Protecting Your Pets in the Heat

If you’re a pet owner, usually the first residents to greet you after a long day are of the furry variety. For most, adopting a pet is welcoming a new member to the family. The relationship between pet and family only strengthens with time, but it’s important to remember that even though your dog feverishly wags his tail when you call his name and your cat purrs when you scratch her head, your pets have needs that go beyond basic.

The owner/pet relationship is mutually beneficial. There are many ways pets can improve our quality of life. Having a furry, little friend is a great stress reliever. Petting your dog or cat has a calming effect that can lower your blood pressure as well as give much wanted affection to your pet.

Another health benefit to owning a dog is an extra outlet for exercise. Dogs love their walks. Taking your dog for a walk or hike gets your blood pumping and may help to combat heart disease.

Owning a pet can act as a social strengthener as well.  If you gravitate toward an introverted personality, most pets are anything but introverted. Pets help you break through the shyness and meet new people.

Pets are invaluable companions that add much positivity to our lives without uttering one word. OK, maybe a bark or a meow here or there. But it’s important to not take a pet’s unwavering love and selflessness for granted. Understand that just because Fido can’t say, “Hey, are you really gonna leave me in here,” when you leave him unattended in a hot car, it’s not OK to do it.

R-E-S-P…Responsibility

Before choosing a pet you have to understand the definition of commitment as it pertains to pet ownership. The little guy or gal that you adopt is trusting you with its life. Be fully knowledgeable and ready for the responsibility. Do your research. A good place to start is here — Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership.

If you can’t commit to being a full-time pet parent don’t adopt.

Once you’re ready to expand your family, finding the right veterinarian for you and your pet is important. To maintain good health, routine check-ups are essential. Dr. Jeff Smith of Mount Hermon Animal Clinic says, “Our pets age seven times faster than we do. Much can change in months and pets are instinctive in hiding illness. Visit your vet every six months to keep your pets in their best health.” Unfortunately, pets do get sick, during these times you will want a vet that shows compassion and answers all of your questions with regards on how to get your pet back on track.

With long, warm days, summertime provides ample bonding time between you, your pet, and nature. But, be aware that while everything is blooming and beautiful there are dangers lurking that can harm your furry companion. Dr. Smith says, “Visit your vet before the summer heat for a check-up. Pets that are traveling or being kenneled will need to be up to date on their vaccines.”

Whoa Nelly… It’s Getting Hot in Here

Hyperthermia and the upper respiratory system are the two major culprits in overheating. Leaving pets unattended in a parked car or exposed to the elements at the beach on a hot day places them in environments where it becomes difficult for them to cool themselves. This leads to hyperthermia. There can be a stark difference in outside temperature and the temperature inside a vehicle due to solar heating. You may feel comfortable outside on a 77-degree day, but inside a car the temperature can rise to 120-degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes. “On a hot day, pets can die in a parked car in 2 minutes. Never leave your pet in a parked car, even with the windows cracked,” Dr. Smith says. “When the temperature increases quickly, it can be too much even for dogs that are accustomed to living outside.”

Certain breeds, such as bulldogs, with compressed upper airways have a difficult time cooling down through panting. In some cases, the dog produces more heat in an attempt to cool. Breeds with flat-shaped faces (Brachycephalic pets) such as pugs and Persian cats also have a more difficult time panting.

Pets at the Greatest Risk of Heat-Related Problems

Puppies and kittens (up to six months of age)

Aging pets – large breed dogs over seven years old, small breed dogs over twelve years old, cats over twelve years old

Overweight pets

Other factors such as illness, poor circulations, and medications put pets at a greater risk

Signs of Heat Stroke

Excessive panting

Labored breathing

Sticky of dry tongue and gums

Bright red gums

Increased heart and respiratory rates

Staggering

Vomiting

Bloody diarrhea

Body temperature over 104-degrees Fahrenheit

Coma

Death

If you think your pet is suffering from heat stroke, seek veterinary assistance immediately and follow these steps.

Get your pet out of the heat. Find shade.

Use cool water, not ice water to cool your pet. Ice water can actually impede cooling by constricting blood vessels.

Use cool, wet clothes on the feet and head.

Offer ice cubes for your pet to lick until you can reach the veterinarian.

