How to keep pets safe in summer heat, on vacation

Pets are often considered family members and are included in family fun during the summer, like beach vacations, camping trips or visits to the local park. But hot summer weather can make anyone uncomfortable and can pose certain safety risks to family pets.

Pet owners can keep their furry friends safe by following simple summer safety tips, according to Nicky Ratliff, Carroll County Humane Society director, and Phyllis McCrory, veterinary technician and office manager at Eldersburg Veterinary Hospital.

Rule number one, McCrory said, is to make sure dogs and other pets have access to fresh water at all times.

"All pets, no matter bird, reptile, dog or cat, need to have access to fresh water - and food - every day, that is extremely important," she said.

Ratliff said it is illegal not to provide fresh water, in a container that cannot be tipped over, to animals.

"They absolutely, positively have to have fresh, clean water out there for their pet in summertime. They should have it anytime, but they better have it in the summer time," Ratliff said. "If the pet is knocking their buckets over then I would suggest the owner needs to be smarter than the dog - any owner that can't figure that out shouldn't have a pet."

Not only is it important to make sure pets have access to water if they are left home, but also if they are brought along on trips and vacations as travel companions, McCrory said.

If pets are accompanying a family on a long car ride, they should have access to food and water in the car, and the family should make frequent stops along the way.

"It's kind of like having a child in the vehicle," she said. "They have to go a little more often than an adult would, and they get more excited."

The American Kennel Club suggests putting containers filled with frozen water inside a dog's crate to keep the animal cool if it is traveling in a crate on an airplane or in a car, according to its website. Owners can also carry a spray bottle filled with water to spritz on a dog during long car rides.

It is possible for pets to get car sick, McCrory said, and while there are over-the-counter medications pets can take, she recommends that owners first consult with a veterinarian to decide which medicine and dosage is best for each particular pet.

Rule number two, McCrory said, is to keep pets out of extreme heat and to make sure they have access to a shaded area.

"If it's very hot out and you're miserable when you're out, then you don't want to take your dog out for a run, leave them out in the sun or even take them out for a car ride," she said. "Leave them at home, in the air conditioning where they are better off and they can relax."

Ratliff said Carroll County Animal Control laws state that during the summer months, or when temperatures are 80 degrees or higher, pets must have a man-made or natural shaded area to get out of the sun, especially between 11 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

If a dog must stay outside during the day, it is important that is has access to a shaded area other than a doghouse, because dog houses can trap heat inside and heat up quickly, according to Ratliff. The American Kennel Club's website's safety tips recommend leaving a baby pool filled with fresh water outside for dogs to cool off in as well.

Brachycephalic or short-faced dogs like bulldogs, pugs and Japanese chins, should never be left outside in hot weather because they cannot breath and pant as efficiently as long-faced dogs, according to the American Kennel Club.

McCrory said if pets are taken on beach vacations or camping trips it is important to make sure they have adequate outdoor space to move around in and an area to stay in the shade, just like if they were at home.

But not all pets travel well, and families don't always have the option to bring pets along on vacations. For some families, getting a pet-sitter or boarding pets at a kennel is a smarter choice, McCrory said.

If families choose to get a pet-sitter, it is important that they are upfront about their expectations and lay out specific plans to take care of the pets.

"If you're the type who wants your pets let out 4-5 times a day, then you put that upfront when you're talking to the house sitter, and the same thing goes for if your pet takes medication," she said. "As much as you can keep them on their normal routine, the better."

Pets like cats, rabbits or reptiles are a little bit easier to care for using a pet sitter, she said, as they normally just need to be fed and have their litter box or cage cleaned.

If dogs or cats are boarding in a kennel while families are out of town, Donna Lewis, hospital administrator at Airpark Animal Hospital, said there are a few rules and tips owners should follow to prepare animals.

"The first thing we would check with them is to make sure they're up to date on their vaccines, specifically a current rabies vaccine would be required," Lewis said.

She said for dogs a bordetella, or kennel cough, vaccine is also required, and a canine influenza vaccine is recommended. If a dog or cat requires medication, Lewis said she recommends owners bring the medication to the kennel in its labeled bottle with detailed instructions.

Owners should pack their animal's favorite treats, foods and toys, to make the pet's stay as comfortable as possible. An owner should also be specific with the kennel about how many times a day their dog or cat can be fed treats, and how many times a day their dog likes to be outside or taken for a walk, Lewis said.

"We try to keep it as close to the home environment as we can," she said.

Most importantly, Lewis said owners should take a tour of any kennel before boarding their dog or cat.

"Make sure there is no dust, no hair flying around, that the kennels are clean and make sure it feels comfortable," she said.