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First Aid Basics for Dogs: Summer Edition


Sunshine, swimming, long nights around the campfire… What’s not to love about summer?

Summer brings ample opportunity to get outside, have fun, and bond with your dog. It also brings certain seasonal pests and pet first aid risks to watch out for.

Because pet health and wellness is at the core of everything we do at Waggle Mail, we’re excited to introduce our first aid basics for dogs (FAB) series. Each season, we’ll bring you the basics in pet first aid, helping you take the very best care of your very best friend no matter what Mother Nature throws at you.

In this post, for first aid basics for dogs, we’ll tackle bug bites, sunburn, heatstroke, and bonfire safety. Our goal is to give you the tips and tools you need to ensure you and your dog enjoy a FAB summer.

Dog enjoying a mountain lake in the summer - First Aid Basics for Dogs - Waggle Mail

First Aid Basics for Dogs: Bug Bites On Dogs 

EXPERT TIP: It’s a good idea to keep allergy tablets — diphenhydramine —on hand whenever you and your dog are on the move. There are a number of household antihistamines that can be safe for dogs, but remember to never administer medication without first consulting with a veterinary professional.

What to Know, What (Not) to Do: Like us, dogs will react differently to various types of bug bites and stings. For some, the repercussions are minor: a bit of swelling, redness at the bite site, and fleeting itchiness. For others, a wasp or a mosquito can trigger a severe allergic reaction that requires immediate medical attention.

Regardless of the type of bug bite on your dog, if you notice any of the following symptoms it’s time to get to the vet:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Facial swelling
  • Collapse

First up—the bug everyone wishes would buzz off: mosquitos.

Mosquito Bites on Dogs

Generally, if your dog’s been bitten by a mosquito there’s little cause for concern. You might find a mild welt or a red spot, but any swelling is quick to come down. Applying a cold compress will expedite the process.

Small dog with a mosquito on its nose - First Aid Basics for Dogs - Waggle Mail

However, some dogs (the sweet, sensitive types) have a more adverse reaction to mozzies, breaking out into hives or a nasty-looking rash. You’ll know best the level of discomfort your dog is experiencing; if they seem out of sorts and can’t resist biting or scratching the area, an e-collar, doggy t-shirt, and baby socks or booties should help protect the area.

Since heartworm disease can be transmitted by a bite from an infected mosquito, your best bet is to prevent them altogether. Here are tips to help you do just that:

  • Avoid walking your dog during peak feasting hours (dawn, dusk)
  • Keep your dog away from standing water (a magnet for mosquitoes)
  • Opt for light (not dark) clothing and bandanas (mosquitoes are drawn to darker colours)
  • Use a dog-safe mosquito repellent

EXPERT TIP: To apply repellent, spray onto your hands and then gently pat onto bite-prone areas like your dog’s ears and muzzle.

Don’t have a dog-safe repellent on hand? Don’t worry. Human mosquito spray works, too!. Before tying a bandana around your dog’s neck, give it a quick spray to keep the bugs at bay. Fashion meets function!

If you’ve tried it all and nothing seems to be working, speak with your vet. There are other safe topicals that do a great job at repelling mosquitos and other insects. While you’re there, ask about heartworm prevention, too.

Spider Bites on Dogs

Fortunately, we Canadians don’t have much to worry about when it comes to spiders. (Australians, not so much…) Most spider fangs are too short or too fragile to pierce human and dog skin, but a small risk is still a risk.

The tricky thing about spider bites on dogs is that the only way to know for sure whether your dog has been bitten is to actually observe the bite as it’s happening. Spider bites are near impossible to identify based on the mark left behind.

If you suspect a spider bite, clean the area with some water and apply a cool compress (a wet rag or some ice will do the trick). Monitor for signs of spreading redness, inflammation, or pain and infection.

Bee, Wasp, and Hornet Stings on Dogs

There is one major difference between a bee sting and a wasp or a hornet sting on your dog: bees die immediately after stinging, while wasps and hornets may come back for a second, third, or fourth round.

You’ve heard us say it before, and you’ll hear us say it again: the best thing you can do to protect against a bug bite is to prevent that bug bite in the first place. You can do this by:

  • Keep an eye (and an ear) out for the sound of their buzz. Dogs love to chase that sound, which means we see a lot of mouth stings in-clinic.
  • Avoid wearing bright colours and scented perfume when you and your dog are out on a stroll.