Even if the visual signs of heat stroke dissipate, internal organs such as the brain, liver, and kidneys can be adversely affected by heat stroke. A serious blood coagulating condition called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation is a secondary complication to heat stroke that can occur hours, even days, after a heat stroke. So, don’t risk it, there could be underlying problems that you can’t see. Get to the vet.

But My Weather App Says It’s Not That Hot

In the age of smart phones, checking outside temperature is one swipe away. But there is another measurement you shouldn’t ignore — the Temperature-Humidity Index or heat index. In humans, we sweat, which allows us to combat heat through evaporation. “Dogs and cats have very few sweat glands, so they mainly rely on panting to eliminate excess heat,” Dr. Smith says. Panting allows dogs to release heat from their bodies and it evaporates over their wet tongues. High humidity doesn’t just make for a miserable experience; it also impedes evaporation, which can make pet susceptible to the heat.

Ways to Beat the Heat

The easiest way to keep your pets safe from the heat is to keep them inside. It’s difficult when your dog chases you, tail wagging, to the door to go for a car ride, but try to resist the sad face and leave them at home during the hottest hours of the day.

Dogs still need exercise and pine for fresh air. Schedule walks and outside activities for the early hours of the day or evening after the sun sets. The cooler temperature makes for a better playtime for your dog.  Remember the feeling the first time you stepped on scorching sand with bare feet? Keep in mind there is no barrier between the padding on dogs’ paws and the hot ground.

Panting is a natural way for dogs to cool down. The evaporation of fluids can lead to dehydration. Make sure there is always fresh, cool water available to your pets. If you take your dog for walks or evening hikes be sure to bring a water bottle and offer your dog a drink frequently. “Think about throwing some ice cubes in the water dish for a cool treat,” Dr. Smith says.

It’s a common misconception that shaving pets in the summertime will help them to stay cool. Trimming long hair is a good step to maintain proper grooming, but according to the ASPCA, it’s unnecessary to do anything else for cooling purposes.  The layers of an animal’s coat actually aid in protection from the heat and sun. Brushing regularly helps to remove loose hair, keeps your pet more comfortable, and aids in overheating prevention.

“A kiddie pool is a fun and effective way of keeping your pets cool in the summer,” Dr. Smith says.

shades

Here Comes the Sun

It’s easy to think that dogs and cats have a natural layer of protection against harmful rays. To an extent their coats provide a shield, but it’s not enough. Areas without fur, such as the nose, pads of the feet, and inner ears have very little protection from the sun. Dr. Smith says, “Pets with white hair and pink noses can be at a greater risk for sunburn and skin cancer. Be sure shade is available and put a dab of sunscreen on those pink noses.”

In dogs, 20 to 40 percent of skin tumors are malignant. For cats, the percentage is higher, 50 to 65 percent are malignant. Skin cancer is common among dogs and cats, while not all forms of skin cancer are due to sun exposure, it can happen.

Limit the time your pets are in direct sunlight. If you’re outside, there should always be a nice, cool shady spot for you and your pet. This rule doesn’t only apply to warm months, sun damage can occur throughout the year.

An extra precaution for your pet is pet sunblock and pet sun wipes. There are also nose balms, and yes—UV protected hoodies.

Some Kind of Monster

Obesity is not just epidemic among humans; its effects are also felt on the pet population. In 2011, a study reported that 56 percent of dogs and 54 percent of cats fit the definition of obesity. The extra treats and table scraps may lead to wagging tails and purring, but the long-term effects of poor nutrition will wreak havoc on your furry friend’s quality of life as they get older. According to a Banfield report, diabetes is on the rise in pets — up 32 percent in dogs and 16 percent in cats since 2006. If your pets are overweight, the best thing you can do for them is to talk to your vet about a nutrition and weight-loss plan. Don’t let the guilt trip when you ignore Fido’s plea to sample what you’re having for dinner sway you.

Warmer weather brings out other little monsters that feed on our pets. It’s important to be aware of the dangers that lurk. Disease prevention begins with knowledge. “We have a constant prevalence of rabies in wild animals in our area. As summer approaches and people get out and explore, we and our pets become at risk for this deadly disease. Keep all of your pets vaccinated for rabies,” Dr. Smith says.

The usual suspects — ticks, fleas, and mosquitoes — pose a threat to our pets. More than the nuisance these vectors present, the parasites they carry the real danger.

