Friday, August 10, 2012

Dog Days of Summer

It’s the dog days of summer, and that means it’s hot, hot, hot outside! As you’re heading to the beach or sitting in the park or running those back-to-school errands, take some time to observe your pet’s behavior and ensure that they’re as comfortable as possible.

Cats and dogs don’t sweat, and may have a difficult time cooling off, particularly in humid conditions like right here in Eastern NC. Although both dogs and cats pant to keep cool, this may not always be enough to prevent heatstroke. All animals can get heatstroke, and more susceptible pets include those with short snouts, long-haired breeds, the very old or very young, the chronically ill, and the overweight. Signs of heatstroke include excessive panting, anxiety, lethargy, weakness, dizziness, thick saliva, vomiting, and diarrhea, and can eventually proceed to shock, coma, and death.

But don’t fear! With a little awareness, you can avoid heat distress.
  • Try to schedule outside time during the cooler morning and evening hours.
  • Find a shady spot to rest, and take frequent breaks. Make sure outdoor cats have a cool place to hide from the sun.
  • Keep cool, fresh water available. You can bring a small tupperware or collapsable container on hikes or to the beach to use as a bowl, and some dogs will drink from a water bottle.
  • If you have a water-loving dog, fill a baby pool with enough water for them to splash around in.
  • Be the leader - many dogs don’t know when to call it quits on playtime. When they exhibit signs of overheating, end the game.
  • Keep your pets groomed and comb out their woolly winter undercoat (you know, the stuff in your carpets). Some dogs may benefit from a complete shave, but check with a professional groomer first. For some breeds, the long overcoat helps to keep them cool and removal may be stressful to the dog. Full shaves for cats are not generally recommended. Not only does their dignity forbid it, but the overcoat helps them maintain their body temperature.
  • During the summer, never leave your dog in a parked car for any length of time. Even with the air on it’s not a good idea.
If your pet appears to have heatstroke, remove them from the heat and place them in a cool, comfortable area, preferably indoors. Their temperature must be gradually brought down or they can go into shock. Wet them with lukewarm (NOT ice cold) water, gradually switching to cooler water as their temperature decreases, and increase air circulation if possible to help them cool down. Finally, if the pet is really in distress, seek medical attention. Cooling methods can be employed on the way to the vet.

Also consider the effect of the sun on your pet’s skin and feet. Dogs and cats get sunburned just like we do, and also just like us, can develop skin cancer. For light colored animals, hairless breeds, and those without dark pigmentation around their eyes, apply sunscreen to sensitive areas, particularly the tips of the ears, the nose, and under the eyes. Indoor cats can also get burned through the windows, so be mindful of this if your kitty spends a lot of time in that favorite sunbeam. Check your cat’s ears for inflammation, flaking, tenderness, or mild hair loss. It’s also important to use a pet-specific brand for cats in particular, as the ingredients in sunscreen can be toxic if ingested.

For those tootsies, be sure to consider the temperature of the ground, especially dark pavement, metal, and sand. We think of a dog’s footpads as thick and tough, but they do get burned. Walking in the early morning or evening helps ensure cool pavement, and walking on grass is a great way to beat the heat. You can’t always tell with the naked eye if the pad is burnt, so keep these symptoms in mind:
  • Limping or refusing to walk
  • Licking or chewing at the bottom of the feet (which could also be allergies)
  • Dark pads, red pads, blisters, or a missing portion of a pad
If you suspect your pet has burned pads, get them off the hot surface and indoors, flush the area with cool water, and keep them from licking the pads. Your vet might recommend an antibiotic treatment, as these injuries can become infected. If you need to walk your dog in the middle of the day over asphalt or sand, consider doggie booties to protect their feet, or carry a towel with you that they can stand on if necessary.

With a little bit of planning and care, you can enjoy the dog days with your companion beside you. So get out there, and have fun in the sun!

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