If those persistent little buggers decide to sting anyway, here’s what to do:

  • Try to find the stinger and carefully scrape it out with a stiff material or a blunt object like a credit card or butter knife.
  • Apply a cool compress to the area.
  • Try to keep your pup calm and contained. Bee, wasp, and hornet stings tend to be itchy; letting your dog try to run off the itchiness may increase the risk of inflammation.

Now that we’ve covered bugs, let’s move on to burns.

Happy dog looking up at owner while on a walk in the forest - First Aid Basics for Dogs - Waggle Mail

First Aid Basics for Dogs: Dogs and Sunburn 

What to Know, What (Not) to Do: You may be surprised to learn that, like us, some dogs are predisposed to sunburn. If your dog has a light-coloured coat, hairless scars, skin conditions, or has recently been for a big groom, they may be especially susceptible to the sun’s rays.

EXPERT TIP: When it comes to the first aid basics for dogs, if you’re in a bind and can’t find a dog-safe sunscreen, a fast-drying children’s waterproof sunscreen is a good alternative. Picking a sunscreen that dries on contact is important so your dog doesn’t lick it off.

Across all breeds of dogs, the three main areas to watch out for sunburn are

  • Underbelly
  • Ears
  • Nose

Make sure your dog is sun safe by using a sunscreen for dogs. (Yes, they exist!) When choosing a sunscreen, avoid salicylates and zinc oxides as these are toxic to ingest. The same rules apply for dogs as for humans: slap on sunscreen before venturing outdoors, and reapply every two hours or after a swim.

First Aid Basics for Dogs: Dogs and Heat Stroke

What to Know, What (Not) to Do: When the weather gets hot and humid, it’s important to keep your dog hydrated. A dramatic spike in dogs’ core body temperature can spur on heatstroke (an unpleasant experience, to say the least).

Dogs often suffer heatstroke—also known as hyperthermia—in the summer months when they’re in a car with insufficient ventilation (even if it’s a relatively cool day), but that’s not the only risk factor. Heatstroke may also result from:

  • Leaving your dog outdoors with inadequate shade
  • Kennelling or crating your dog in direct sunlight while you’re out
  • Over-exertion in hot or humid weather
  • Enclosed in a vehicle, even for a short period of time

Brachycephalic breeds (smooshed-face breeds like pugs) and dogs that are overweight or have a thick coat are more predisposed than most, so regardless of the circumstance you’ll want to be especially vigilant with them.

Here are some signs and symptoms your dog is experiencing heatstroke:

  • Abnormally rapid breathing/panting
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Excessive drooling
  • Gum colour something other than pink (pale, purple, or blue)
  • Disoriented or in a stupor
  • Physical collapse

If all signs point to hyperthermia, remove your dog from the hot environment immediately and get them to shade (and to a nearby vet clinic). Try to bring down their body temperature in the interim by fanning them and placing cool, wet towels on the back of their neck, armpits, and groin. Wetting their ear flaps and paws and fanning both areas to dry will help, too.

First Aid Basics for Dogs: Dogs and Bonfires

What to Know, What (Not) to Do: Bonfires are a great way to end a long summer’s day, but they can prove problematic for dogs if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

Here are our top tips and first aid basics for dogs and fire safety:

  • There’s nothing cuter than a dog waggling its bum or tail, but keeping them a safe distance from fires, citronella candles, and wicker lanterns will prevent their fur (or, worse yet, their skin) from getting singed.
  • If you’re roasting S’Mores (our personal favourite), keep your ingredients—especially the chocolate—out of your dog’s reach. Take care, too, when roasting marshmallows; your dog might try to take a sneaky bite and burn their mouth on the mallow or on a hot poker stick.
  • Sometimes hot coals will pop out of the fire and onto your dog’s fur, so maintaining a safe distance is best. Even when you think a fire has been completely extinguished, coals may still be deceivingly hot and burn your dog’s footpads if they accidentally run through it.
  • Bonfire smoke can cause ocular (eye) irritation. If your dog seems a little glassy-eyed, use sterile saline or water to give their eyes a quick flush.

If this blog was helpful to you, check out our blog on The Basics of First Aid for Dogs: Fall Edition.


If you found these first aid basics for dogs helpful, subscribe to Waggle (e)Mail. We love sharing fun, easy, and effective ways to promote a healthy body, healthy mind, and healthy pet-parent bond with our pack members.

Signature of Dr. Christine Beck, DVM, BSc, Veterinarian; Founder and Operator of Waggle Mail

Dr. C. Beck
Registered Veterinarian, Founder & CEO

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