Having a barbecue? Make sure it’s a sizzling success without any pet mishaps

Planning a few post-lockdown get-togethers in the garden with friends and family around the barbecue this summer? While it’s great fun for humans, it can be a risky affair if you have pets. Veterinary charity PDSA warns: “All those tempting treats and glowing grills can be a danger for our much-loved pets. Heatstroke and burns. Bin raids and broken glass.
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6th August 2021

Planning a few post-lockdown get-togethers in the garden with friends and family around the barbecue this summer? While it’s great fun for humans, it can be a risky affair if you have pets.

Veterinary charity PDSA warns: “All those tempting treats and glowing grills can be a danger for our much-loved pets. Heatstroke and burns. Bin raids and broken glass. There are a lot of potential dangers for pet owners to bear in mind.”

Corn-on-the-cob and other calamities

Last summer, a quarter of UK vets treated pets for barbecue-related injuries, according to figures from the British Veterinary Association (BVA), with half of vets (56%) stating they had treated injuries as a result of pets eating corn-on-the-cob. One vet responding to the survey warned: “Owners still think corn on the cob is ‘natural’ so it can’t cause issues, but I have seen worse gut reactions to corn on the cobs than to pointy toys, cocktail picks or remote controls.” This was followed closely by damage to the mouth and internal injuries from kebab skewers and cooked bones (53%).

Grim grill injuries and greasy food alert

Vets also reported treating dogs for burns as a result of eating hot food off the grill (7%) or touching the barbecue/hot coals (5%). Several vets reported seeing cases of gastrointestinal upset or pancreatitis (an inflammation of the pancreas, an organ that sits next to the stomach, causing vomiting, nausea, and pain) from pets being fed too much greasy food.

BVA’s junior vice president Daniella Dos Santos said: “Dogs are well known scavengers and will eat anything they think is a tasty morsel. Corn itself is not poisonous to dogs, but a cob can cause an obstruction which can have devastating effects on the digestive system, such as intestinal rupture. Symptoms of gastrointestinal blockage include vomiting, lethargy, and pain. If an owner has any concerns that their dog has eaten something it should not have done, we’d advise contacting a local vet immediately.”

PDSA vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan adds: “Sadly, every year vets see pets with injuries directly associated with barbecues. Pets are brought in having swallowed objects such as corn on the cob cores, suffering from burns if they’ve gotten too close to the barbecue, or because of heat stroke from being out in the warmer weather. Leftover food and rubbish can cause problems. Keep objects like kebab skewers and bones away from curious paws, as swallowing them can be very dangerous. Feeding barbecue scraps can cause problems too, as greasy, fatty or unfamiliar food can lead to tummy upsets in our pets, even if the food is well-cooked.”

To ensure your barbeque party is fun for everyone – including the four-legged family members – follow these top tips.

  1. Lockdown your BBQ area

Cunning food thieves will not be able to resist the enticing whiffs from barbecuing burgers – and a stealthy sausage stealer could snatch a hot meaty treat off a burning grill in the blink of an eye, causing them serious harm. Screen off your cooking area with bamboo screens or a windbreak and keep pets well away until all the hot coals and ashes have completely cooled down.

  1. Screen off the smoke

Smoke rising up from a barbecue can be irritating and harmful for pets as many of them have sensitive airways. Keep animals at a safe distance from the grill and ensure they’re not downwind of any smoke. If you have small pets, such as bunnies and guinea pigs, it’s essential they’re not exposed to any smoke fumes, so you may need to move their enclosure to a different part of the garden.

  1. Introduce a zero-tolerance policy on treats and titbits

Hard as it may be, it’s essential to resist those pleading puppy-dog eyes. Feeding barbecued food to your pets could make them seriously ill. Foods that are high in fat and grease drippings can cause inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) which can sometimes be fatal. Sausages swallowed whole can cause stomach ulcers and dehydration. Raw meat can cause food poisoning and cooked bones (particularly chicken) tend to splinter – which could result in sharp pieces puncturing the oesophagus or intestines. Make sure your guests also understand the no titbits rule.

Barbecue side dishes can also be perilous for pets – onions, avocado, grapes, chocolate, chives, and garlic – are all toxic to animals and, if swallowed whole, corncobs are too large to be digested and will require surgery to prevent a blockage. Think safety first and keep all food stuffs in tight-fitting containers so that curious noses can’t seek them out. Alcohol should also be kept well out of reach of thirsty pets looking for a drink.

To ensure your pets don’t feel left out of the fun, give them a healthy chew to munch on or a fun toy such as a treat ball to play with, or feed them their normal dinner in a quiet room indoors to keep them happily occupied and out of harm’s way.

  1. Tidy up as you go along

Make sure there’s no cooking paraphernalia left lying around. Pets, particularly dogs, are superbly skilled at sniffing out leftovers – and what they’ve been wrapped in. Aluminium foil, plastic wrap and grease-covered kebab skewers should be tidied away in a lidded bin as these can be very dangerous, causing intestinal blockage if ingested. BVA’s Daniella Dos Santos also advises: “If you’re having a barbecue in a public space like a park, please clean up any leftover food and skewers to make sure other dogs don’t accidentally swallow them.”

  1. Keep close tabs on your pets

Having strangers around can be stressful for some pets, so set up a quiet, cool room in your house where they can retreat to. Some dogs love all the extra attention and may get over-excited and too hot – so make sure they have some chill-out time.

Garden residents, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, may be scared by a noisy crowd of people, so move their enclosure to a quieter spot and make sure they have plenty of places to hide away and some extra hay to munch on or a few scrummy Nature Snacks to keep them busy and happy. And, while you’re topping up your guests’ glasses with their favourite tipple, don’t forget to check your pets have plenty of fresh, clean water.

With visitors coming and going, your pets may be at risk of slipping unnoticed through an open door, so always ensure you know where they are. Make sure your garden is secure and pet safe. Keeping a watchful eye on them will also ensure they don’t get shut in a conservatory or greenhouse accidently – these can heat up very quickly and cause heatstroke, a life-threatening condition which requires immediate veterinary attention.

  1. Don’t forget the sun protection

Sun-loving pets need sunscreen just like we do – use a pet-friendly one, your vet can advise you – paying particular attention to those who have thin or white fur, or pink skin exposed at the tips of the ears, tummy or end of the nose. Make sure there are plenty of shady areas for them to relax in and that they can head indoors whenever they need to.

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