Grilling is a popular activity, especially when the weather warms up. According to a 2017 survey on Statista, 58% of U.S. grillers said they barbecue at least several times a month in the summer. Although peak barbecue season does occur during spring and summer, lots of people grill throughout the colder months too. In fact, a different 2017 survey by the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association (HPBA) found that 75% of owners grill in the winter. That being said, there's no denying that barbecues and warm weather go together like peanut butter and jelly. Barbecues and dogs, however, not so much. Here are 12 barbecue and grilling pet safety tips for dog owners to keep your pup happy and healthy at your next cookout.
The Risks of Grilling Around Pets
Though it may not seem like a risky activity, grilling can be hazardous to our dogs if we're not careful. Some of the possible risks include, but are not limited to:
- Ingesting harmful foods or substances
- Skin irritation
But using proper precautions and the following tips can help ensure your cookout is safe and successful for all attendees, human and canine alike.
1. Make Sure Your Dog's Secure & Has Updated ID
Whether you're barbecuing for a small group or a bunch of people, you'll likely be heading in and out quite a bit. And with that, comes the risk of your dog escaping (a risk that increases with more guests). This may not be an issue for fenced-in yards, as long as there are no holes or weak spots and all gates stay closed. But if not, make sure to tell guests to be careful when exiting and entering the house (especially those unfamiliar with owning a dog). It's always a good idea to have your dog wear their identification tags and to update any microchip or ID tag information in case the worst happens.
- Tell guests to be careful when going in and out of secured areas.
- For fenced-in areas, make sure all gates stay securely closed.
- Leash your dog for extra reassurance and ensure the leash is secured to something or someone.
- Update ID tags and microchip information and have your dog wear their tags.
- Check your fence for openings that your dog could escape through.
2. Keep Dogs Away From Lighter Fluid & Charcoal
Lighter fluid and charcoal are dangerous for dogs and toxic if ingested, so it's important to keep them away from your dog. Lighter fluid can cause chemical burns on the paws or skin, while inhalation of petroleum-based products (like lighter fluid) can cause chemical pneumonitis, which can be fatal if left untreated.
Charcoal, though not deadly, can cause upset stomach or intestinal obstruction (which may require surgery) if large enough pieces are ingested. Also, some charcoal contains fire accelerants, like lighter fluid, making them even more dangerous. Furthermore, hot charcoal can burn the mouth, gums, tongue and esophagus.
- Keep lighter fluid, charcoal and matches away from your dog.
- If you used charcoal, empty all ashes into a metal can with a secure lid that your dog can't access. Many dogs will be tempted by charcoal ashes because they have remnants of meat and grease.
3. Make Sure Grilling Accessories Are Out Of Reach
Grilling tools and accessories, used or unused, can also pose risks to our dogs and should be kept out of reach. Long forks, meat thermometers, grill brushes (especially wire ones), wood or metal skewers, aluminum foil, plastic wrap and other utensils can all cause injury. Many of these can cut paws or mouths and, if ingested, can cause intestinal blockage or punctures to the gastrointestinal tract (both of which may require surgery). In addition, barbecue seasonings that contain toxic ingredients (like garlic and onion) or unhealthy ones (like spice and sugar) can cause harm. So it's best to keep these away from your dog as well. Used items will be particularly tempting to your dog, but are often even more hazardous thanks to remnants of charcoal and other unsafe ingredients.
- Keep grilling tools, especially before being cleaned, out of reach.
- Keep barbecue seasonings and rubs out of reach.
- Throw away any disposal items (like wood skewers, aluminum foil and plastic wrap) as soon as possible and ensure the trash is securely closed.
- Arrange for your dog to stay in a specific place away from the grill while prepping and cooking (such as a crate, separate room or on a leash) for extra precaution.
- Wash tools as soon as possible.
4. Keep Dogs Away From The Hot Grill
This is an obvious one, but important nonetheless given that a hot grill is one of the biggest hazards for dogs when it comes to barbecuing. The National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) states that dogs (and children) should be kept at least three feet away from grills. Dogs can burn themselves on hot grills or even knock them over accidentally, which can cause a fire.
Pro Tip: Grills can stay hot for hours, so keep your dog away until it has cooled completely.
