Have a safe summer: Avoiding seasonal pet hazards
Summer should be a time of sun and fun for yourself and your pet. After all those long winter days and spring's rains, everyone is ready for a good romp come July and August. But, summer poses its own health risks for your canine companion. Heat Stroke, Poisoning, Sunburn, and Ticks can mar an otherwise wonderful summer vacation or afternoon trip to the park.
Many people think heat stroke is something that only strikes outdoor and working dogs. Although animals that live and work outside are particularly at risk, any dog that ventures out during the dog days of summer can get heat stroke. Dogs do have sweat glands on their feet, but they rely on panting as a cool-down mechanism. Heat strokes occur when your furry friend can't cool down as quickly as his body temperature is rising. Dogs with short noses, like pugs, as well as longhaired or double-coated dogs have a harder time cooling off. Older dogs, overweight dogs, and dogs with respiratory problems, such as asthma, also have a hard time getting cool once they have overheated. Heat stroke can occur within minutes in a confined space, such as a car, even with the window down. Dogs can also overheat exercising in the park on hot and humid days. The best way to prevent heat stroke is to make sure your pet has access to cool water, both for drinking and immersion. If you're exercising with your pet during the peak sun hours, make sure that you take lots of breaks—for yourself and your pet and that both of you drink plenty of liquids. Older dogs and dogs with respiratory problems should remain inside on particularly humid days.
Heat stroke's symptoms include rapid or heavy panting and/or drooling, gasping for air, glassy eyes, unusually red gums, weakness and fatigue, and in extreme cases vomiting and seizures. If your dog is suffering from heat stroke he needs to be cooled down immediately. The quickest means is immersion in cool water. You can dose him with a garden hose or apply wet compresses to his neck, chest, head, and belly. Place him in front of an air conditioning vent or fan. Make sure he has cool water to drink and contact your vet. Heat stroke can lead to serious health problems. Even if you do manage to cool your dog down, get him to the vet as soon as possible for a check up.
Unfortunately, heat stroke is not the only outdoor-related summer hazard for our furry friends. The prevalent use of fertilizer, pesticides, weed killers, slugs and snail poison and insecticides during the growing season can spell disaster for curious canines. Dogs are often drawn to poisons. Although they may smell repellent to you and me, some toxins are quite enticing to animals. If you suspect that you pet has been exposed to poisons, you should contact your vet immediately. There are several pet poison hotlines that also offer advice, such as ASPCA's Poison Control Center 888.426.4435. Your veterinarian or poison control may suggest that you induce vomiting if the toxin consumed wasn't caustic. Hydrogen peroxide can be used to cause vomiting (1 teaspoon for every 10 pounds of body weight) so you should also keep it, along with other pet first aid supplies, on hand. Signs of poisoning vary from toxin to toxin, but include trouble breathing, seizures, abnormal heart rate, drooling/foaming at the mouth, bleeding from the nose or mouth, drowsiness, unconsciousness, and general abnormal behavior. You know your pet best, so if he is acting different than his normal happy self, you need to consult with your veterinarian.
Even if you keep your pet inside exclusively, remember to be careful when treating your lawn. There are many animal-friendly pesticides and insecticides on the market. Any toxins should be stored safely out of the reach of all children and animals. And, maybe a few weeds are a reasonable price to pay for the safety of your own and neighborhood pets and wildlife. White vinegar is an effective and animal-friendly weed-killer. And, you can always resort to the tried and true weed remedy—pulling up the offending plants. Most lawn and garden stores can recommend pet-friendly lawn and garden care products. Some are even available at pet supply stores. Adding a bird feeder to your yard may help control some insects—although bird feeders (which often become squirrel feeders) present their own set of problems.
One of the most troublesome of the summer pests is the tick. Carriers of Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, encephalitis, and hepaozoonosis, I can't find many nice things to say about these little parasites! During those long summer days, it seems that ticks lurk everywhere—in the park, in the garden, in the yard. Despite my vigilance and a good dose of Frontline, my dog seems to pick up a tick or two every trip outside. It takes a tick 24-72 hours to transmit any disease he is carrying to yourself or your dog, so your best bet for tick-borne disease prevention is a tick check after every walk. Ticks like to lurk in high grass and woody areas. Be sure to check your dogs thoroughly after every outdoor adventure. Ears, between paw pads, and the stomach seem to be tick hot spots. Make sure you wear surgical gloves when you remove ticks to protect yourself from any diseases. You can use rubbing alcohol to loosen ticks that don't seem to want to let go, and make sure you wash your hands afterwards. There are many great tick and flea products on the market. Your vet can recommend the one best for your dog. Just be aware that many tick products don't protect against fleas, and vice-versa. Your dog needs protection against both. You may also want to tick-proof your yard by removing any brush or undergrowth. Woodsy undergrowth is a perfect habitat for chipmunks, mice, and squirrels, which in turn are a perfect habitat for ticks. Bird feeders will encourage birds to frequent your yard, which also cuts down on the tick population.
Last but not least, sunburn is often overlooked in dogs. Dogs are less likely to burn than the average human—they have all that nice fur for protection. But, fair-furred dogs, dogs with closely cropped fur, and dogs with light colored noses can sunburn. Dogs do get skin cancer and some diseases, such as Lupus, are aggravated by intense sun exposure. The best treatment for sunburn is prevention. Slap some suntan lotion on Fido's nose, drape him in a doggy t-shirt if his belly is prone to burning, or make sure he spends some time under the cabana with you! There are several brands of canine sunscreen available, but dogs can use human sunscreen if it is PABA-free. If your dog does get a sunburn, you can sprintz him with witch hazel, baking soda, or aloe to cool his reddened skin. Baking soda baths work quite well for sunburns—human and canine alike. Summer is a great time—there are cookouts to look forward to, hikes to be had, and adventures around every corner—just be careful!