Just about everyone loves summer – the warmth of the sun, the bright blue skies, the longer hours of daylight for fun and play. Well, our dogs are no different. Like us, they are outside much more during the summer and share many of our favorite activities with us. While summer is full of fun, it also can be filled with hazards that could sap the fun right out of your dog’s summer. Being aware of these potential hazards could prevent a host of problems.
Fleas, Ticks, and Heartworm
Summertime is prime time for fleas, ticks, and heartworm and these parasites can do much more than just make your pet uncomfortable. Fleas can quickly become an uncontrollable issue if not prevented or eradicated when first discovered. Left unchecked, they can quickly make both your dog and you miserable and infest your home. Not only will they create an itching nightmare, but they can also cause tapeworms in your dog.
Ticks are a problem year-round so don’t be lulled into a false sense of security when summer disappears and temperatures get colder. We all are well aware that ticks can harbor life-changing Lyme disease, which can infect both our pets and us. Ticks also carry other infectious diseases such as Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis, and Babesiosis, just to name a few, which can infect both humans and dogs.
Heartworm is no longer a disease confined to the southern area of the United States. With warmer temperatures, mosquitos carrying this potentially fatal disease have moved northward. As with ticks, the danger does not disappear with colder temperatures. While a dog infected with heartworm can be treated, the treatment is complex and lengthy as well as expensive and potentially dangerous for the dog. However, not treating heartworm can be lethal. It is much easier to prevent the infestation than deal with the cure.
All of these parasitic issues can be easily prevented with medication from your veterinarian. Fleas and ticks can be handled with a topical monthly application or with an oral medication. Many of the available oral medications can treat all of these parasites with one pill. Please discuss the available medications, both topical and oral, with your veterinarian. There are many factors that determine the best product for your dog, and your vet is the best source for that information.
Proper lawn and garden maintenance is a great way to reduce the incidence of fleas, ticks, and heartworm. Keep grass around your home mowed and brushes and foliage trimmed back. Long grass and overgrown shrubs provide a great environment for fleas and ticks. Standing water is the perfect breeding ground for mosquitos, the transmitters of heartworm. Be sure to change birdbaths daily and remove any items that can harbor standing water, such saucers under potted plants.
Swimming and Boating
Many dogs enjoy water sports. Swimming in the family pool or dunking in the local lake is a great way for your dog to cool off. When swimming with your dog, observe the same precautions you would use with children – never leave your dog unattended and keep an eye on them. Like children, dogs can get caught up in the fun and tend to keep swimming long after they get tired. Be sure to monitor your dog and watch for signs of fatigue. Dog paddling is great, but it can’t go on indefinitely. If needed, make your dog come out of the pool or lake and take a break. Give them time to rest and make sure they are well hydrated.
Likewise for boating families, their dog enjoys a day on the lake as much as the humans do. Boating regulations require that all boats carry coast guard approved flotation devices for every person on board. This should apply to your dog as well. While your dog is not required to have a life vest, it is truly in their best interest to have one and wear it. Should there be a boating accident and your dog is thrown into the water, a life vest will save their life. Dogs cannot swim endlessly, and fatigue and cooler water temperatures can quickly create a major issue for your four-legged friend. No person pulled from the water following a boating accident ever regretted having on a life jacket. Protect your friend and your heart, get your dog a life vest and have them wear it. They come is all sizes for all breeds and are well worth the investment.
While we don’t usually think of dogs getting sun burned, they can. Thin coated dogs and dogs with white or light coats are especially susceptible, with nose, belly, eyelids, and ears being the most vulnerable spots. Monitor your dog’s time outside and be sure they do not get too much sun. If your dog will be spending a lot of time in the sun or around water (which increases the chance of sunburn), look into getting them sunscreen especially made for dogs. Do not use human sunscreen on your dog.
Heat Related Issues
Whenever your dog engages in summer activities, be sure to watch for signs that your dog may be overheating. Unlike humans, dogs have very few sweat glands, only located in their paw pads and nose, so they only can cool themselves by panting. If dogs cannot cool themselves enough through panting, they may overheat or develop hyperthermia. Hyperthermia is a condition where the dog’s core body temperature rises above the normal range of 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Depending on the severity, it can become fatal.
Some dogs are more prone to hyperthermia than others. Long-haired or thick coated dogs heat up faster than short-coated dogs. Brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, such as English and French bulldogs, Pekingese, Boston terriers, and boxers, tend to overheat quickly due to smaller, narrower nostrils and smaller airways so their panting is much less efficient than that of longer nosed breeds. Overweight and obese dogs as well as older dogs or dogs with health issues, such as heart problems or collapsing tracheas, will tend to overheat quickly.
Hyperthermia can happen to any dog exposed to high temperatures and humidity or that over exercises, so it is important to know the symptoms. An early sign of a heat-related issue is, of course, high body temperature but since most of us don’t carry around dog thermometers it is important to be aware of other symptoms. Restlessness or agitation and difficulty breathing, excessive drooling with thick syrupy saliva, and change in normal gum color are early signs of overheating. As the condition progresses, your dog may vomit or develop diarrhea, become lethargic or collapse, have increased heart rate or pulse, or appear dizzy or “drunken” as they try to walk.
If your dog exhibits any of these symptoms, it is important to respond immediately. Give your dog water, offering frequent small amounts. Move your dog to the shade or a cooler environment. If your dog is outside, wet the area around them to create a lower ambient temperature. Lower your dog’s body temperature by wetting them down with water. Do not try an ice bath as this may lower the body temperature too quickly causing the blood vessels to constrict and further inhibit the dog’s ability to cool down. If the dog is inside, have them lay on wet towels or place wet towels under their belly and on the inside of their legs. Do not wrap them in wet towels as this will trap heat and prevent cooling. Contact your vet immediately even if our dog appears to be responding.
Dogs in Cars
Dogs love cars. They love hanging out the window and inhaling all those wonderful scents. They really look like they are having a wonderful time and they are. However, letting your dog hang its head out of the window of a moving car is a prescription for problems. Debris or a stone could easily hit your dog in the eye or ear and a day of fun will quickly turn into a trip to vet.
Open windows may enable your dog to jump out of the car should they see something they want to investigate, be it a deer, a squirrel, or another dog. Having a dog jump from a car window could be disastrous, whether the car is moving or stopped. Best to leave those car windows rolled up and the air conditioning on. If you insist on having your dog experience those wonderful smells, roll down the window just a bit so that they can catch those scents but not enough that they can get their head through it.
One final note that always bears repeating – absolutely never leave your dog in the car on a warm day. Even if you think the day is cool, temperatures can rise by 40 degrees within a half hour or so. Best to leave your four-footed friend safely at home rather than risk disaster.
Summertime is filled with fun and activities, and we love sharing these with our pets. Following a few simple precautions will help to ensure that you will have many more fun-filled summers with your dog and that will help both you and your dog to live happier, healthier lives.