Summer vacation and July Fourth often mean fun family cookouts, but grilling outside can pose dangers for curious pets. Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services wants to keep your pets safe. Read on, and learn how to avoid the top five pet safety risks when you barbecue this summer.

Pet cookout risk #5: Fire and burn hazards

Before using any kind of open flame for outdoor cooking, ensure you are outside wildfire-risk areas. Keep a fire extinguisher on hand and know how to use it. Pets can be trained to stay away from an outdoor fire source, but may forget their training in the excitement of the moment, venture too close, and burn or singe their fur and skin. Also, remember that wood-fueled fires can pop and send hot embers flying, so a safe distance from the fire may be further than you think. The safest plan is to keep pets away from any outdoor area with open flames. Definitely outlaw pet roughhousing or playing near a grill or fire pit. 

If your pet is accidentally burned, put safety first and muzzle your pet, as they may reflexively bite because of the pain. Then, apply cool water or saline—not cold water or ice—to the affected area, call us, and prepare to bring in your pet. Often the extent of a burn injury is not evident at first, but burns are always serious and can become complicated medical situations, so always get veterinary care if your pet is burned.

Pet cookout risk #4: Hot food injury

What often happens when cooking outside? Overcooked food is discarded, or paper plates buckle, and hot food lands on the ground. In a flash, your pet is there to swallow it, potentially causing mouth, esophagus, and stomach burns. Pets will also swallow the gravel, sticks, or leaves that food lands on—think toasted marshmallows tossed onto pine bark mulch. When pets try to pass these foreign objects, severe gastrointestinal irritation follows. If you think your pet may have eaten extremely hot food or swallowed foreign material, watch for signs of lethargy, vomiting, inappetance, and pain. Call us if you see any of these signs.

Pet cookout risk #3: Raw and undercooked food

Handling raw meat safely reduces the risk of food-borne disease, should your pet accidentally eat raw or undercooked meat. Raw meat carries germs, such as Salmonella and E. coli, that can cause problems in warm summer temperatures. Bag raw meat separately from other foods, and from pet food, to prevent cross-contamination. Make meat the last item you pick up at the store, keep the meat below 40 degrees at all times in an insulated cooler, and refrigerate immediately when you get home.

Use separate plates and utensils for raw meat versus cooked meat, and follow CDC and FDA temperature guidelines when cooking. Sign up for meat recall email alerts from the United States Department of Agriculture Food Safety Inspection Service (USDA FSIS). Handle meat properly when grilling rather than risk a pet food-borne illness.

Pet cookout risk #2: Bones

When you think of what your pet’s ancestors would have eaten in the wild, feeding them raw bones may seem to make sense. However, bones are not recommended for cats and dogs. Pets, especially senior pets, can easily fracture teeth while chewing on bones. Bones may also splinter and injure their gastrointestinal tract. Remember, chicken bones may splinter more readily than others, and raw bones pose a greater risk than cooked bones. If your pet swallows a bone, alert us, and monitor closely for problems, which may have a delayed onset. If your pet later exhibits decreased appetite, vomiting, or pain, you will need to bring them to our urgent care service.

Pet cookout risk #1: Pancreatitis  

If your pet has eaten unusual food and is vomiting, we will need to determine if they have gastroenteritis or pancreatitis, a more serious condition. Ingesting high fat foods, such as trimmings from grilled meats, increases your pet’s risk of pancreatitis, which is a veterinary emergency. Our emergency service team can run a quick cage-side test if they suspect pancreatitis, and immediately begin aggressive treatment, if necessary. Early diagnosis and treatment lowers the risk of life-threatening pancreatitis complications, and ensures the best possible outcome for your pet.

Animal Internal Medicine and Specialty Services wants you and your pet to avoid the pitfalls around the fire pit when you cook out this summer. Remember, you may see a time delay between your pet’s exposure to hot or dangerous foods and any signs of a problem, so stay vigilant. AIMSS is the only 24-hour pet urgent care facility in the Bay area, so call us anytime, day or night, when you have questions about your pet’s safety.