Ticks

Dogs like to get dirty, especially right after a bath. They love to roll around on the ground, not giving a care to the freeloaders looking to hitch a ride. Hiking trails are perfect spots to get a nice walk in under the blanketed shade of trees. Trails are also home to tiny blood suckers.

Ticks are menaces to society. Their bites can transmit many diseases to dogs and cats. In Virginia, there are three important vector-carrying species of ticks—American dog tick, lone star tick, and black-legged tick (deer tick) — that cause illness in humans and animals.

Another illness caused by tick bite is tick paralysis. Unlike the other tick-borne diseases, tick paralysis is caused by a neurotoxin in a tick’s saliva.

You can protect your pets by using tick collars or tick prevention spot on treatments. Keeping your lawn maintained will also help lower risk. You should check your pet every time they come in from outdoor adventures. Look between the toes, inside the ears, between the legs, around the neck, on the belly, and in the deep fur.

Fleas

When the flea circus comes to town it can bring a dangerous act. By not implementing prevention you’re setting your pet and yourself up for real trouble. Flea Allergy Dermatitis can lead to dog hot spots, patches of infected skin, usually circular in shape. If left untreated dogs will lick and scratch the area until it becomes a bigger wound.

In severe cases, Haemobartonellosis, which is usually transmitted through tick bites, but can be present in fleas, leads to anemia in cats, if left untreated it can be fatal. Dogs that have had their spleens removed are most likely to be affected.

Ted Nugent sang about it, but Cat Scratch Fever (Disease) isn’t relegated to classic rock stations. While it rarely affects cats negatively, it can pose danger to humans. Fleas act as a vector, transmitting CSD from cat to cat. Roughly 40 percent of all cats will harbor this disease at some point in their lives. Humans contract CSD when the feces of infected fleas is transferred from a scratch, bite, or lick.

A harsh reality with dogs is they will eat anything — that includes fleas. Ingested fleas carrying tapeworm eggs could cause a tapeworm infection in Fido. Dogs with tapeworm suffer from weight loss, vomiting, and general intestinal irritation.

Fleas are carriers of plague, yes that plague. Most occurrences are found in the southwest. Plague is transmitted when rodents bite or are bitten by dogs and cats. And yes, plague is still transmittable to humans, although extremely rare. Fleas are minuscule, but they can pack a punch to rival Mike Tyson in his heyday.

The best methods of prevention are flea collars, spot on treatments, and baths. Dr. Smith says, “Keep flea and tick preventative on your pets all year long.” There are also treatments for your lawn to deter infestation. Indoors, keep a tidy home, vacuuming floors and furniture regularly helps to eliminate fleas and their eggs. “Fleas multiply throughout the summer and if you discover the problem in August, it will be almost impossible to control,” Dr. Smith continues.

Mosquitoes

It’s hard to find a competitor to mosquitoes as the most annoying pest. Blood suckers that aren’t afraid of sunlight just like those Twilight vampires. The diseases these winged assassins harbor aren’t secrets, but for our pets, one in particular is alarming — heartworm.

In the southeast, heartworm is endemic. According to the American Heartworm Society there are 26 to 50 cases reported per clinic. Those figures are alarming, but the silver lining is that heartworm is preventable. For dogs, heartworm attacks the heart and lungs. It’s a severe disease that can be fatal. Treatment is possible, but expensive and isn’t pleasant for the pup. Heartworm affects the lungs in cats and there is no effective treatment. That makes prevention all the more important.

A variety of prevention options are available from daily and monthly tablets and chewables to topicals. “Monthly heartworm preventatives are more important than ever during the summer months as dogs and cats are at higher risk,” Dr. Smith says.  There is a six-month injectable available for dogs only.

Plants Versus Pets

It’s hard to think that your beautiful landscape could be dangerous to your furry friends, but certain plants are poisonous. Animals a curious by nature, you’ll want to make sure there is nothing harmful for them to chew on. And yes, they will chew on things. Among the most toxic plants are azaleas and oleanders. When planning landscape improvements factor your pets into the equation. A full list of toxic and non-toxic plants.

With a few precautions, summertime can provide many memories for you and your furry friends to recall when the arms of winter wrap tight around you and have you longing to be outside.

For more information about pet safety give Dr. Jeff Smith a call at Mt. Hermon Animal Clinic, 434.836.2499 or visit www.danvilleveterinarianhospital.com.

About The Author

Paul Seiple
Editorial Director

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