As the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day is a great excuse to get outdoors. But whether you’re partying, barbequing, or just soaking up some rays, it’s important to keep your pet’s safety in mind at all times. To prevent any Memorial Day mishaps, I have put together some tips to help protect animals during the “Dog Days” of the season.

Party Smart
Barbequing is one of the best parts of Memorial Day, but you need to use common sense when your pets are outside while you are firing up the grill.

Grills top my list for potential backyard dangers due to the high likelihood that thermal burns will occur upon contact with your pet’s skin or fur. Only grill from a height elevated above that which your pet can easily reach. Hibachi style grills placed on the ground or in other areas of easy access put your pet in the direct line of fire. Depending on the type and duration of exposure, a pet may suffer first, second, or third degree burns.

The delectable aroma of barbecued foods creates serious instinctual attraction for curious canine noses and mouths seeking a taste. Besides the heat and fire from the grill, the freshly cooked, hot-off-the-grill foods can also cause skin or oral (tongue, gums) burns if consumed.

With suspected or known confirmations of burns, immediately pursue treatment through a veterinarian.

Foods left out for preparation or serving are also an easy target for pets. Keep food elevated to a height beyond your pet’s reach. Using seal-able containers can help to keep your dog from ‘counter surfing’ and gorging on your buffet.

Consumption of food and beverages typically found at barbecues can cause serious digestive issues as well as other associated problems. Meats, bones, fat (cheese, animal skin, desserts, nuts, etc.), fruit (grapes, raisins, etc.), vegetables (onion, chives, etc.), salt, sugar, spices, preservatives, alcohol, and other ingredients all harbor potential health and toxicity risks.

Digestive tract clinical signs include vomiting, diarrhea, deceased appetite, lethargy, and more. Metabolic diseases like pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), liver or kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, and other problems can also occur.

Your pet’s seemingly harmless taste or large portion consumption can create serious health issues requiring veterinary care. Diagnostics (blood, urine, and fecal tests, X-rays, ultrasound, etc.), in-hospital or outpatient treatment (fluid therapy, antacid or anti-nausea medications, etc.) are often required to ensure the recovery of a pet guilty of dietary indiscretion (inappropriate consumption of food or environmental objects).

Are you financially prepared to pursue veterinary care if your pet suffers barbecue-associated digestion issues? Especially in times of financial hardship, it’s best to avoid the need for costly treatment by focusing on prevention. As barbecues often involve the presence of guests, make sure everyone is well informed of your pet safety rules.

Additionally, potentially toxic gifts (flowers, plants, foods, etc.) can enter your home upon guests’ arrival. Purses, backpacks, and other bags can harbor toxins like candy (mints and gum, especially the sugar-free kind containing Xylitol), prescription or over the counter drugs, and other miscellaneous substances. Gifts and guests’ belongings should also be kept out of reach of household pets.

With any concerns for toxic exposure, contact your local Veterinarian, the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center (APCC), or the Pet Poison Helpline (PPH) for the best guidance in managing your pet’s individual case.


Loud noises, sirens and other dogs in the crowd can create stress and anxiety. If you pet is not used to being out in crowds, leave him at home in his own comfort zone.

Skip the Spray
Unless specifically designed for animals, insect repellant and sunscreen can be toxic to pets. Signs of repellent toxicity include drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and lethargy. DEET, a common insecticide in products for humans, may cause neurological issues in dogs.

Made in the Shade
Pets can get dehydrated quickly, so if you’re spending time outside, give them plenty of fresh, clean water and make sure they have a shady place to get out of the sun. Note that animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool places as much as possible.

IDs, Please
Time spent outdoors comes with the added risk of pets escaping. Make sure that your pet is fitted with a microchip or ID tag with identifying information, or both. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.


Dr. Kevin A. Rushing

Executive Director