Labor Day always feels like the last hurrah of summer. Sure, many kids are already back in school and the real last day of summer is still a couple of weeks away, but in backyards and parks, on balconies and patios, grills are being readied and tables are being set. It’s time for one final summer party.
I hate to be a wet blanket — or wet beach towel — but I do want to remind everyone that the Labor Day weekend is no time to ignore the hazards of summer. As with many other holidays, the long Labor Day weekend promises to be a busy one at veterinary emergency centers. Keeping your pet safe, though, is easy to do. This year, spend your Labor Day celebrating another great summer — not patching up an injured pet.
Prevent an Escape
While nothing tops the Fourth of July when it comes to lost pets (fireworks send many pets fleeing every year), any time you break from routine, you up the risk of a pet escape. If you’re having guests over to the house, particularly younger kids, they may not be as careful about closing doors and gates as you are. And when you’re busy entertaining, it’s easy to overlook that your pet has gotten out. Visiting someone else's home with your pet? You might not notice right away that the dog you thought was by your side isn’t there any longer.
I’m not suggesting you leave your pet at home if he’s welcome at the party, or lock him up when company comes over. But do check that your pet is wearing a collar with ID (and license, if required) — or better yet, ID and a microchip, with current contact information. Keep your dog on leash in crowded parks or other open areas, and give someone else the task of keeping doors and gates closed if you’ll busy welcoming guests or manning the grill. A lost pet — or one hit by a car while roaming after escape — is a tragedy that can often be prevented.
Avoid Food Dangers
If your dog is the type to steal food off the table, warn your guests to be extra careful with their plates. Even if your dog has the manners of a saint, make sure guests know not to give your pet any food without permission (this is even more important if your pet is on a restricted diet for weight loss or a health issue). Keep an eye on the trash: Leftover fat from meat, juice-soaked strings from roasts, leftover bones and even corn cobs can have you and your pets at the E.R. in no time flat. Even if your pet gets off easy, your carpets may not be so lucky, since even mild cases of stomach upset can cause vomiting and diarrhea.
But an upset tummy isn't the only concern when pets eat things they shouldn't. Poison-control experts say medications — both prescription and over-the-counter — are one of the top dangers to pets. If you have stay-over guests, make sure they know to put any medications in a closed drawer or behind a cabinet door. Keep guests' purses and bags closed and put away as well, to prevent pets from gobbling candies or gum sweetened with xylitol, which is toxic. Finally, if you’ve worked your yard over to make it gorgeous for one last outdoor bash, make sure any pesticides or herbicides (or lighter fluid, for that matter) are safely put away where pets can’t get to them.
Beat the Heat
While the stores may already be filled with cold-weather gear, Labor Day is still a hot holiday. Keep your guard up when it comes to keeping pets cool. No running into the store for “just a few minutes” with the dog in the car, and no heat-of-the-day outdoor exercise, especially for short-nosed or elderly dogs, who can overheat very quickly. Watch for signs of overheating — such as rapid panting and glassy eyes; apply cool water to the belly and groin for first aid to a hot pet while you head for the vet. (But don't use ice-cold water, which can lock in body heat.)
Swimming is often part of the last bash of the season, and it may well be just the cool ticket for pets and people alike. But again, use common sense: Don’t let pets swim unattended, and don’t be shy about putting a life vest on your pet. That's true even with an older dog who used to swim with the enthusiasm of Michael Phelps; if he gets tired in the water, he can find himself in serious trouble without a flotation device.
With just a little preparation, some simple oversight and a lot of common sense, your pet will be safe on this holiday and all others. And that’s the way we veterinarians like it.