become stuck between molars and cause irritation and infection on the roof of the mouth.  

Fourthly, bones can be a choking hazard.

If your dog has had a bone and begins to drool, lose his appetite, starts to vomit, or strains to defecate, call your veterinarian. To be safe, avoid giving your dog bones, even the ones sold as canine chew toys. If you do give your dog a bone, pick a large one (about the size of your dog’s head) to decrease the chance that he’ll break off a fragment and swallow it.

Fire

From cookouts to campfires, hot stuff is dangerous! Pets are curious and will investigate the grill or fire pit. Going in for a closer look may mean singed fur and burned skin. Plus, sparks and ashes that float up and land in the eye can cause pain and injury. Even after the fire goes out, hot ashes and coals will burn paws if your dog or cat walks through the fire site. Keep your pet away from open flame and douse all campfires thoroughly when done.

Pitted Fruit

Yum! A juicy peach on a hot summer day! Pets may want to munch on a peach, too. But, oops… swallowing the pit is a problem! Fruits like cherries, nectarines, and peaches are called stone fruits. It’s important for pet owners to remove the “stones” before offering the fruit to their fur babies.

Hard pits can fracture teeth, cause choking, or obstruct the GI tract. And pits with rough edges can injure the esophagus as they are swallowed resulting in esophageal ulcers or tears. After swallowing a pit, your dog may gag, drool, vomit, or have difficulty passing stool, and experience abdominal pain. If you note any of these signs, call your veterinarian.

“Hard pits can fracture teeth, cause choking, or obstruct the GI tract.”

Also, the pit contains a small amount of cyanide. Fortunately, pits are so hard that pets don’t usually chew down to the core where the poison lies. Cyanide poisoning from stone fruits is rare, but pets can still become ill after ingesting just a tiny amount. They may salivate, have difficulty breathing, or convulse. Cyanide toxicity in any amount is an emergency. Call your veterinarian right away if your pet breaks open a pit.

Moldy Fruit

Pits are a problem, but the flesh of stone fruit, or any fruit for that matter, can also be harmful if it’s moldy. Fruit ages quickly in warm summer weather and mold develops. Some types of mold are harmless, but others can cause GI upsets, liver failure, or seizures. Fruit may look fresh on the outside, but have moldy pits or seeds. To be safe, examine the fruit thoroughly inside and out. Then, remove the seeds or pits and cut the fruit into small pieces before your furry friend eats it.

Here’s another old fruit issue. Rotting fruit ferments. Fermentation changes sugars in the fruit to alcohol. If you don’t want a loopy pet, throw rotten fruit out!

Watermelon

Let’s single out one particular fruit. Lots of summer cookouts end with cool, refreshing watermelon. Watermelon is fun for pets; the high-water content hydrates them, and the glucose gives them energy. The folly is that pets often swallow the seeds or eat the rind and both can block the GI tract. To avoid GI blockages, cut the melon from the rind and remove the seeds before sharing this classic summer treat with your pet.

Citronella Candles

With all the yummy grilled food and fresh fruit around, outdoor cookouts attract flying insects. As a deterrent, many people use citronella candles.

Citronella candles are the source of three potential summer follies. Open candle flames can burn sensitive whiskers and curious noses. Also, the fumes of citronella candles can cause breathing difficulties when inhaled. Plus, if your pet eats the sweet-smelling wax candle or absorbs citronella oil through the skin, he can develop GI upsets or nervous system issues.

Balloons

Balloons on your mailbox may mark the location of a summer celebration, but they can also mark a potential hazard to your pets. Popped or non-inflated balloons can choke a pet. And the string that anchors the balloon can create serious intestinal issues if swallowed. It’s also hazardous if a pet’s feet or neck become entangled in the string. So watch out for the folly associated with an innocent looking balloon.

Swimming Pools

A refreshing dip in the pool on a hot summer day is great! Dogs like to cool off too, but while jumping into the pool is easy, getting out may be a struggle. Dogs can’t climb ladders or heave themselves onto the pool deck. Teach your dog where and how to navigate the swim out area. Always play lifeguard when your pet is in the pool. Even good swimmers tire of treading water and can drown.

Cats usually shy away from water, but both cats and dogs can fall in accidentally. They may not discern the difference between deck and water. Or they may see their own reflection in the water and try to “connect” with a new friend.

Summer is fun! Just be aware of the potential follies and enjoy!

Contributors: Lynn Buzhardt, DVM
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