Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Health Care and Summer Pet Safety

Summertime is a great time of the year for vacations, and a wonderful opportunity to take time to relax and enjoy the summer months. Getting ready for summer activities can put stress on your family, and it can especially be stressful if you have pets. Doing the right thing in preparation for trips or time away from home during these very warm days prevents problems before they have a chance to happen, or at least minimizes issues that may develop--especially when pets are involved.

According to Today at MSNBC, Summer is a time for the whole family, including your pets, to enjoy the great outdoors. However, just as there are safety precautions to ensure warm-weather safety for humans, there are precautions to make sure pets stay safe and happy. Many of the safety concerns you have for yourself during the hottest months of the year also apply to your pets. Hot weather makes everyone a little uncomfortable. But when it's hot for you, it is probably even hotter for your pet — especially if it has a dark coat, a short muzzle (brachycephalic breeds such as bulldogs and pugs), is in its elder years, or has a tendency to overexert itself. Dogs aren't as efficient at cooling down as you are, since they release most of their body heat through panting and the pads of their feet. Decrease the risks of letting your pet enjoy the outdoors in summer with these tips:

•Adjust their exercise routine by taking them out for playtime in the early morning and evening hours. This is especially important if your dog is your jogging partner. While you can alter the type of clothing you wear, your dog can't. Many dogs will keep running to stay with you, even if they are suffering due to the heat.

•Be cautious when walking your dog on pavement (which can get very hot and may burn your pet's paws) and at the beach. Running on sand is strenuous and can cause injury to a pet that is out of shape. Start with slower, shorter walks and gradually increase according to your pet's ability and health.

•Provide your pet with plenty of water.

•Try a simple keep-cool tactic such as soaking a bandanna in water and putting it in the freezer before you put it on your dog to wear on a walk.

•Make sure your pet has plenty of access to a shady area to rest when outdoors. During supervised playtime in the yard your pet might enjoy access to a child's wading pool to cool off in.

Perhaps most important, be sure never to leave your pet unsupervised in a car. Not only are they are susceptible to being stolen, but even on a mild day a car can heat up quickly and your pet could suffer heatstroke.

Most people are aware that leaving a pet in a locked car on a 100F degree day would be dangerous, according to However, it is the seemingly mild days of spring (and fall) that pose great danger, too. Driving around, parking, and leaving your pet in the car for "just a minute" can be deadly. Cars heat up fast -- even with the windows cracked. Signs of heat stroke include (but are not limited to): body temperatures of 104-110F degrees, excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue and gums, staggering, stupor, seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, coma, death. Brachycephalic breeds (the short-nosed breeds, such as Bulldogs and Pugs), large heavy-coated breeds, and those dogs with heart or respiratory problems are more at risk for heat stroke.

If you suspect heat stroke in your pet, seek Veterinary attention immediately! Use cool water, not ice water, to cool your pet. (Very cold water will cause constriction of the blood vessels and impede cooling.) Do not aid cooling below 103 F degrees - some animals can actually get HYPOthermic, too cold. Offer ice cubes for the animal to lick on until you can reach your Veterinarian. Just because your animal is cooled and "appears" OK, do NOT assume everything is fine. Internal organs such as liver, kidneys, brain, etc., are definitely affected by the body temperature elevation, and blood tests and veterinary examination are needed to assess this. There is also a complex blood problem, called DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation) that can be a secondary complication to heat stroke that can be fatal.

Jogging is also dangerous this time of year, according to VetMedicine. So your dog jogs everyday with you and is in excellent shape - why alter the routine? As the weather warms, humans alter the type and amount of clothing worn, and we sweat more. Dogs are still jogging in their winter coat (or a slightly lighter version) and can only cool themselves by panting and a small amount of sweating through the foot pads. Not enough! Many dogs, especially the 'athletes' will keep running, no matter what, to stay up with their owner. Change the routine to early morning or late evening to prevent heat stroke.

Consider your pet's housing. If they are kept outdoors, do they have shade and fresh water access at all times? I have treated one case of heat stroke in a dog that did indeed have shade and water while tethered under a deck, but had gotten the chain stuck around a stake in the middle of the yard -- no water or shade for hours. If you live in a warm climate, it is a good idea to hose down the dog before work, at lunch or whenever you can to provide extra cooling (if you dog is not over heated in the first place).

