(MNN.com) -- Ready for lawn parties, patio dining and treks to the dog park? Make sure your dog has the tools to enjoy this season with you. Consider this your warm-weather pet checklist:
Stock up on preventatives
Pests will be pervasive this spring and summer, thanks to unusually warm winter months. I just killed a mosquito the size of a Toyota Prius, and it's only May. Avoid the temptation to slack off on meds that help your pet fight fleas, ticks and especially heartworm, which is transmitted by mosquitoes. Newly released generic formulations make it easier — and cheaper — to take action. You can purchase chewable PetTrust Plus heartworm tablets at Sam's Club and Walmart pharmacies, and Pet Armor topical flea and tick medication at major retailers such as Target and Walgreens.
"A lot of pet owners don't want to get dog's nails trimmed or give medication because it's so much trouble," says dog trainer Harrison Forbes. "Now it's easy and it's really going to help. With heartworm in the South, my vet says there are two kinds of dogs: dogs on heartworm preventatives and dogs that have heartworm. There's no in between."
Dr. Arhonda Johnson, owner of The Ark Animal Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, also says to expect plenty of pests this spring and summer. For dogs, she recommends a chewable tablet called Trifexis that tackles fleas, heartworm and intestinal parasites. For cats, she suggests Revolution, a topical solution that fights fleas, ear mites, heartworm, hookworm and roundworm. Whatever formulation you select, set a date on your calendar — or smartphone — to administer meds every month without fail.
Keep pets cool
Make sure pooches can access plenty of fresh water. For outdoor dogs, Forbes typically recommends what he calls "poor man's air conditioning." Fill two, 2-liter soda bottles with water and freeze them overnight. In the morning, place a bottle in your doghouse for day use and replace with the backup bottle that evening. He also recommends placing your doghouse in the shade. Heatstroke can affect dogs quickly, particularly if they have dark, thick coats. Don't forget about chilled treats such as ice cubes or frozen veggies.
"A big mistake people make is they put a bucket of water out in the sun," Forbes says. "A lot of times dogs don't want to drink that and hydrate themselves."
Keep an eye out, especially at the dog park
Dog parks allow pets to burn off excess energy while socializing with four-legged friends. Check out Dogpark.com to find a location near you, and read park rules before grabbing the keys. Most parks require dogs to be up-to-date on vaccinations. Good dog park etiquette also means cleaning up after your dog. Even if you follow every rule to the letter, accidents can happen. In addition to extra bottles of water, it helps to keep a pet first-aid kit in the car, just in case.
"I'm not a huge fan of dog parks," says Forbes. "So many people that go to dog parks don't follow any kind of etiquette or don't have a grasp of their dog's social skills. One split second of a bad incident happening — a traumatic experience where another dog jumps on them and attacks them — and then you have emotional problems with your dog for a long time."
Since dogs benefit from interacting with other pooches, he suggests visiting dog parks during off hours or scheduling playtime in a neighbor's backyard. Dog daycares also offer monitored play under adult supervision.
Watch for stray pets during walks
My dog Lulu gets offended when other dogs intrude on our sidewalk, so relaxing strolls can quickly turn into a game of tug-of-war. During a recent walk, a Jack Russell terrier came charging at us, determined to cause a scene. Amused by the pint-sized pooch's tenacity, Lulu waited patiently for the dog to give up while I spent a stressful few seconds trying to avoid a dog bite. Thankfully, the dog's shocked owner quickly ushered her beloved terrorist back inside.
If you encounter a rogue pooch — or cat — during your walk, dog trainer Kristen Collins of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says it pays to remain calm and remove your pet from the situation. As summer approaches, it also helps to review safety rules with children, who are more prone to being bitten. "The child needs to say close to the parent," says Collins, who advises kids to be a tree. "Don't move quickly; that can trigger chasing."
If the dog continues to charge, she tells kids to become rocks by assuming the same position used during tornado drills. "Be as small as possible. Use arms and hands to cover your neck and face. This is the safest position for a child if a dog starts biting."
Watch for allergic reactions
Cats and dogs can suffer allergic reactions to pollen, so watch for signs such as excessive chewing, scratching and sneezing. Monitor the pollen count and keep pets inside when the forecast predicts pounds of the powdery stuff. While Benadryl can help relieve allergy symptoms, Johnson recommends calling the vet for proper dosage levels. Oatmeal shampoo also helps relieve itchy skin for cats and dogs. Let the grooming season begin!
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