Most pet owners love their animals so much they want to take them everywhere and summer is a great time to frolic together in the backyard or to hit the road for a fun vacation.

However, even the healthiest pets can suffer from sunburn, dehydration or heat stroke if you aren’t careful, say the experts at The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).

Here are several ways you can help keep your pet safe and healthy during the dog (and cat) days of summer:

Visit the Vet :: A visit to the veterinarian for an early season check-up is a must. Make sure your pet is up-to-date on all necessary vaccinations. Pets should also be given a blood test for heartworm — a deadly parasite that is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. It’s also recommended that dogs and cats be on a monthly preventive medication year-round.

Keep Cool :: Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so give your pets plenty of water when it is hot outdoors. Also, make sure your pet has a shady place to escape the sun and when the temperature is very high, don’t let your dog linger on hot asphalt. Being so close to the ground, your dog’s body can heat up quickly and sensitive paw pads can burn. And, never, ever leave your animal alone in a parked vehicle, even with the windows open, since potentially fatal heatstroke can develop.

Know the Symptoms :: According to the ASPCA, the symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, seizures and an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees. And, animals with flat faces, like pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively. These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.

Just Say No :: Summertime is the perfect time for a backyard barbeque or party, but remember that the food and drink you serve your guests may be poisonous to pets. Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets and avoid human snacks — especially raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol.

Pest-Free Pets :: Commonly-used flea and tick products, rodenticides (mouse and rat baits), insecticides and herbicide lawn products can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested, so keep them out of reach. While there are flea products that can be used safely on dogs, these same products can be deadly to cats, because of the presence of the chemical permethrin. Be sure to read directions on these products carefully. When walking your dog, steer clear of areas that you suspect have been sprayed with insecticides or herbicide lawn products. Keep citronella candles, oil products and insect coils out of pets’ reach as well.

Water Safety :: Do not leave pets unsupervised around a pool, as not all dogs are good swimmers. Introduce your pets to water gradually and make sure pets wear flotation devices while on boats. Rinse your dog off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from his fur and try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause stomach upset.

No Fireworks for Fido :: Leave pets at home when you head out for fireworks celebrations and never use fireworks around pets at home.

And, some final tips: Be sure to keep all unscreened windows or doors in your home closed and make sure adjustable screens are tightly secured. This helps prevent pets from falling out of them.

If your dog or cat accidentally ingests a potentially toxic substance this summer, contact your local veterinarian or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435 for immediate assistance. For more information on having a fun, safe summer with your pet, visit : :

Photo Credit: A Blight, via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons.