Keeping Your Pet Safe & Healthy in the Summertime
by Dr. Robert Dann, DVM | May 01, 2013
Ahhhhh…summer! Like countless other winter-weary Chicagoans, I crave the warmer months of the year. Leisurely strolls around the block, gentle breezes through open windows, barbeques, and lots of time outdoors with my pets are some of the things I really look forward to every year. As our days get warmer, we must all be aware of the seasonal risks that summer brings to our furry companions, and remember how to keep them safe.
One of the most common and deadly seasonal threats to our pets is heatstroke. In humans, an increase in body temperature is followed by perspiration. As sweat evaporates from our skin, it cools us off. In dogs, excess heat is eliminated from the body through a different mechanism: panting. Unfortunately, this process is very inefficient on hot, humid days, when a pet is more prone to overheating. In dogs with “smooshed-in” faces and compressed airways (the so-called brachycephalic breeds like Bulldogs and Pugs), the tendency to overheat is the greatest. Rapid recognition and treatment of heatstroke is imperative to save your pet’s life.
The earliest and most consistent signs of heatstroke in dogs are extremely heavy (almost frantic) panting, drooling, and bright red gums and tongue. If you see these signs, immediately check your dog’s temperature (every pet first aid kit should have a rectal thermometer). If the temperature is greater than 103.5° (normal is under 102°), act quickly! Even before you call your veterinarian, hose your pet down with water and cover him/her with a towel soaked in cold water, apply rubbing alcohol to paw pads to hasten heat loss, and allow the pet to drink a small amount of ice water. Then call your veterinarian. It may be necessary for an emergency trip to your vet’s office. Temperatures above 105° are a dire emergency and organ damage will occur when temperatures exceed 106°.
Yes, pets can get sunburn, especially those with light skin and thin coats. The tips of the ears and the skin where the nose meets the muzzle are especially prone. If your pet will be outdoors excessively during the middle hours of the day, pet specific sunscreens can be applied to problem areas.
Many pets suffer from severe anxiety when exposed to loud noises. Whether it is thunder, the constant explosion of firecrackers around Independence Day, or the roar of jet engines during the annual Chicago Air & Water Show, there are safe medications your veterinarian can prescribe to help pets through these difficult times. There are also commercially available “calming vests” which help many pets that suffer from noise phobia.
Many people like to bring their pets with them in the car in the summertime, whether running errands or taking trips or vacations. Cats should always be in secure carriers to protect them and you from uncontrolled movement while you are driving. Allowing a dog to travel with his or her head out of a car window is an open invitation to an eye injury from flying debris.
Even when pets are confined to a securely fenced-in backyard, there are many potential dangers in our own gardens. Cocoa mulch and snail bait can be toxic to our pets, as are some rose and plant food products that contain insecticides. Common shrubs like azaleas and holly can be toxic, and lilies can cause kidney failure in cats.
Cats love to hang out on window sills. Special care must be taken to make sure window screens are firmly and securely fitted. When a kitty sees something fly by an open window, they will sometimes jump out after it, leading to a tragic (but preventable) result.
A little known fact among Chicagoans is the number of bats that fly in the evening sky during the summer, due to migration and feeding patterns. The city receives hundreds of reports of bat sightings every year and some bats test positive for rabies. These unwanted guests, potentially carrying a disease deadly to us and our pets, can be kept out of our homes with properly maintained window screens.
Don’t Forget the Leash!
Although you may have total confidence that your dog will behave properly off leash, you can’t assume your neighbor’s pet will. Each summer, Chicago veterinarians treat thousands of cats and dogs for bite wounds, most of which could have been prevented by not allowing pets to roam. Having leash control over a pet also keeps them from ingesting things they shouldn’t and getting into potentially dangerous places, like flower beds, where bees and their stingers are prevalent.
Infectious Disease & Parasites
Exposure to deadly viruses increases in the summer when pets are outside more. Keeping pets protected from many diseases can be accomplished through the judicious use of vaccines. With warm weather come mosquitoes, the carriers of dangerous Heartworm Disease in both cats and dogs, easily prevented with medication given monthly. Fleas and ticks (potentially carrying Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and other serious conditions) also abound in the warmer months. Your veterinarian will be an expert source for information and safe products to control these parasites.
Exercise & Fitness
For millions of dogs, life’s greatest passion is retrieving a ball or Frisbee thrown by their master. After a long winter of relative inactivity, our pooches may have put on a few pounds or gotten out of shape. A gradual return to exercise is the safest way to get our pets active again. Carrying too much weight increases the risk of injury. The combination of increased exercise and reduced calories will serve them well in shedding excess weight.
Picnics & Barbeques
Extra care must be taken when we bring our pets to these outdoor events. Bones, fatty scraps, peach pits, corn cobs, alcoholic beverages…the list of what our canine companions will eat from the ground is endless, and potentially dangerous. Summer in Chicago can be glorious, and with a little prudence and forethought, it can be the most fun time of the year with our four-legged friends.