Doggone Dos & Don'ts

Summertime hazards for dogs.

With the long-awaited summer season comes sunny days, green grass, and river trips. We have the benefit of living in a beautiful area filled with outdoor activities that are fun for us all, and in which we can involve our canine companions. But there are also a number of hazards that are important to be aware of and to avoid whenever possible.

Warm temps mean a large increase in flying and crawling pests that can plague our dogs. Mosquitoes are a big problem and can cause a number of different diseases. Heartworm disease, spread through mosquito bites, is growing in the United States. With more people traveling with pets from heartworm-endemic areas such as the southern states, we are seeing more heartworm-positive pets here in Montana, too. Heartworm can be fatal, so it’s important to consider preventatives. Some heartworm medications can also treat other intestinal parasites such as roundworms, whipworms, and tapeworms, which are common throughout Montana.

Ticks can be a big problem when outdoors and can cause a number of potentially fatal infectious diseases, so check your dog each day, even if you haven’t gone into the woods. Pay special attention to areas around skin folds or creases, or other areas you may not normally check. Consider starting your pup on tick (and flea) preventatives—especially as the snow melts—and discuss testing and treatments with your veterinarian.  

Foxtails are grass awns, or seeds, which are barbed and stick to our clothing and our dog’s fur. The barbs on these seeds are similar to those on a porcupine quill, allowing them to work their way into the skin, ears, nostrils, ears, mouth, feet, or even genitalia of your dog. They can cause serious inflammation, infection/abscesses, and, if they continue to migrate into the body—up the nose, into the brain, into the lungs, etc,—even death. Always be aware of the presence of foxtails and check for them after hikes. Search nose to tail and between toes. Take your dog to the vet if you see constant tilting, shaking, or scratching of the head and ears; eye redness, discharge or swelling; or repeated, intense sneezing or nasal discharge.

With the ongoing legalization of marijuana and cannabinoid use, marijuana toxicity is an increasing problem in dogs, particularly when they ingest marijuana-containing foods or get into owners’ (or visitors’) stashes. Some signs include extreme lethargy or wobbliness, slow heart rate, dilated pupils, uncontrolled urination, even loss of consciousness. Although rarely life-threatening, death is possible. Your veterinarian can suggest a number of treatments to ensure a quick and complete recovery.

In the summer, water sports and activities near rivers and lakes are enjoyed by almost everyone, including the family dogs. Dogs aren’t always natural swimmers, so gradually get them used to being around water. Do not force a dog into the water if it’s uncomfortable swimming, and be aware that it may panic and potentially drown after falling off a dock, riverbank, or boat. If your dog is not a strong swimmer, or is in rough, dangerous water, consider a well-fitted, specialized life preserver. As with children, never leave dogs unattended around bodies of water.

Dogs are often included on our camping trips, at barbecues, and at family picnics. Many of the foods we serve are irresistible to our canine friends, yet can cause problems with gastrointestinal blockages or injuries (corn on the cob, peach pits, chicken or rib bones, watermelon rinds, skewers, etc.) or even severe gastroenteritis or pancreatitis due to the increased fats or sauces used, which dogs often don’t tolerate well. Other potentially toxic and even fatal foods are grapes, alcohol, macadamia nuts, and chocolate. If your dog gets into any of these things, call your veterinarian immediately. 

Landscaping and gardening introduce additional risks, particularly with toxic plants and chemicals. If you think your dog may have ingested a poisonous substance, call your veterinarian or the ASPCA (Animal Poison Control) at 888-426-4435. 

Julie Oghigian is a Bozeman veterinarian, veterinary columnist, and outdoor enthusiast.