BBQ safety tips for pet owners

Can dogs eat burgers? Can cats get sunburn? And how can you avoid any burned paws? Read our essential advice on keeping pets safe and well during BBQ season.

Eating outdoors with family and friends is one of summer’s great pleasures. But if you’re planning a BBQ this season, be aware that it could present some hazards to your pets. Discover how to keep four-legged family members out of harm’s way with our BBQ safety tips specifically for dog and cat owners.

Unfortunately, the high fat content of BBQ staples such as burgers, sausages and chicken legs means they’re not always suitable for pets. Eating lots of fatty meat can cause stomach upsets and inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis), while bones in cooked meats are especially hazardous, as they could puncture your pet’s mouth or throat, or cause life-threatening blockages and perforations in the stomach and intestines. (The kebab skewers often used at BBQs present similar risks.)

Can dogs eat corn on the cob?

Perhaps surprisingly, corn on the cob – another BBQ favourite – is particularly dangerous for dogs to eat. They are unable to digest the cob, which means that even if they manage to swallow it without choking, it will pass into their digestive tract without breaking down. As with bones, this can lead to blockages and perforations, both of which are incredibly serious.

Pets should not eat:

  • Fatty or salted foods, especially in large quantities.
  • Corn on the cob (especially for dogs – see above).
  • Onions – they’re toxic to dogs and cats.
  • BBQ sauce and other sauces or marinades – these often contain onion, as well as high levels of salt and sugar, while spicy sauces can upset their stomachs.
  • Undercooked meat – just like us, they can get ill from parasites.
  • Hot food straight off the BBQ, which can burn their mouths.

If you’re ever concerned your pet has eaten something they shouldn’t, or if they’re experiencing acute gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhoea, always seek vet advice.

If your dog or cat is determined to join in with your BBQ feast, it’s a good idea to provide them with their own pet-friendly snacks, or set aside a little cooked, unseasoned and boneless lean meat for them, remembering to count this towards their daily food allowance. Feed them well away from the BBQ area, and if your dog is an accomplished beggar or thief of food, ask your family and friends not to leave food lying around or sneak them any unhealthy treats.

Pets should always be kept well away from the BBQ, as the hot flames, fuel, grills and food can all cause serious burns to curious cats and dogs, and the smoke can irritate their lungs. Never leave pets unattended around BBQ equipment, open fires or food. If at all possible, it’s best to cordon off the immediate BBQ area from pets. If not, consider keeping pets inside if they can’t be well supervised throughout. Providing toys or food puzzles in a safe area can help keep them distracted and entertained.

In all the fun of an afternoon in the sun, it can be easy to forget to keep things clean and tidy – but if you have a pet, it’s vital. Be sure to dispose of tinfoil, clingfilm, skewers and other BBQ essentials properly, and make sure leftover food is placed inside a pet-proof bin. Dogs and cats love to hunt out scraps and lick up delicious-smelling grease – but accidentally swallowing foil, plastic or skewer splinters could do them serious damage. Plus, any food left hanging around could attract unwanted cats and vermin into the garden.

Metal skewers can be hazardous if trodden on or chewed, as they can pierce delicate areas such as the paws or the roof of the mouth. Ensure any broken glass is cleaned up thoroughly, too, as this could injure pets’ paws. Grease that drips onto pebbles and stones could lead to a pet mistaking them for edible morsels, so use a drip tray to keep grease off the ground.

While your BBQ remains hot after use, keep the lid closed, so your pet doesn’t climb up to eat any scraps. If you have a traditional – rather than gas – BBQ, dispose of hot coals in buckets of water, instead of spreading them on the ground, to ensure pets don’t walk on them and burn their paws.

If your pet does accidentally sustain a burn, submerge the affected area in cool (not iced) water for at least 10–20 minutes, and seek vet attention. Don’t allow your pet’s whole body to become chilled – it may be helpful to wrap them in a blanket, but don’t allow this to touch the burn. Don’t apply ointments or creams as these will be licked off. If possible, gently cover the area with clingfilm or sterile dressing, to keep out germs until your vet can provide further treatment.

During BBQ season, be mindful of general summer safety hazards for cats and dogs, particularly if you have an older cat or dog. Keep an eye on how much sun exposure your pet is getting – it’s important to make sure they always have access to somewhere cool indoors, or in the shade. Temperatures that are dangerous to dogs may feel perfectly comfortable to us, so always ensure they’re not overheating. Keep your pets’ water bowls topped up with fresh water so they always have something to drink.

During all the comings and goings of an outdoor gathering, it’s easy for cats to slip into a greenhouse, shed or conservatory, get shut in and overheat – so keep these spaces securely closed.

Too much sun isn’t just a problem for humans – our cats and dogs can get sunburnt, too. Ask your vet about the right dog or cat sun cream for your pet – especially important for animals with paler fur, and in the warmer months when dogs’ coats tend to be groomed shorter. While sun cream will help prevent sunburn, it won’t help with overheating, so you’ll still need to ensure your pet is spending plenty of time in the shade.

Taking a few BBQ safety precautions around cats and dogs means both you and your pets can enjoy spending time in the garden. Happy barbecuing!

Remember, alcohol is highly toxic to cats and dogs, and even a small amount can be dangerous. Ensure your pet can’t access any alcohol being served, and that any spillages are mopped up quickly.

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