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Keep Your Pets Safe All Summer Long

Published: May 13, 2010

With summer right around the corner and warm weather already beckoning us off our couches and into the great outdoors it is time to start planning how to spend all those sunny summer days. For most pet owners and animal lovers those plans will probably include your furry, four-legged friends. As the temperatures rise it is important to take some precautions to keep our pets healthy and safe from the hazards that accompany summer.

The sun and warm weather make summer the perfect season for camping, picnicking, swimming, hiking, and otherwise enjoying the outdoors. Our pets also enjoy the perks that summer brings, such as long walks, trips to the dog park, chasing after squirrels, and lazing about in the sun.

According to Dr. Maureen McMichael, a veterinary specialist in small animal emergency medicine and critical care at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, summer carries with it a variety of hazards for cats and dogs. Dr. McMichael explains that during the warm weather months our pets may be more likely to encounter problems such as heat stroke, outdoor traumas, and toxicity from rodenticide ingestion.

Heat stroke is unfortunately a common occurrence during the summer months and results when your pet’s body temperature rises above normal range. Common situations that can predispose our pets to overheating include being exercised or left in a car during warm weather, confined without shade or access to water, a bracycephalic (short nose) breed like a bulldog or Himalayan, very young, old, or ill.

According to Dr. McMichael exercise-induced heat stroke is by far the most dangerous and difficult to treat. Unfortunately, a large number of animals that present with this form of heat stroke will not survive, which makes prevention even more essential.

“Surprisingly, the most dangerous time of year for heat strokes is during late spring and early summer,” explains Dr. McMichael. “It takes our pets awhile to acclimate themselves to hot weather and when a non-conditioned, unacclimated dog is taken out for a long run on the first 85 degree day of the year, that animal is predisposed to developing heat stroke.”

Dr. McMichael urges owners to remember that their pets wear winter coats all year round and are unable to cool themselves efficiently by sweating since they can only sweat through their foot pads.

In order to help your pet stay cool during the summer it is important to follow some very simple rules. One of the easiest ways to prevent heat stress is to make sure that pets have free access to water and shade when kept outside.

Next, owners should never leave a pet in the car on warm, sunny days. Even with the windows open temperatures in a car can rise to deadly levels within minutes.

To prevent exercise-induced heat stroke Dr. McMichael recommends that owners introduce their pets to warm weather exercise slowly. Also, owners should try to exercise their pets in the early morning or late evening when temperatures are lower and the sun is not as strong. Lastly, be sure to provide your pet with plenty of breaks for water and time for cool downs in the shade.

Signs of heat stress and stroke include rapid, frantic, heavy breathing that may not lessen with time, a body temperature that is well above the normal range of 100-102 degrees Fahrenheit, depression, weakness, and vomiting. If you suspect that your pet is experiencing heat stroke Dr. McMichael explains that owners should first remove the animal from the hot area and start lowering the animal’s body temperature with cool water.

“Owners can either place the pet in a tub of cool water or soak the pet with water from a hose,” says Dr. McMichael. “When using a hose it is essential for the owner to make sure the water is actually cool before using it. Owners should also refrain from using ice to cool the pet.”

After this initial cool down it is essential that the pet is taken to a clinic where a veterinarian can continue to cool the animal to a safe body temperature and assess any damage that the heat stroke has caused.

As temperatures rise, the time our pets spend outdoors also increases. When we include our pets in our outdoor activities it is important to ensure their safety since the risk of outdoor traumas and accidents increases dramatically during the summer months.
Unsupervised pools can be extremely dangerous for pets and children who can easily fall in and drown once they become exhausted from swimming. Families with young children and pets should install a safety fence around the pool in order to prevent an accidental drowning.

Cat owners should also be on the lookout for abscesses and other fighting-induced injuries if their cats are allowed outdoors. Cats that are neutered or spayed may be at a lower risk of such injuries as they are unlikely to be involved in mating-induced aggression. Whether your animal is altered or not, outdoor cats should be examined for bite wounds, abscesses, broken limbs, and other injuries on a regular basis.

Dr. McMichael has also noticed that as spring progresses into summer the number of animals presented to the Veterinary Teaching Hospital with rodenticide poisoning increases. Rodenticide is a pesticide used widely to rid houses of pests like rats and mice. One common form of rodenticide is an anti-coagulation agent that, when ingested and left untreated, can cause irreversible damage to internal organs that ultimately results in death.

According to Dr. McMichael, “if rodenticide ingestion is caught early it is easily treated. Interestingly the treatment for this type of pesticide relies on the use of a specialized form of Vitamin K, which is an essential clotting factor in the body. Rodenticide poisoning is one of the few problems that we can cure, as long as the animal is presented in time, and to be able to cure it with a vitamin is absolutely amazing!”

For information on how to protect your pet from these and other summer hazards contact your local veterinarian.

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