QUESTION: I was wondering what tips you have for keeping my pets safe during the warmer, summer months?
ANSWER: The summer months are quickly approaching and will offer pet owners many chances to spend time outside with their dogs. There are several summer activities that require us to take proper precautions with including barbeques, parades, outdoor festivals and fireworks. Here are some items that I often discuss with my clients prior to summer:
1. Increase in temperatures – In this region of the country we often experience a drastic rise in temperatures from May through August. We need to be cognizant of the fact many of our dogs, especially those with thicker coats, with shorter noses (eg. Bulldogs), overweight animals, or those animals that are considered seniors have more difficultly regulating their temperature and are at greater risk for heat stroke. Dogs release heat mostly from panting and have sweat glands in their paw pads and nose, which is why they do not regulate heat as efficiently as humans. When spending time outside with your dog prevent heat exhaustion or heat stroke by offering plenty of water, limiting exposure and time in direct sunlight and making sure there is adequate shade or areas that are air conditioned for pets. Many pets also enjoy going with their owners on car rides as they run errands or travel. Leaving your pet in a hot car even with the window cracked is extremely dangerous and can result in serious sickness in your animals. Important signs to watch for with heat stroke include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, weakness or collapse. If your pet is exhibiting any signs of heat stroke consider this a medical emergency and seek out veterinary care as soon as possible.
2. Anxiety due to loud noises – We should pay close attention to those animals that are sensitive to loud noises, such as thunderstorms, fireworks and parades. For many dogs these loud and unexpected noises can lead to a great deal of stress and anxiety. They can also lead to destructive behaviors around the house because of their fear and change in temperament. Learning the triggers for your individual pet and how to ease the increasing anxiety will be variable for each animal. Some dogs are comforted just by having their pet owner at home and by their side, while others respond to calming products such as the dog appeasing pheromone diffusesr or the thundershirt. I would recommend consulting with your veterinarian if this is truly a serious issue because there are certain medications he or she could prescribe to alleviate many of the abnormal clinical signs associated with these stressful situations.
3. Travel Plans– The summer months also frequently mean planning vacations with the family. If you are planning on traveling without your pet it would be important to decide whether you will be having in-home pet care or taking your pet to a boarding facility. Regardless, I would thoroughly investigate the company you will be using for petsitting or the facility they will be boarding at during your vacation. Many boarding facilities book up with reservations quickly during the summer months so make sure you call for dates as early as possible. Tour the facility and ask questions about feeding times, exercise and supervision during their stay. If there is an emergency ask what veterinarian they use or the steps they would take to contact you. Also be sure to ask about what vaccinations and/or medical records are required prior to the stay.
If you are planning to travel with your animal ensure that you pack an adequate supply of food, water, any prescribed medications, along with a copy of your dog’s veterinary records in case of an emergency. If you are planning on traveling by plane it would be important to check with both the airline and your veterinarian prior to travel. Many airlines require a written health certificate that can be complied by your veterinarian prior to flying. If you are flying out of the country then you should begin your preparations well ahead of time because many countries have specific requirements that can take weeks or even months to have completed. Another excellent idea is to research the airline your pet will be flying and how the pets are accommodated. Certain airlines will keep the animals in air condition as long as possible prior to the departure of the flight. Also many airlines, including United and Delta, permit small dogs to accompany their owners into the cabin as long as their cage or carrier will fit under the seat. Early planning will help make the process better for both you and your dog. The United States Department of Agriculture has a user friendly website with information for traveling to other countries: https://www.aphis.usda.gov/aphis/pet-travel
4. External parasites – Those pesky fleas and ticks are present in large numbers during the warmer months and often prefer to live on our furry companions. Fleas can cause your pet to be unbearably itchy, lose fur and even lead to skin infections. They are often difficult to completely eliminate once a flea infestation has begun due to the large volume of flea eggs present on the animal and in the environment. Depending on the region you live in ticks can carry one or more diseases that can make your beloved pet very sick. It takes only one tick to transmit a harmful disease to your canine or feline companion. Common tick diseases that we encounter include Lyme disease, Ehrlichiosis, and Anaplasmosis. There are several preventatives available to protect our animals from fleas and ticks. These preventatives come in various formulations including chewables, topical applications and long-lasting collars.
5. Foreign body ingestion –The summer months are a popular time for backyard barbeques and cookouts. These gatherings often include delicious foods such as corn on the cob, vegetable skewers, hot dogs, fruit salads and various desserts. Pet owners should take extra caution to prevent their pets from consuming some of these tempting foods. For example, corn on the cob can cause a serious life-threatening obstruction in your dog’s intestinal tract that generally requires surgical removal. There are even dogs that will eat the skewers that are sharp and can result in perforation along any part of the digestive tract. Certain fruits and vegetables, including carrots and cooked sweet potato, are safe for your dog to eat in moderation, but be careful with grapes and raisins because they have been known to cause acute kidney failure in certain dogs. Many dogs will scavenge for leftovers and owners will find them the next day experiencing vomiting or diarrhea.
Overall, the summer is a wonderful time of year for you to enjoy fun outdoor activities with your pets but heed caution with certain seasonal activities that may pose an issue for your favorite furry companion.
-Dana Koch, VMD