July 16, 2012 -- intro: The recent heat wave that cooked much of the U.S. killed dozens of people across the country, but in addition to the human casualties, animals also perished in the sweltering heat and humidity.
Just as heat and sun can be hazardous to human health, animals are vulnerable to the numerous risks summer poses.
Pets may not be able to tolerate a brisk jog or some quiet time in the sun the way people can, so veterinarians stress it's important to know an animal's limits and to recognize signs that what we do for recreation may be too much for them.
Summer can be a fun time for people and their pets, and it can be a safe time if people heed veterinarians' advice on avoiding the biggest summer health hazards on the following pages.
quicklist: 1 category: Summer Pet Hazards title: Heat url: text: When it comes to heat and pets, there's a very simple guideline:
"If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for your pet," said Dr. Steven Marks, an associate professor of internal and emergency medicine at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine.
Cats don't usually have problems with the heat, since they will find shade somewhere, according to Dr. Marty Becker, a veterinarian in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and a columnist with Vetstreet.com.
But other animals are at risk, and as with humans, the youngest, oldest, sickest and the obese are at the highest risk for heat-related illnesses.
One way to keep dogs safe in the heat is to avoid walks when it's very hot.
Being out in the heat is especially dangerous for dogs with pushed-in faces, such as bulldogs and pugs. They can have trouble breathing on a normal day, so in the heat it can be even worse.
"Let them out quickly and get them back in the air conditioning," said Dr. Jules Benson, vice president of Petplan health insurance.
Exercise is healthy for dogs, but they don't self-regulate as well and will keep on jogging or walking alongside their favorite humans without realizing something is wrong.
"It's up to us to keep an eye on them and watch out for the signs," said Becker. "If you start seeing a dog that is panting excessively, seems uncoordinated and kind of confused -- those are the danger signs of heat stroke."
Dogs affected by the heat may also stop and become reluctant to continue walking or running, veer off the path to find a cool place to sit or may seek out water. Dogs may also start vomiting or have diarrhea.
To cool down an animal, use cool water, not cold water. Cold water can cause vasoconstriction, which can make the overheating worse. Wet them to the skin, and if there are signs of heat stroke, get them to the vet immediately.
In addition to the outside temperature, the asphalt can also get really hot, putting animals at risk for burns and abrasions to their foot pads. Becker explained that a good way to tell if the ground is too hot is to feel it with the palm of the hand, which is about as sensitive as animals' foot pads. If it's too hot to touch, walk at a different time of day or on a different surface.
Ideally, pets should be kept indoors, especially during a heat wave. But for people who keep their animals outside, it's important to make sure there is plenty of fresh water available as well as an accessible shady place.
"Pets shouldn't be left alone for long periods of time if they're outside. Check on them," said Marks.
And inevitably, despite many warnings, people still leave their pets inside hot cars.
"A study in 2005 at Stanford University School of Medicine found that when the temperature outside is between 72 and 96 degrees, the temperature inside a parked car, even with the windows open, goes up 40 degrees within the first hour. Eighty percent of that is within the first half hour," said Benson. "Even if you think you're only going to be five minutes, don't take your pet with you."
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quicklist: 2 category: Summer Pet Hazards title: Sun url: text: Although we may think of sunburn as something uniquely human, animals can actually get sunburned as well.
Areas where there isn't a lot of hair, such as the backs of the ears and the nose, can get burned, but vets disagree about whether to use sunscreen.
"If your dog will be out for extended periods of time, put sunscreen on exposed areas -- the nose, areas of the head where the hair is thin and the points of the ears," said Benson. "The sun can go straight through their coat and burn their skin, especially dogs with pale skin."
There is special sunscreen for dogs, but children's sunscreen will work just as well.
Other vets, however, say it may not help that much.
"Most dogs will just lick the sunscreen off," said Becker.
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quicklist: 3 category: Summer Pet Health Hazards title: Pests url: text: It wouldn't be summer without bees, spiders, snakes and other pests. While some of them may help the environment, they can also be dangerous.
Animals are also vulnerable to stings and bites.
"Pets explore the world with their noses, so they may stick it in a flower bed and get stung by bees," Becker said. If animals are allergic to bee or wasp venom, a sting can lead to anaphylactic shock, a potentially deadly allergic reaction.
"If you're going camping, take Benadryl with you," said Becker. Giving Benadryl after a sting can alleviate symptoms of an allegrgic reaction. However, do not give Benadryl without consulting with a vet first.
Other pests can lurk in the brush and wooded areas and can strike quickly if an inquisitive pet gets too close.
"Places where pests live tend to be in dark, shaded areas and holes in the ground," said Benson. "If you're out walking your dog, keep it on a leash and make sure you watch where he or she goes."
"If you have a dog pen or are keeping an animal outside, the area should be well-groomed," said Marks. "A lawn is better than bushes or underbrush, since pests can hide in brush."
Pets should also be protected against fleas and ticks, Marks added.
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quicklist: 4 category: Summer Pet Hazards title: Food url: text: Cookouts are another summer signature, and another source of potential pet hazards.
Ribs and corn on the cob are cookout staples, but people enjoying them should avoid letting their pets partake.
"Lean pieces of meat are O.K, but don't give bones of any kind or corn cobs. Animals can easily get an intestinal obstruction," said Becker.
Also, people shouldn't feed their pets fatty scraps.
"Animals will devour it, but their systems can't handle the high fat content and it can lead to pancreatitis," he added.
It's also common to see open beverage containers at outdoor gatherings, but if there's alcohol involved, pets should be kept away.
"Animals can get drunk much more easily," Becker said.
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quicklist: 5 category: Summer Pet Hazards title: Pools text: Although they have a swimming stroke named after them, many dogs are not good swimmers.
In fact, Becker said that lots of dogs die in pools.
Dogs with pushed-in faces tend to be top-heavy, so they sink in the water. Dogs that are out of shape are also at risk.
Dog owners with pools should take special precautions to protect their pets from drowning.
"Get a pool alarm or pool ramps that are designed for pets to easily crawl out," he said.
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