If your dog gets burned, call your vet (or an emergency vet) immediately. For first-degree burns (where the skin is burned but still intact), they will likely instruct you to rinse and clean the area with cool water, cover it with a light bandage to prevent your dog from licking and bring them in for examination and treatment. Cooling the burned area as quickly as possible helps reduce damage. Never put ointment, cream, butter or other substances on the affected area.
Pro Tip: A burned pet is in pain and probably scared, so they may not be acting like their normal self. Approach carefully to avoid being bitten or scratched.
- Keep your dog at least three feet away from the grill until it has cooled completely, which may take hours.
- Keep the lid down to prevent dogs from licking or putting their paws on the grill.
- To ensure your dog stays away, make the grill inaccessible to your dog or train them to know that the grilling area is off-limits.
- Don't leave the grill unattended.
- In case of a burn, cool the burn down with water and call your vet or an emergency vet.
5. Keep Your Dog Away From Grease
Grilling can produce quite a bit of grease, which our dogs often want to eat but shouldn't because it's hard for them to digest. Too much can lead to diarrhea, vomiting, obesity and, in severe cases, pancreatitis. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas, which can be life-threatening to dogs. Symptoms of pancreatitis include decreased or loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting and occasionally diarrhea. The NFPA states that fat and grease buildup should be trapped in trays below your grill and removed.
Pro Tip: Do your best to prevent grease from dripping onto gravel. Greasy gravel can be enticing to your dog and eating it can fracture teeth or cause intestinal obstruction and damage.
- Use trays below your grill to trap grease and fat buildup.
- Keep the lid down to prevent dogs from licking any grease left on the grill.
- Clean and remove any drippings as soon as possible.
6. Avoid Feeding Table Scraps, Especially Bones
Barbecued food is usually greasy, spiced, toxic or hazardous - all of which isn't good for our dogs. So it's important not to give them table scraps, no matter how irresistible those puppy dog eyes are. For example, onion and garlic are toxic to dogs, while corn on the cob and bones (which splinter) can lead to fractured teeth, choking and airway obstruction, or intestinal blockage and injury. Greasy, spicy and fatty foods can lead to gastrointestinal upset and pancreatitis. Furthermore, eating hot food can cause burns to the mouth or esophagus, as well as stomach irritation or ulcers. If you're having people over, make sure to remind guests not to give your dog any human food.
- Keep food and drink (alcohol is toxic to dogs too) out of reach.
- Keep an eye on food and tables to make sure your dog isn't grabbing anything.
- Make sure guests know not to feed your dog any human food.
- Secure your dog away from food during cooking and eating for extra precaution.
- Brush up on what foods dogs can and can't eat.
- Feed your dog before to reduce hunger-driven temptation (note: this will not work if your dog is always ready to eat, even after their meal).
- Have dog treats on hand as a safe alternative for you or guests to give.
- Clear dishes as soon as possible and throw away disposable plates in a trash can with a secure lid.
- Keep a covered container next to the grill to collect bones.
7. Secure Trash Cans
Dogs have powerful noses and their scent-tracking sills won't go to waste during a barbecue - especially when it comes to the trash, which is full of good smells from meat, grease and more. Our dogs' scent skills, combined with their ability to get into things and the hazardous items going in the trash, make it extra important to use a can with a secure lid. These items may include aluminum foil, plastic wrap, matches, skewers, disposable plates and utensils, leftover food, bones, grease and more.
- Use a trash can with a secure lid.
- Keep an eye on the trash or avoid leaving it unattended.
- Place the trash can somewhere inaccessible to your dog.
- Place discarded food and items in disposable containers with lids to prevent dogs from accessing them in the event they do get into the trash.
8. Keep Your Dog Cool
If you're grilling during spring or summer, it can get too hot outside for our dogs. Though dogs do have mechanisms to cool themselves down, these may not be enough. So it's important to make sure your dog stays cool. Always give them fresh water to drink and access to shade or indoor shelter. You can use cooling mats and apparel (like vests and bandanas), as well as sprinklers or a dog pool. Keep an eye on your dog and watch for signs of dehydration (lethargy, weakness, dry gums, sunken eyes) or heatstroke (heavy panting, restlessness, bright red gums), which can be fatal.
Pro Tip: Protect your dog from sunburn with pet-safe sunscreens, especially dogs with short or light-colored fur and hairless breeds. Pay extra attention to exposed body parts like the nose, ears, abdomen, groin and any areas where you can see skin. Don't use sunscreens made for humans, as these contain ingredients that are toxic to dogs.
