The Dog Days of Summer: Keeping Your 4-Legged Friends Healthy and Happy All Summer Long

Everyone loves summer, including our pets, but the heat and other summer factors can have adverse effects on their health and wellness

In the Bay Area, we love our summers. Many of us include our dogs and other pets in our summer activities. As you get ready to enjoy days of swimming, hiking, or barbecuing with your four-legged friend, make sure you protect them from hazards.

The Health Benefits of Pets

Studies consistently show that companion animals make us happier and healthier. A 2017 study reported that dog owners had a lower risk of dying from heart disease and generally lived longer lives than non-dog owners. Researchers speculate that dogs make us more physically active and offer emotional support and mental stimulation — factors that can keep us healthier.

However, in exchange for all they do, we have an obligation to keep our pets safe and healthy. This can be particularly challenging in the summer months — when temperatures rise, and we spend more time outside and on the water.

Never Leave an Animal Unattended in a Hot Car

It’s amazing how quickly a car can reach dangerously hot temperatures. According to the ASPCA, on an 85° day, it only takes ten minutes for a car’s internal temperature to exceed 100°. Within 30 minutes, the car can easily be 120° inside. Simply cracking the windows or parking in the shade won’t protect your dog or pet.

Because dogs can only cool themselves by panting, they are particularly vulnerable in hot cars. As their bodies begin to overheat, they can suffer heat stroke and brain and organ damage. Each year, hundreds of dogs and other animals die because they are left alone in their owners’ vehicles.

Leaving a pet unattended in a car is against California law. The state also has a “right to rescue” law, which protects good Samaritans who attempt to save animals from overly hot cars (under certain circumstances). If you notice a dog or another animal in a hot car, you should contact law enforcement. Only take matters into your own hands in the rare cases when you truly believe an animal is in imminent danger and the police cannot respond in time.

Protect Them Against Parasites

While your dog might enjoy those hikes through the woods and nights spent next to bonfires, you’ll need to protect them from a wide variety of harmful parasites when they spend time outside.  Your animals run an increased risk of contracting fleas, ticks, heartworms, and other organisms during the summer.

To keep them safe, make sure you regularly give your pets the correct dosage of their heartworm and flea preventive medications. You should also discuss your dog’s need for routine vaccinations, such as Lyme disease and leptospirosis, with your veterinarian.

Finally, after time outside, check your pet (and yourself) for ticks and other parasites. If you discover a tick, carefully remove it with fine-pointed tweezers and clean the bite area with rubbing alcohol or another pet-safe disinfectant. If you suspect your pet has a tick-borne or other parasitic illness, consult with your vet.

Keep Your Pets Hydrated and Cool

While all animals can suffer heat stroke, it’s more likely with older or overweight animals or pets with flat faces (like pugs) or dark coats. To help them combat dehydration and avoid heat stroke, make sure you offer your pets plenty of cool, fresh water and access to shade or climate-controlled areas.

You should also be on the look-out for signs of heat stroke — including staggering, excessive panting, salivating, vomiting, and diarrhea. If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat stroke, contact your veterinarian immediately. Your four-legged friend will probably require medical attention — including IV hydration.

Pets Get Sunburns Too

Your pet’s fur offers some natural sun protection, but light-haired and thin-coated animals are sometimes prone to sunburn. While you can lather your pet with sunscreen, make sure it is dog-friendly — and remember, zinc oxide is toxic to dogs.

Similarly, hot pavement and sand can scorch your pet’s sensitive feet. If you notice your pet limping, check their paws for burns and other injuries.

If your pet has a burn, you can treat it with aloe vera, cold compresses, and bandages. If you’re unsure whether it requires more care, contact your veterinarian. Severe burns sometimes require antibiotics and pain medications.

Pets and Fireworks Are a Dangerous Combination

The sound of fireworks alone can be dangerous to some pets. If your animal has a severe firework phobia, summer celebrations can be traumatic and upsetting. Do your best to keep them safe during firework displays by:

  • Keeping them as far away from fireworks as possible
  • Discussing sedatives and other calming therapies with your vet
  • Never leaving children unattended with an anxious or nervous dog — they might uncharacteristically snap or bite

If they need to be outside during a firework display, make sure they are on a leash or in a fully-enclosed area

If you have a new dog and are unsure about their tolerance to fireworks, consider crating your dog to ensure its safety if you must leave it unattended.

Water Safety for Dogs

While many dogs love swimming, others are less adept. Some animals, like French bulldogs, are notoriously bad swimmers and run a high risk of drowning. If your pet will be around a swimming pool or other body of water, never leave it unattended. You can also consider life vests for your water-averse pets. Finally, you should also never force an animal into the water.


American Veterinary Medical Association (n.d). Pets in vehicles. AVMA. Retrieved from

Mubanga, M., Byberg, L., Nowak, C., Egenvall, A., Magnusson, P., Ingelsson, E., & Fall, T. (2017). Dog ownership and the risk of cardiovascular disease and death – a nationwide cohort study. Scientific Reports. Retrieved from