Summer is officially here! We are all quite busy this time of year with picnics, parties, traveling and various outdoor activities. The majority of us like to include our pets in these activities. Below, I have listed a number of ways to keep your pets safe this summer.
1. Beat the heat
With the scorching temperatures we have already had this year, it is important to take the necessary precautions to prevent heat stroke in our pets. Heat stroke is a result of an elevated body temperature – above 103 degrees. When your pets’ body temperature reaches 109 degrees, organ failure and death occur.
The number one cause of heat stroke occurs when your pet is left in a vehicle on a hot day. Within minutes, the temperature in your car can go up to 115 degrees even with the windows cracked open. Never ever leave your dog in a vehicle during the summer months!
Other causes include leaving your pet outside in the hot sun, leaving your pet in a poorly ventilated closed space such as a dog house, and exercising your pet on a hot day. If you must exercise your pets, do so early in the morning before the temperatures rise. Also, be sure to provide plenty of fresh, cool water at all times for your pet to prevent dehydration which can occur quickly in the higher temperatures.
Dogs with a restricted airway such as the brachycephalic breeds (flat faced dogs such as pugs, boxers and bulldogs) are at greater risk. In these breeds, clinical signs of heat stroke can occur when the outside temperature and humidity are only moderately elevated. Clinical signs include heavy panting, restlessness, feeling hot to the touch, lethargy, weakness and collapse. If your pet has these clinical signs, get them to your veterinarian immediately.
Always be sure to provide plenty of shade for your pets and preferably leave them inside in front of a fan or in air conditioning during the hotter parts of the day. Also, be sure not to walk them on hot sand or asphalt during the heat of the day as serious burns can occur on their sensitive foot pads.
2. Practice water safety
Swimming is one of the best exercises for your pet, especially if they have arthritis or have had any orthopedic surgery. It is also a great way to keep cool in the summer heat. If your pet has never swam before, you may want to take them in shallow water and help them in the beginning until they are comfortable swimming on their own. Never just throw your pet into the water as this may cause severe anxiety and fear in some pets.
Be aware that some smaller dogs and certain breeds of dogs such as the bulldog cannot swim and need a life jacket if you are going to take them in the water. Never leave a pet unsupervised around a swimming pool as they may jump or fall into the pool and are at greater risk of drowning because they cannot get out on their own! Do not let your pet ingest a large amount of chlorinated water as this can cause severe stomach upset and vomiting.
3. Keep your pet well groomed and protected from the sun
Keeping your pet’s coat shorter in the summertime will help them stay cooler and will also prevent matting and accumulation of burs and other foreign objects in your pets coats. We have seen many cases of fecal matting around the back end in the summer and accumulation of flies and maggots because of this. Maggots can quickly accumulate and cause severe illness and death from bacterial toxins.
Do not shave your pet right down to the skin, because they do need some protection from the sun. If you have a fair-skinned, white-haired dog with short hair, be sure to use some sunscreen on the ear tips and other hairless areas that are labeled for safe use in pets. If your pet is difficult to groom, we offer a medical grooming at our clinic with a safe sedative to keep your pet cool and comfortable during the summer months. Call us for more information!
4. Keep your pets on a leash and indoors
Leaving your dog off the leash and your cats outdoors can expose them to a variety of dangers during the summer months. Both dogs and cats can encounter other pets and, even worse, a wild animal and get into a fight, causing serious injuries and infected wounds. Cats very commonly get infected wounds called abscesses from a cat bite. Their temperature can quickly rise and the infection can spread through the body and cause death. They may also be exposed to the deadly viruses feline aids or feline leukemia from fighting with other cats.
Your dogs may be exposed to the deadly virus rabies by getting in a scuffle with a wild animal. They may also get very painful porcupine quills or skin parasites such as scabies or fleas from other wildlife.
Roaming dogs and cats are also at a very high risk of being hit by a car. The majority of pets do not survive an encounter with a vehicle and, if they do, they usually need very specialized and expensive surgery to repair broken bones, organ damage and serious wounds.
5. Protect from parasites
Continue to protect your pet from external and internal parasites through the warmer months. Fleas love the heat and humidity and can multiply very quickly causing serious skin infections and blood loss in your pet. Be sure to keep your pet and every pet in your household on a veterinarian-approved flea product on a monthly basis. Heartworm disease is a deadly disease carried by mosquitoes. Even if your pet is indoors, they still can be bitten by a mosquito carrying the deadly heartworm. Heartworms accumulate in the heart and lungs and can cause severe, irreversible heart disease. Be sure to test your pet for heartworm on a yearly basis and keep your pets on a monthly heartworm preventative.
Camping and hiking with your pets can expose them to ticks which can carry Lyme disease. Lyme disease can cause a lifetime of problems including arthritis from joint damage and kidney failure. Protect your pet by keeping them on a monthly tick preventative and have your pet tested for Lyme disease on a yearly basis. Also, if your pet is outdoors the majority of the time, be sure to keep your pet vaccinated against Lyme disease yearly.
5. Travel safely with your pet
If taking your pet on vacation with you, be sure that they are up to date on all their vaccines and bring all of your records with you. Also, keep them on flea and heartworm preventatives to protect them from picking up these parasites which are very prevalent in the Southern and Midwestern states. Do not leave your pet in your vehicle when taking a pit stop and be sure to provide plenty of water for the trip. Plan ahead and find pet-friendly hotels or bed and breakfasts along the way, and always keep your pet on a leash! If not microchipped, we recommend microchipping your pet before any trip in case they are lost or stolen – they can be permanently linked to your name and address.
6. No party animals!
With all the picnics and parties, keep your pet away from the leftover food, garbage, and leftover bones that might be lying around during these picnics. Bones can cause severe bowel irritation and obstruction leading to systemic infection and possible surgery. Eating leftover food and garbage can cause pancreatitis, a life-threatening inflammation in the organ that is responsible for the production of digestive enzymes. Do not expose your pet to alcoholic beverages because our pets have a much lower tolerance to the effects of these beverages. They can cause severe central nervous depression, respiratory depression, cardiac arrest, and death.
These are just a few tips to keep your pet protected this summer. Please have a safe and happy summer and continue to include your pets in all of your summer fun activities, but take the necessary precautions to prevent an emergency and visit to the veterinarian. Call the Dunkirk Animal Clinic at 366-7440 with any questions and concerns about summer safety.
July 8, 2012 edition of the OBSERVER