- Provide fresh, cool water for drinking (and you can toss in some ice cubes to keep it cool).
- Make sure there's access to shade or your dog can go inside when too warm.
- Leave your dog inside on especially hot days.
- Let your dog join in the pool for some swimming, but always make sure they are supervised or in a dog lifejacket.
- For more tips, read our article on hot weather pet safety for keeping your dog safe in the heat.
9. Keep Repellants Out Of Reach & Protect Dogs Properly
While you may invite people over for a summer barbecue, some guests - like bugs - will show up uninvited. Pests can cause two different issues for our dogs. First is the use of repellants, which can be dangerous to our pups. Bug sprays and insect-repellants, citronella candles, fertilizers, pesticides, weed killers and rodent bait all contain toxic chemicals. Make sure to keep these out of your dog's reach.
Second, certain bugs can pose health risks to our dogs. For instance, mosquitos can transmit heartworm while ticks can cause Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Make sure your dog is taking regular heartworm prevention as well as flea and tick prevention medication. You can also try dog-safe insect repellants, which are made specifically for use on canines, to give some extra protection.
- Keep all repellants (insect and pest) out of reach.
- Make sure any fertilizer, pesticides or weed killers have dried and you've waited the recommended amount of time before letting your dog in the treated area.
- Give your dog regular heartworm, flea and tick medication.
- Use dog-safe insect repellants.
10. Watch For Anxiety & Give Your Dog Breaks
A lot goes into barbecuing and that can cause your dog to become anxious, especially if you're having guests over. Always keep tabs on your pup and watch for signs of anxiety. These include trembling, tucking their tail, hiding, diarrhea, destructive behaviors, escaping or attempts at escaping, excessive licking or nibbling their body, growling or snapping and more. If you see your dog exhibit any of these signs, try to bring them inside or to a quiet room where they can feel safe and relax. Even if you don't see signs or your dog doesn't get anxious, it's never a bad idea to be proactive and give your dog breaks from the action to prevent overstimulation.
Pro Tip: Exercise your dog before a gathering with a long walk, short run or jog, intense play session, etc. This will help tire your dog out, which means they'll have less energy to spend on becoming anxious or overstimulated.
- Monitor your dog and keep an eye out for signs of anxiety.
- Give your dog regular, intentional breaks to help them relax and reset.
- Put your dog's bed or crate in a quiet area away from the action.
- Provide puzzle toys, food-dispensing toys, chewing bones like bully sticks or other healthy distractions.
- Exercise your dog beforehand to reduce anxiety and overstimulation.
11. Make Sure Guests Know The Rules & Follow Them
If you're having people over, it's always a good idea to inform them of the rules when it comes to your dog. Some rules you may want to share include, but are not limited to: human food is for humans only; throw away anything disposable and clean up anything else once finished; don't let the dog outside without a leash; keep gates closed; be extra careful when going in and out of the house; keep lids on trash cans and make sure they're secure; all children should be supervised and not left unattended.
- Inform guests of the rules and make sure they understand and follow them.
- Print out or write up the rules in a cute or fun way for extra security.
- Provide dog treats as a safe alternative for guests who want to feed the dogs.
- Supervise children at all times, especially when around dogs.
12. Avoid Fireworks
Many dogs are afraid of fireworks, which is understandable - they're loud and seemingly inescapable. Often times, they trigger a dog's flight response, which increases the risk of them running away. Because of this, it's best to avoid fireworks, especially if your dog is anxious around them. But if you can't (or your dog isn't anxious and you really want to light them), bring your pup inside.
For anxious dogs when fireworks are unavoidable, try arranging a safe space like their crate, a bedroom, closet or bathroom. If your dog likes to be with the family, don't separate them as that will only increase stress. Close windows, draw curtains and explore the basement as ways to help muffle the fireworks. You can also play music or noise, which can help calm your dog and may help drown out some of the sound. You can also try to provide distractions, such as playing together or giving them something long-lasting to work on (like bully sticks to chew or puzzle toys).
- Avoid fireworks if possible, especially for dogs who are anxious with or afraid of them.
- Bring your dog inside during fireworks, if they're unavoidable.
- Create a safe space, try to muffle the sound and provide distractions during them.
- Keep unlit fireworks away from pets, as they contain dangerous chemicals and substances.
- Talk to your vet about your dog's anxiety, as they may be able to prescribe medications if it's bad enough.