Summer Safety for your Pet
by Dr. Ernie Ward
Friday May 22nd, 2009
Summer is here and that means fun in the sun for us and our four-legged family members. While long days spent frolicking outdoors creates priceless memories, it can also pose hidden dangers to your pet. By following these simple guidelines, you can ensure your pet enjoys summer safely.
Keep your dog hydrated
Pets that play or spend time outdoors in the heat need to drink plenty of water. A dog or cat that becomes five percent dehydrated will develop early signs of heat stress while a pet that experiences ten percent dehydration will be severely ill. To avoid dehydration, always carry fresh water with you and offer it to your pet at least every thirty minutes. There are many styles of portable dog bowls that are convenient to carry. Under normal circumstances, most pet swill drink about an ounce of water per pound of body weight per day. In hot and humid conditions, your pet may need three to four times this amount.
Pets can get sunburned
Dogs and cats are susceptible to the same damage from ultraviolet rays that humans are. This is especially true in white or light-colored pets and areas of the body that are thinly haired, such as the nose, face, and ears and in breeds with little hair such as Shar Pei's and Chinese Crested hairless dogs. Dog sun suits, visors, and hats can protect at-risk dogs. They come in a variety of designs, colors and materials to suit an individual's preference. Look for a suit that is at least 30+ UPF with 50+ UPF ideal.
The eyes and nose of dogs and cats are highly susceptible to damage from the sun's rays because they are typically lightly pigmented and frequently exposed to direct sunlight. I recommend using a children's sunscreen that contains avobenzone (also called Parsol 1789), which is a UVA blocker, and octisalate, which blocks UVB rays. Avoid sunscreens that contain zinc oxide because accidental ingestion could lead to a serious condition called hemolytic anemia in some pets.
Chill out when it gets too hot
The amount of time a dog can exercise in the heat is dependent on several factors: the acclimatization of the dog (how long and frequently it has been exposed to hot temperatures), its current fitness levels (lean, fitter dogs can endure high temperatures longer than out-of-shape, overweight dogs) and hydration status.
In general, once it gets above 85 degrees, dog owners should use caution when exercising their dog outdoors. For most dogs, moderate activity for thirty minutes is safe. When temps exceed 95 degrees, it's probably best for both of you to skip the outdoor workout until it cools down. During the summer months, try to walk or jog in the early morning or evenings or seek shady trails.
If your dog begins to have rapid or labored breathing, begins to resist walking or acts depressed, your dog may be overheating. In these cases, stop, rest, and rehydrate. This doesn't mean you should cease exercising just because your dog is panting; you need to closely watch your pet to determine if the panting is excessive or abnormal. If in doubt, take a break and cool down.
Many pet owners enjoy taking their pet to the beach for a dip or for a ride in their boat. These activities are great ways to bond with your furry friends and I encourage people to include their pet in outdoor fun. Whenever your pet is on a boat, I strongly advise you to use a pet floatation device. Purchase one with a large, convenient handle that allows you to safely retrieve or assist your pet should it fall overboard or tire from swimming. It can get hot wearing a life vest, so be sure to provide shade and plenty of water during your trip.
Dogs often ingest water when their swimming. If they drink seawater, they will often develop vomiting or diarrhea. Most cases will resolve quickly but if your pet continues to experience GI upset for more than 24 hours, seek medical attention. Another potential threat is drinking contaminated water. There are many water-borne parasites and infections that you and your dog can contract from ponds and lakes. Always verify that the water you intend to swim in is safe. Don't allow your dog to go into any body of water you aren't certain is safe. In addition to microscopic predators, our areas' ponds are also home to alligators, cottonmouths (also known as water moccasins) and venomous insects.
After you enjoy a day cooling off in your favorite watering hole, rinse your dog's coat with plenty of clean, fresh water and a hypoallergenic pet shampoo. Clean and dry the ears with an ear cleaning solution that contains an astringent or drying agent. Many cases of ear infections are caused by allowing moisture to remain in the ears after swimming or bathing.
Thunderstorms and fireworks
Summertime also means frequent afternoon thunderstorms and holiday fireworks. Many pets are frightened of loud noises and these events trigger severe anxiety and stress. If your pet becomes destructive or behaves abnormally in response to loud noises, there is help. In addition to great pharmacologic treatments to help relax your pet during these stressful times, there are non-prescription remedies that may help.
Gradual desensitization using storm recordings work remarkably well for most pets. Rescue Remedy, valerian, melatonin, dog-appeasing pheromone (DAP), and other natural products may also help some dogs and cats. Talk with your veterinarian about how to calm your best buddy with a storm problem. There's no reason anyone should have to cower in a closet or destroy the furniture to get relief.
Heartworms, fleas, and ticks
Finally, warm weather brings out the pests. Every dog and cat in our area should be on heartworm preventive year-round. Heartworm disease is fatal if untreated in dogs and there is no treatment for cats. In addition to heartworm preventive, most pets require a flea preventive, especially during warmer months. There are several choices, including newer, more eco-friendly options this year. Many newer heartworm preventives also contain a flea preventive. Talk with your veterinarian about the safest and most effective flea preventive for your pet.
Pets that live in wooded areas often are exposed to disease-carrying ticks. Many flea preventives will also protect against ticks. One mosquito, flea, or tick bite is too many for any pet. Don't risk your pet's health (and your money) by allowing your pet to be at risk. Today's preventives are highly efficacious and extremely safe.
Summer is a great time of year for people and pets. The activities you share with your pets this season will last a lifetime. Be smart, safe, and break a sweat!
Ernest E. Ward, Jr., DVM is the owner and chief-of-staff of Seaside Animal Care, a nationally recognized award-winning small animal practice. Dr. Ward is the current veterinarian for the Rachael Ray Show and is a spokesperson for Rachael's Rescue. He has been featured on NBC Nightly News, Animal Planet, CNN, Animal Radio and numerous television and radio talk-shows around the country.
Read more about Dr. Ernie Ward in our expert center.
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