Most people are aware that they need to use sunscreen everyday in order to avoid sun damage, according to Today at MSNBC. The same may hold true for your pet, especially if it has short hair, white fur or pink skin. Limit your dog's sun exposure during the day and talk to your vet about choosing a sunscreen for your pet, which is especially important on the ears and nose. Also, shaving a pet during summer may seem like a good idea, but this can actually make it more susceptible to sunburn. If you and your vet decide shaving your pet is best, try to do it at the beginning of the summer so the hair has time to grown in a bit by the time the hottest days are here.  Additionally, more tips are shown below:

Be sure not to leave your pet unsupervised around water. Even a good swimmer can drown due to exhaustion if it can't figure out how to get out of a pool. Teach your pet where the pool steps are and consider placing a cone or a stick with a little flag on it by the pool steps so it has a highly visible marker of the exit. You can also teach dogs to climb out using a pet ramp such as the Skamper Ramp ( As an extra precaution, they can wear a doggie life vest. Not all dogs are excellent swimmers by nature, according to Today. Especially if Fido has underlying health problems, such as heart disease or obesity to contend with. Consider protecting your pet just as your human family -- with a life preserver. If your pet is knocked off of the boat (perhaps getting injured in the process), or is tired/cold from choppy water or sudden storm, a life jacket could be what saves your pet's life.

Dogs often ingest water when their swimming, according to If they drink seawater, they will often develop vomiting or diarrhea. Most cases will resolve quickly but if your pet continues to experience GI upset for more than 24 hours, seek medical attention. Another potential threat is drinking contaminated water. There are many water-borne parasites and infections that you and your dog can contract from ponds and lakes. Always verify that the water you intend to swim in is safe. Don’t allow your dog to go into any body of water you aren’t certain is safe. In addition to microscopic predators, our area’s ponds are also home to alligators, cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) and venomous insects. After you enjoy a day cooling off in your favorite watering hole, rinse your dog’s coat with plenty of clean, fresh water and a hypoallergenic pet shampoo. Clean and dry the ears with an ear cleaning solution that contains an astringent or drying agent. Many cases of ear infections are caused by allowing moisture to remain in the ears after swimming or bathing.

Be careful to restrict your pet's access to lawns or gardens that have been recently sprayed with fertilizers or insecticides, as these can be poisonous to animals, too. Also, car antifreeze is a year-round hazard. During the warmer months your car may leak antifreeze whose sweet taste may be inviting, but is also highly toxic to pets. Consider using propylene glycol, which is a safer alternative to ethylene glycol antifreeze. If you suspect your pet has ingested antifreeze, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Also, in summer, mosquitoes (which can carry heartworm disease), fleas, ticks and other parasites are out in full force. Be sure to talk to your vet about preventives such as Frontline and Heartgard to protect your pet and your family from parasites carried into your home by your pet. Keeping your pet well groomed is especially important during the summer months so you can quickly and easily find any potential parasites.

When the weather warms up, people tend to open their windows. This can be an enticing spot for your pet to sit and enjoy the fresh air and watch the world go by. Whether you live in a house or in a high-rise apartment, be sure to put in screens to prevent your from pet escaping or from slipping and injuring itself in a fall.

Many pets become stressed during summer storms due to the change in air pressure and the sounds of thunder. Calmatives such as Content-Eze ( or Rescue Remedy may help. You should also prepare in advance by teaching your pet to rest calmly in a crate ( If pets are regularly fed their meals and offered special treats and toys when in the crate, it will become a reassuring resting spot during potentially stressful times.

A few great web sources summarizing these points can also be found here: , and  here: . Here is a really good article from Parade about pet safety: .    Even the AKC has great info about pet safety: .

If you are traveling with pets, you definitely need to prepare for their comfort and safety:
--By Air – Many airlines will not ship animals during summer months due to dangers caused by hot weather. Some will only allow dogs to fly in the early morning or in the evening. Check with your airlines for specific rules. If you do ship a dog, put icepacks or an ice blanket in the dog's crate. (Two-liter soft drink bottles filled with water and frozen work well.) Provide a container of fresh water, as well as a container of frozen water that will thaw over the course of the trip.
--By Car – Keep your dog cool in the car by putting icepacks in his crate. Make sure the crate is well ventilated. Put a sunshade on your car windows. Bring along fresh water and a bowl, and a tarp or tent so you can set up a shady spot when you stop. Keep a spray bottle filled with water to spritz on your dog to cool him down.
--By RV – A dog's safety should not depend on the air conditioning and generator systems in an RV or motor home. These devices can malfunction, with tragic results. If you leave your dog in an RV with the generator running, check it often or have a neighbor monitor it. Some manufacturers have devices that will notify you if the generator should malfunction. Never leave an RV or motor home completely shut up, even if the generator and AC are running. Crack a window or door or run the exhaust fan.

Finally, if you are traveling outside of your normal Veterinarian's locale, it is wise to check out the Veterinary clinics/hospitals in the area that you are visiting, before the need arises. It is better to be prepared for an emergency and not have one happen than to panic in an emergency situation, wasting valuable time.

Until next time.

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