By Dr. Kathy Shaw
Summer temperatures might be great for tan lines and boating trips, but the excessive heat and increased outdoor activities could spell disaster for your pets. As the mercury rises, take just a few moments to insure that your pets are safe and prevent an urgent trip to the animal ER for a summertime emergency!
The most common heat-related problem for pets is heat stroke. Also known as heat stress or hyperpyrexia, heat stroke is a real emergency for dogs. Even on moderately warm days, an excited dog might show a body temperature increase of two to five degrees Fahrenheit. Since dogs don’t sweat like we do, they are unable to dissipate the excess heat and heat stroke may soon follow.
Any outdoor pet can overheat on a warm summer day, but short-faced breeds, such as pugs and bulldogs, are at a higher risk. In addition, every year, thousands of pets succumb to heat stroke because they were left in cars while their owners ran “just a few” errands.
Many cities and states have now made it a crime to leave your pet unattended in a vehicle. These are important laws, as even on a 70-degree day, temperatures inside a car can soar to over 110 degrees in less than one hour!
Some owners try to help their pets by shaving the dog’s long coat. Although this seems like a good idea, a well-groomed and clean hair coat can actually insulate the dog from the heat and help keep them cooler.
In some cases, shaving the hair coat could expose a lightly pigmented dog to potential sunburn. For short haired lightly colored breeds, canine solar dermatitis is another problem. Boxers, pit bulls and Dalmatians are just a few examples of dogs that are at risk. In these cases, chronic exposure to hot sunny days damages the skin and causes tender, red, scaly lesions. Eventually, the skin becomes thickened and scarred.
When the sun goes down and the temperatures start to cool, your pets still face many summer challenges. The bright flashes and loud bangs of thunderstorms and fireworks are terrifying to some pets and can cause anxiety, stress and even escape.
Normally calm pets may become distressed, destructive and even bite in an attempt to get away from the noises. While running, they are at risk for being hit by a car, becoming lost or encountering another animal that might be aggressive.
The warm summer season also brings out a many pests that will actively seek out your pets. Fleas and ticks are two examples, but some species of biting flies are very fond of dogs’ ears. Repeated bites can cause a condition that can be serious and difficult to control known as “fly strike.”
It is possible to enjoy the summer with your pets by taking just a few precautions. First and foremost, always be aware of the weather forecast. Knowing the high temperature can help guide your plans for the day.
Don’t leave your pet unattended outside or plan heavy exercise on hot, humid days. If your pet is left outdoors, he must have access to adequate shade and fresh water.
When it’s time to run errands, leave your pet at home. Even a few minutes in a hot car is enough to increase your pet’s body temperature dramatically.
If you find your pet disoriented, panting excessively or collapsed in the yard, move him immediately to a cooler environment. Use cool wet towels over his back, armpits and groin to help bring his temperature down. Fans are often helpful too. DO NOT USE ICE! Then, get him to your veterinarian immediately so that they can assess his status and begin life saving treatments.
Your veterinarian is also a good source of advice for products that will kill fleas and ticks. Some veterinarians also carry an insecticide gel that repels biting flies.
If you are planning to take your pets to any outdoor celebrations or cookouts, find out first if pets are welcome or if fireworks are planned. It might be easier to simply leave the dogs at home rather than risk a run-away or injury.
Most national parks allow pets, but rules vary by park, and of course your pets must be on a leash at all times. Check ahead on the parks you plan to visit.
Summertime should be a time for relaxation and fun…don’t let a pet emergency spoil your good time.
For information on veterinarians in your area, visit www.vtvets.org.
Dr. Kathy Shaw is a member of the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association.