Walking a furry companion on a sunny day has innumerable benefits for both dogs and their owners, something researchers have dubbed "the Lassie effect." Neighborhood strolls help meet weekly exercise recommendations and can even aid in lowering your risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and arthritis. For the pooch, regular walks can reduce their risk of illness and help keep their weight under control (though diet remains the most important factor in preventing dogs from tipping the scale).
While these excursions are almost always beneficial, there are certain hazards to keep in mind when venturing outdoors with your dog. We asked Stephanie Liff, DVM, owner of Pure Paws Veterinary Care in Manhattan, about some of the more common canine dangers encountered during strolls and what to do in case a good walk gets spoiled.
1. TREATED LAWNS AND PESTICIDES
Dogs trotting through neighboring lawns will eventually encounter grass that's been chemically treated to keep it healthy or to ward off insects. If your pet rolls around on it, a contact rash might develop. "They might get itchy or you might see some vomiting," says Liff. If the dog’s skin seems irritated, washing in dish soap is a good idea: It cuts through the kind of oil-based products typically sprayed on lawns. If irritation persists, you can administer an antihistamine like Benadryl or contact a vet for further advice.
Insecticides are generally formulated to target insects, not mammals, but you should take care to keep your dog from ingesting rodenticides, which are blocks of poison found near bushes and intended to kill mice and rats. Rodenticides cause internal bleeding in pests and dogs alike. Lethargy, coughing, and weakness should be addressed by a professional immediately.
Relaxed state laws concerning marijuana possession are a likely reason the number of reported incidences of accidental ingestion in pets have risen in recent years. Dogs might be more susceptible to the effects of the drug than humans due to having more cannabinoid receptors. While woofing down a discarded joint (or an edible left out at home) is not likely to be serious, Liff says a dog's reaction depends on their size. "Most dogs typically don’t get ill but smaller dogs can experience low blood pressure and a low heart rate," she says. If a pet has indulged but acts normally, at-home monitoring should be sufficient. If he or she acts dazed or sleepy, get them evaluated. Treatment is usually just getting IV fluids.
Even if your dog isn't prone to vacuuming every strange object in sight, they might still want to stop for a drink at the nearest body of water. That can be a deceptively serious situation. Some ponds have blue-green algae, which is highly toxic to dogs and can cause neurological symptoms, excessive drooling, and gastrointestinal issues that need immediate attention. Drinking or wading in such water should be avoided. Also try to monitor your dog around saltwater, as fetching in oceans can lead to accidental ingestion, causing diarrhea and dehydration.
You want to be wary of standing water anywhere, Liff says. "Muddy puddles in parks can contain bacteria called leptospirosis, which can be fatal." There is a vaccine, but it's best not to let your dog drink from anything but water you carry yourself or a nearby tap.
Dogs coming across gum or candy should keep on walking. Many sweets are made with Xylitol, a sugar substitute that doesn't agree with a dog's digestive system. "The immediate effect is that it tricks the body into thinking it's sugar, causing hypoglycemia," Liff says. "They'll be woozy and weak. At a high enough dose, dogs can develop liver failure within 72 hours." If you suspect Xylitol consumption, get them to the vet. According to Liff, "we'll make them vomit."
Thanks to coffee shops discarding their trash and people tossing aside half-eaten bagels for birds to enjoy, a dog stroll can expose your pet to a potentially dangerous breakfast snack. "Dogs cannot eat raisins or grapes," Liff says. "It's toxic to their kidneys." A lot of pet owners know this, but aren't mindful of stray raisin bagels that might be within a dog's reach. Even small amounts can cause vomiting, lethargy, and kidney failure. Vet care is necessary.
6. THE SUN
We're bombarded with advice to slather ourselves in sunblock, and pets need some, too. Dogs with lighter-colored coats, Liff says, often have sensitive pink skin underneath that should be protected where hair is thinner, like around their nose. While there are pet sunblocks available, anything with zinc and that's PBA-free should be fine.
"Heat irritation from hot pavement is also common," she says. "It can burn their pads." Some dogs can tolerate boots for walking on hot surfaces. If not, some ice and moisturizing products to ease blistering will help.
Pet owners should also try to discourage dogs from eating poop, as it can contain parasites. And be sure to check them for ticks after being outdoors by running your hands along their body to feel for bumps.
If you suspect your pet has ingested anything potentially harmful, call your veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline at 855-764-7661. The latter charges a $59 consultation fee.