Cookouts are a summer staple—they allow us to reconnect with friends and family and enjoy delicious food in signature Texas barbecue style. But, at any raucous gathering, your pet has the opportunity for dangerous mischief. The Neighborhood Veterinary Centers team in Calder, Texas, knows cookouts with pets are a non-negotiable part of our culture, so we’re sharing tips to keep your pet safe during your next outdoor party.

#1: Watch pets around the exits

People coming and going from your home or yard can literally leave the door open for pets to escape and get lost. More pets go missing in July than any other time of year, at least partially because of the increased number of outdoor parties. Ensure your guests close doors and gates behind them and, as an extra line of defense, put up extra pet gates or barriers near exits if you live with an especially skilled escape artist. Also, consider microchipping your pet—the chip serves as permanent identification, increasing the chances for a safe reunion with a lost pet.

#2: Protect pets from heatstroke

You probably plan to have your cookout in the backyard, where unrelenting sunshine and heat can quickly become dangerous. Heatstroke affects pets more frequently than people because panting pets cannot cool down as efficiently. Pets need extra protection, such as shade tents if you don’t have trees or other shady areas, and ensuring access to fresh cold water. Don’t let pets spend too much time outside in high temperatures—take them inside frequently for breaks in the air conditioning.

#3: Provide a quiet place for pets to retreat and rest

Many pets, including friendly and sociable dogs, can become overwhelmed when unfamiliar people descend on their familiar homes. Pets stimulated by guest interactions outside their threshold may withdraw, lash out at people or other pets, or attempt to run away. Provide your pet with a quiet, safe space where you encourage them to retreat if you see that they are anxious or behaving abnormally. 

#4: Keep party foods out of your pet’s reach

Food is the best—and main—part of a cookout, but many delicious party foods are bad news for pets. Any foods that are new or different from your pet’s typical diet can lead to stomach upset—most commonly diarrhea or vomiting. Other concerns include:

  • Pancreatitis — This inflammatory condition can develop in susceptible pets after they eat a fatty meal or treat. Meat, meat drippings, and scraps from the grill or smoker are irresistible to pets, but can make them sick.
  • Toxic foods — Your cookout recipes may include onions, garlic, chocolate, grapes, and raisins, but these items should not be part of your pet’s diet, because they are toxic to pets and can lead to serious illness or death.
  • Foreign body obstruction — Corn cobs and meat bones are notorious for getting stuck in pets’ gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. This is an  emergency situation that requires corrective surgery and is far easier to prevent than treat.

Provide large garbage cans in multiple locations so guests don’t leave their scraps lying around, and ensure your pet cannot knock over the cans. Also, ensure that each guest understands they must not share food with your pet, or keep your pet in the house while you are serving food.

#5: Use pet-safe insect repellent and sunscreen

When the sun begins to set and offers sweet relief from the daytime heat, the mosquitoes come out to crash the party. Insect repellents keep mosquitoes and other insects from biting or bothering your guests, but bugs can also bite your pet. Mosquito bites can transmit heartworms to your pet, leading to deadly heartworm disease. 

Never use human insect repellents on pets, because they contain harmful chemicals and unsafe essential oils. The same goes for sunscreen—never use a human product on your pet. Purchase products designed specifically for use on pets to ensure safety and efficacy, and reapply frequently according to the label instructions.

You, your pets, and all your guests can enjoy your next cookout when you set boundaries and guidelines that will help protect your pet from danger. Contact your nearest Neighborhood Veterinary Centers location, or speak with our Calder, Texas team to schedule a new patient or wellness visit for your pet, or for more summer cookout pet safety tips.