Summer is here! The longer days mean more time for friendly gatherings, trips to the beach, and outdoor fun in the sun with your best (and furry) friend. You’ve got your sunscreen (check!), lots of fresh water (check!), flea preventative … wait. With so many fun activities to plan in the summertime, it’s easy to forget about the dangers our pets may face during this time of year.
Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are more prevalent during the warm summer months. Fleas carry tapeworm, which can be transmitted to your cat or dog if it happens to swallow an infected flea while using its teeth to scratch. Also, some animals are highly sensitive to flea saliva which can lead to secondary infections and dermatitis from incessant itching. Ticks are also a concern to pets, as well as their owners. They carry bacteria, viruses, and protozoa which can lead to disease, such as Lyme disease. Mosquitoes also pose a great risk to your pet. If an infected mosquito bites a dog or cat, the heartworm larvae get into the bloodstream and eventually make their way to the heart. This is heartworm disease and is potentially fatal to your dog or cat. Luckily, there are many flea, tick, and heartworm preventatives available to keep your pets safe. Veterinary products are recommended, as products sold in your local grocery store can cause toxicity, even when used as directed.
Now that your pet is protected from parasites, it’s time to play outside! When you apply sunscreen to keep your skin safe from sun exposure, remember to dab some onto your pet, especially if your pet is fair-skinned and short-coated. Dogs can suffer from sunburns and skin cancers, just like their owners. Avoid zinc-oxide based sunscreens, as these can be toxic if ingested. High SPF children’s spray sunscreen should work well. And don’t forget your feline friends! Cats with white ear tips that like to sunbathe should also be protected.
Nothing is more enjoyable than a dip in the pool on a bright and sunny day — and your dog may think so too. Keep in mind that not all dogs are natural-born swimmers; certain breeds such as bulldogs and Pekingese have the swimming ability of a brick! If your dog has access to your pool, take the time to teach him where the steps are and how to get out of the pool, in case he accidentally falls in while no one is around. If he is unable to get out on his own, then make sure to have your pool fenced off to prevent accidental drowning.
As you put on your tank top and flip-flops, remember that your pet can’t change its fur. If you take your pet out for a walk, it’s best to go in the early morning or later in the evening when temperatures are cooler. Concrete heats up in the day and can get too hot for your dog’s paw pads. If possible, find some dirt or grass that your dog can walk on to avoid burns.
Cars also heat up very quickly in the summer heat. While we want to be good doggie-parents and take our dogs with us when we run our errands, it is best to leave them at home during this time of year. Leaving your dog in the car, even for “just a few minutes” and/or if your car is in a shady spot, is putting your dog more at risk for heat exposure than you may realize. The temperature inside your car on average is 20 degrees hotter than the temperature outside your car. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve come close to smashing a few car (and truck) windows to help the poor dog trapped inside. Even five minutes is five minutes too long!
While you and your furry friend are out having fun, keep an eye out for signs of heat exposure. Not all dogs handle heat in the same way. Dogs don’t sweat like people do; instead they lose heat through evaporation from their nasal passages and tongue (panting). This means that Brachycephalic breeds (dogs with flat faces such as pugs, bulldogs, and shih tzus) are less able to lose heat. The bigger the dog and the flatter the face, the more prone they are to overheating. Overweight and older dogs have an even greater risk, as well as dogs with thick fur.
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, lethargy, seizures, bloody diarrhea, vomiting, coma, and even death. If you suspect your pet is suffering from heat exposure, seek veterinary attention right away.
Don’t plunge an overheated dog into ice water. This causes the peripheral blood vessels to contract, actually trapping the overheated blood at the body’s core, just where it could cause the most harm. Instead, cool the dog slowly by draping him with wet towels and aiming a fan at him. You can offer fresh cool water and/or ice cubes to lick until you can reach your veterinarian.
Even if your pet appears to be cooled and seems “fine,” it is best not to assume you are out of the woods yet. Internal organs such as the liver, kidneys and brain are often affected by the body temperature elevation. The damage can be assessed by veterinary examination and blood tests. There is also a complex blood problem, called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC), that can be a secondary complication to heat stroke, and can be fatal.
The summer time can be a great time of year for pets and their owners to really enjoy each others’ company. With them being such an important part of our family, it’s easy to forget that they have a few different requirements than we do for summer safety. With just a few precautions and some knowledge, you and your pet can make many memories during this most enjoyable time of the year!
Johanna Andrist is a veterinary technician from Clovis, CA. She is married and has an adorable daughter, Bella. In her free time, Johanna enjoys horseback riding and spending time with family and her own furry companions.
[featured image via bluebuffalo]