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With summer in full swing, outdoor get-togethers and BBQs are officially on the agenda. While a BBQ is a great time for the family and can be pet-friendly, precautions need to be made to ensure the safety of your furry friends.
The key to a great BBQ is good food and good people. Unfortunately, there are multiple food hazards that are unsafe for pets:
- Bones. Bones are part of many BBQ staples like wings, ribs, and steak. Dogs should not be allowed bones for eating or play. Bones can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting, diarrhea, and inappetence. They can also cause pancreatitis, or inflammation of the pancreas secondary to the fatty content of the bones. Bones can also cause mechanical irritation, because they can splinter apart when consumed, causing irritation of the stomach or obstruction in the intestines that prevents normal motility of the intestinal tract. In small dogs, bones can become lodged in the esophagus. Due to all of these concerns, bones should never be given to dogs and precautions should be taken for secure disposal.
- Corn Cobs. Corn on the cob is another BBQ staple. It’s very appealing to dogs, since corn is sweet and usually covered in butter. Unfortunately, corn cobs are not easily digestible and cause mechanical obstruction in the intestines. Corn cob surgery is a common emergency procedure during the summer months.
- Skewers. Wood and metal skewers can be dangerous. They are consumed by pets because they often taste like meat. Wood and metal skewer ingestion can lead to injury and need to be surgically removed.
- High Fat Foods. Foods that contain high fat can cause gastrointestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. Consumption of high-fat foods can cause pancreatitis, which can be a life-threatening condition.
- Onions/Garlic. Onions and garlic should not be given to dogs. These two items can cause hemolytic anemia if moderate to large amounts are ingested. Hemolytic anemia is the breakdown or destruction of red blood cells. Any food that has these as additives should also be avoided.
- Grapes/Raisins. Grapes and raisins are toxic to dogs and cause kidney injury if ingested. Grapes are an idiosyncratic toxin, which means the exact toxic component is not known, and not all dogs develop toxicity if ingested. To err on the safe side, they should be kept from all dogs.
- Chocolate. Chocolate can make a great dessert item during BBQs, but should not be ingested by dogs. All types of chocolate (milk, dark, baking, semisweet) can cause toxicity in dogs. Toxicity is based on the type of chocolate, due to the amount of methylxanthines (like theobromine and caffeine), the amount of chocolate ingested, and the weight of the dog. Chocolate toxicity can cause gastrointestinal upset, increased heart rate, arrhythmias (abnormal heart rates) and, in severe cases, seizures.
- Xylitol. Xylitol is a sugar-free sweetener that is used in baking recipes or commercially available, sugar-free food options. It is toxic to dogs and causes their blood glucose to plummet, followed by weakness, lethargy, or seizure. In severe toxicity cases, liver toxicity or injuries may occur.
- Alcohol. Alcohol toxicity is often mild in dogs, but still may require hospitalization and close monitoring as they recover.
- Grills. Grills can be a burn hazard, since they are hot from cooking and can be appealing to dogs due to grease and meat aromas. Dogs should be kept away from hot grills and not allowed to lick the grease under the grill or on grill pans.
- Fireworks. Fireworks can be frightening, due to the accompanying loud noises, but can also be a burn hazard if dogs are in close proximity. Dogs may even try and attack the fireworks, which can cause burns to their faces and mouths. All pets should be safely confined during fireworks.
- Fire Pits. Fire pits can also cause burn injuries. Dogs can inadvertently fall into fire pits or climb in accidentally. Occasionally, food cooking in or around a pit can make them even more appealing. Dogs should be kept away from open fire in general.
- Water. Open areas of water are a drowning hazard, since dogs can fall in if they’re not being monitored. Dogs can also accidentally ingest pool water, which may be harmful if it contains saltwater or large amounts of chemicals. Dogs are also at risk of aspirating pool water, leading to aspiration pneumonia.
- Paw-pad injuries. Hot cement and asphalt can lead to paw pad burns and sloughing. When the ambient temperature is elevated, asphalt can heat up quickly and burn their feet. Always feel the cement or asphalt with the back of your hand and leave it there for 10 – 15 seconds. If it is uncomfortable, it is too hot for your dog’s feet.
- Dog altercations. When lots of people and dogs get together for a BBQ, tempers can flare. All dogs should be supervised and leashed at all times. High-value items, such as food, are often available, which can heighten guarding behaviors and lead to disagreements between dogs. Dogs should never be left unsupervised with other dogs or children.
Other BBQ Hazards
- Recreational drugs. Some dogs are indiscriminate snackers and will ingest drugs. Please keep all recreational drugs out of your pet’s reach. If your pet ingests or is suspected of ingesting illicit drugs, please seek veterinary care immediately. Thoroughly and truthfully explain the situation to your vet, since this helps them direct treatment immediately and prevents the delay of looking for other causes of clinical signs. Veterinarians want the best for your pet, so honesty is the best policy.
- Off-leash animals. Dogs should be kept confined and leashed during large gatherings. Unsupervised dogs take advantage of the commotion and run off. Fireworks and loud noises can also scare dogs and cause them to run away and be susceptible to injury. Off-leash dogs are also at risk of starting altercations with other dogs. It is safest to keep your dog leashed and monitored to prevent injury and unwanted snacking.
- Heat exhaustion. During the summer months, the ambient temperatures and humidity can be hazardous to pets, potentially leading to heat stroke and/or dehydration. Make sure dogs have access to a cool, shaded area with fresh water. Monitor closely for signs of heat stroke when outside.
- Choking. Dogs are at risk of choking on food, bones, and/or toys. Any food should be cut into small pieces to prevent choking. All dogs should be supervised when eating or chewing on toys.
Summer BBQs can be a great way to spend time with friends and family, just take precaution to ensure your pet’s safety during the summer months. Avoiding hazards can help to keep your pets safe and make the experience enjoyable for all.