From Nose to Tail: Summertime with Our Pets

By Jamie Laubenstein ‘07, CVT

Originally published in the June 24, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.

In  the warmer summer months, we find ourselves spending more time outside. Whether we are hosting a summer barbecue, hiking or cooling off in the water, many of us include our furry friends in all our activities.

Enjoying summer celebrations can be made even better by taking extra precautions to ensure our canine and feline companions are having as much fun as we are.

Our first question this month is, “Can my pet eat the food we prepare during our backyard barbecue?”

Gathering around the grill for some delicious barbecue is an excellent idea for us but not for our four-legged companions. While barbecue sauce elevates our culinary experience, it often contains onions and garlic, which can be toxic to dogs. Sharing even a tiny amount of food or scraps can be enough to cause diarrhea or vomiting in most dogs.

We should also avoid giving our pets corn on the cob and ribs. Bones should not be given to our furry friends because they can potentially cause gastrointestinal blockage.

However, some foods — if prepared without oils and are deboned— like chicken, turkey, salmon, and some vegetables, including sweet potatoes can be shared, in moderation, with our pets.

“I’ve taken my dog on hikes with me, but can I take my cat?” is our second question.

Getting outside to explore the trails or cooling off at a lake is often enjoyed by our canines and, yes, our feline companions, too. Did you know that you can train your cat to hike with you on a harness, just like dogs?

Often, this is made easier if you start training when your cat is very young and use a combination of leash walking with an open window carrier. Exploring the environment is excellent physical and mental stimulation for our pets.

Keeping cats and dogs on a harness and leash helps protect them from being injured by wildlife (porcupine quills) and prevents them from harming small native animals, including chipmunks and birds.

Hydration is just as crucial for our hiking companions, too. Bring extra water and a collapsible bowl on every trip.

Remember to keep your pets on appropriate flea, tick and heartworm preventatives to avoid unwanted parasite infestations.

Our third question is, “How do I know when my pets are stressed when fireworks are going off in our neighborhood, and what can I do to calm them down?”

Our pets can tell us how much stress they feel simply by us watching their behavior during these activities. Stressed-out animals exhibit behaviors such as hiding, pacing, being excessively clingy, vocalization, and having accidents (urinating/defecating) in unusual areas of the house. These behaviors can occur at any time in your pet’s life, and it is not uncommon for pets to become less tolerant of outside activities as they age.

Not to worry, there are things you can try at home to help manage and decrease that stress and anxiety. It’s important to understand that the loud and sudden boom of the firework, like thunder, often causes the most stress to our pets.

The best practice is to be proactive around the holidays and have a plan in place before the noise gets your pet upset. Having a room in your house prepared for your pet before the loud noises start is vital. The room should be quiet and dimly lit.

You can also try playing calming music to soothe your pet and help take their focus off the sound of the fireworks. Distraction aides like Kong puzzle toys filled with a tasty treat and/or thunder shirts, designed to release endorphins, may also help your pet.

Contacting your veterinarian about different medication protocols for such events is also an excellent idea. Your vet can help you combine several of these suggestions to manage your pet’s anxiety appropriately.

Summertime with our pets can be extremely rewarding, filled with moments that make wonderful memories. By being proactive and creative, we can share all the parts of the summer, including barbecues, exploring and outdoor festivities with our cherished companions in a way that is rewarding to them, too.

Jamie Laubenstein, AS, CVT, ’07 Johnson College alum, is a full time CVT Instructor at the Johnson College Veterinary Nursing program as well as a clinical rotation instructor at the Animal Care Center on campus. She has been part of the veterinary field for 19 years.