Camping With Canines

Tips for taking your dog to the great outdoors.

By Dr. Marianne Alcan, Pet+E.R.

As summer arrives, every day is getting a little longer and a little warmer and soon there won’t be any excuse to only walk Fido for a few minutes a day before rushing back inside to the warm couch. He and the rest of the family have been cooped up for months and are ready to have some fun!

A great way to get everyone outside, pets included, in the warmer months is to take a camping trip. Before traveling to the great outdoors, speak to your veterinarian about making sure your pets’ vaccines and parasite control are up to date – particularly for tick repellent. Insect repellant sprays for human use containing DEET are not significantly toxic if your dog is exposed to small amounts from your skin or clothing, but it is not recommended to use these directly on dogs. Instead, there are several methods of protecting your pets against pesky mosquito and tick bites, including many prescription heartworm medications and collars that help repel some insects.  There are many mosquito products labeled for dogs that utilize pyrethrin/pyrethroid chemicals and some that contain essential oils. Be sure to discuss favored products with your veterinarian if you are concerned about heavy mosquitoes where you are camping or hiking. Always follow label directions and use the right size product for your pet – and if Fido is going to be around his kitty housemates, then exercise caution with any pyrethrins or tea tree oil solutions, as cats are very sensitive to these compounds. If you’re considering bringing your furry family members to the beach or the lake where sun exposure is high, be cognizant of sunblock. While sunscreen products are vital for human use, they can pose a threat to our pets. Most sunblock products would be expected to only cause mild stomach upset if small amounts are ingested, but those that contain zinc oxide can cause more serious illness and if ingested, warrant a visit to a veterinarian.

In general, try to keep food and supplies (matches, batteries, charcoal, etc.) securely contained to protect them from your dog’s curiosity. It is best to be prepared when away from home, so for any toxic concerns there are two national 24-hour fee-based services to keep in your phone: Pet Poison Helpline (1-800-213-6680) and ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (1-888-426-4435). Scouting out the nearest animal ER is also helpful in case of injury or more serious illness while you are traveling. There are also smartphone applications that can assist with finding nearby emergency clinics. Playing in the woods, the beach or your backyard are all fun bonding times with your dog, but bear in mind that overweight or older dogs are more susceptible to heat stress. Certain breeds classified as brachycephalic such as bulldogs and pugs are also more likely to need treatment for heat stress and heat stroke. Always keep fresh water available and try to limit exertions in the hottest parts of the day. If you see signs like weakness, collapse, relentless panting, swollen or bluish tongue and suspect heat stroke, have your pet examined right away and you can start cooling with tepid – NOT icy – water on the way to the doctor’s office. We all know that even in the beautiful summer months, there are still rainy or lazy days and with kids home from school, crafty kitchen projects can be great activities to keep these lazy days from being crazy days. A popular DIY item is homemade Play-Doh and the many recipes available for its creation attest to the ease and popularity of making it. While wonderful for keeping little hands busy, these recipes are high in salt and can be toxic if eaten by dogs. Commercial products are water based, so they are safer if accidentally ingested. If your kids are still looking for more kitchen time and your dog is, of course, looking for more things to eat – venture online where are there are dozens of recipes for easy baked treats. A simple no bake approach where the little ones can help is to thin some peanut butter with water, add a little cinnamon and then roll into balls which can then be “decorated” with plain oats and used right away or frozen for later consumption. Fido really never is too old to learn new tricks and this is a great way to motivate everyone to be involved in training. With any recipe, keep in mind any dietary issues your dog may have had in the past and as with any treat – moderation is key to avoiding weight gain and an upset stomach. Read closely any labels of “sugar-free” products, including peanut butter, as these can contain xylitol – this is toxic in dogs and can cause low blood sugar and in some cases, liver failure. Other ingredients that should be avoided are chocolate, raisins, grapes, macadamia nuts, currants, onions, and garlic – all of these can be toxic to dogs. Recipes that use cow’s milk should also be avoided as dogs do not digest dairy milk very well. And finally, if your garage looks like mine after a winter of neglect – take a few minutes to make sure hazards such as rat/mouse baits, slug bait, fertilizers, antifreeze, and insecticides are safely out of reach. Enjoy this summer with Fido and all your furry family members!

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