Although June 21 technically marks the beginning of summer, Memorial Day is summer’s traditional start, and as the temperatures increase, pet owners must prepare for the numerous hazards and stressors associated with temperature changes, sun exposure, holiday food consumption, and festive gatherings.
To ensure your pet has a safe and fun summer, take proactive steps to prevent potentially life-threatening illness and injury. Here are my Top 5 Summertime Pet Safety Tips.
1. Keep Your Pet’s Environment Climate Controlled
Increased temperatures associated with summer create a variety of health risks for pets. Cats and dogs rid their bodies of heat primarily through their respiratory tracts (trachea and lungs). Some heat is lost through the skin, but pets lack the ability to sweat like people. Therefore, most pets can’t easily acclimate themselves to hot or humid climates.
Summertime heat increases the risk for pet hyperthermia (elevation in body temperature above the normal 100-102.5 ºF range). Prolonged or severe hyperthermia can cause lethargy, vomit, diarrhea, multi-system organ failure, prolonged blood clotting times, seizures, coma, and death.
Brachycephalic (short faced, like the English Bulldog and Pug), geriatric, juvenile, sick, and overweight or obese pets have an increased challenge during warm seasons.
In warmer temperatures, always provide air conditioning and circulation to keep your pet cool both indoors and during vehicular travel.
2. Prepare Your Pet’s Coat and Skin for Summer
Proper coat care is another essential component to maintaining a pet’s normal body temperature regardless of season. A well-groomed coat permits air circulation at the skin's surface and allows heat to transfer out of the body.
Although most cats and dogs have a thick hair coat covering their body surfaces, sunburn is a risk during sunny months or for those living in balmy climates. Pink-skinned, light-colored, and thin-coated pets are especially susceptible to sunburn.
The nose, ears, and areas of exposed skin can be covered with pet-appropriate clothing or sun screen lacking salicylates and zinc oxide (which are toxic if ingested). Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen is the only product currently available that meets the Food & Drug Administration's safety standards for dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends sunscreen application at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
Of course, confining a pet to the shade is always a safe strategy.
3. Schedule Your Pet’s Activity During Cooler Times of the Day
Never exercise your pet in an excessively hot or humid environment. Dawn, dusk, and evening hours have the coolest temperatures, but such times should be avoided in areas with a heavy mosquito or other biting-insect population.
Provide rest, shade, and hydration at least every 15 minutes during exercise to ward off hyperthermia and dehydration. If your pooch refuses to run or walk, never force him to continue and schedule an examination with your veterinarian to explore for underlying health problems.
4. Prevent Your Pet’s Access to the Barbecue and Festive Foods and Drinks
Although barbecues provide festive fun for people, pets are at risk of trauma and illness.
Grilling should only occur from a height elevated above that which pets can reach. Hibachi-style grills placed on the ground or in other areas of reasonable access put your pet in the direct line of danger. First, second, or third degree burns can occur, depending on the type and duration of thermal exposure.
Aromas emanating from barbecued foods create an instinctual attraction for curious canine and feline noses and mouths homing in for a smell or taste. Foods left out for preparation or serving also create easy targets for pets. Keep food elevated to a height out of your pet’s reach. Use sealed containers to prevent “counter surfing” and gorging on festive treats.
Consumption of food and beverages found at summertime gatherings can cause digestive upset. Meats, bones, fat (cheese, animal skin, desserts, nuts, etc), fruit (grapes, raisins, etc), vegetables (onion, chives, etc), salt, sugar, spices, chocolate, alcohol, and other ingredients all harbor health risks for pets.
Digestive tract clinical signs include vomit, diarrhea, deceased appetite, lethargy, and others. Pets that are fed or binge on barbecue foods may suffer from pancreatitis (inflammation of the pancreas), liver or kidney damage, electrolyte imbalances, anemia, and other ailments.
Establish pet-safety guidelines for your barbecue and make sure all guests are well informed of and adhere to your instructions.
5. Leave Your Pet Out of Your Firework Watching Plans
Fireworks are a source of stress and life-threatening injury for pets.
Pets should never accompany their owners to areas where fireworks are being set off. Indoor, quiet, cool, and isolated parts of the home provide a safer and more suitable space. If needed, use a crate to confine your pet and prevent destructive tendencies or escape attempts through open doors or windows. The loud sounds from fireworks can be masked by television programs or music.
Adequately fatigued pets have a greater physiologic need to rest and are less prone to exhibit anxious behaviors (vocalizing, panting, pacing, hiding, salivating, inappropriately urinating or defecating, etc.). Exercise your pet in the hours leading up to a 4th of July event to exhaust your pet into better behavior.
If your pet needs anxiety relief or sedation around holiday gatherings involving fireworks, see the guidance of your veterinarian. An anxiolytic (anxiety-relieving drug) like Alprazolam (Xanax) or other treatment may be prescribed by your veterinarian is the best means by which holiday-related anxiety can be minimized. Veterinary prescribed drugs like Acepromazine and over the counter antihistamines like Diphenhydramine Hydrochloride (Benadryl Allergy) can sedate your pet, but won’t actually relieve anxiety and could worsen the behavioral issue.
Natural products like Rescue Remedy Pet, Spirit Essences, and others can also provide a degree of calming that’s likely less profound than Alprazolam but could still have some benefit. I often give Rescue Remedy Pet to my acupuncture patients to calm them pre-treatment.
Have a great start to your summer and always prioritize pet safety regardless of season or holiday.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney
Image: Terry Presley / Flickr
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