OK In Health - Paws 4 Thot

Our Pets - Hot and Hairy in the Summer - August 2012

By Dr. Moira Drosdovech, Kelowna, BC

dogs get hot in summer - three shepard dog cooling down in a boat

Now that summer has officially arrived, we need to think about our pets and their comfort and safety. Here in the Okanagan, we all know how hot it can get, especially those of us without air-conditioning.

Picture, if you will, trying to live in that heat with a fur coat on! I am sweating just thinking about it! Dogs and cats can suffer from the same problems that humans do, such as overheating, dehydration and even sunburn. Unfortunately for them, dogs and cats sweat only on the pads of their feet and heat dissipation is minimal through the skin. They also pant to decrease body temperature naturally. By remembering these facts and taking some simple precautions, you can celebrate the season and keep your pets happy and healthy. The following guidelines will make for a safe and happy summer:

  • First and foremost, make sure that pets have access to shade. This does not mean that you can leave your pet in the car while it is parked in the shade! Never leave your pet alone in a vehicle during the warm and hot months for any time greater than just a couple minutes—hyperthermia can be fatal. I have witnessed this tragedy a few times in my veterinary career and the guilt no doubt will stay with the owner of that animal for the rest of their life. Even with the windows open, a parked automobile can quickly become a furnace in no time. Parking in the shade offers little protection, as the sun shifts during the day.
  • Second and just as important, allow for an unrestricted supply of clean water. Animals get dehydrated just as humans do. Always carry a gallon thermos filled with cold, fresh water when traveling with your pet. Bring your dog or cat inside during the heat of the day to rest in a cool part of the house.
  • Third, avoid strenuous exercise during the hottest part of the day. If you run with your pet, do so in the early morning or late evening, when temperature and humidity are usually lower. Never run right after feeding your pet.
  • Fourth, have some street smarts. Asphalt, sand, and concrete can become very hot in extreme sun. These hot surfaces can cause significant damage to pets' paws. Minimize exposure to these surfaces and ensure that animals have cooler surfaces, such as dirt and grass, available to them.
  • Finally, realize that summer heat and high humidity can be very hard on older and ill animals. Be especially aware that their needs are met and avoid exercising them without consulting a veterinarian first. Be especially sensitive to overweight animals in hot weather. Brachycephalic or snub-nosed dogs such as bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus, as well as those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.
Other hot weather pet pointers include:
  • Good grooming can stave off summer skin problems, especially for dogs with heavy coats. Shaving the hair helps prevent overheating, but may change your dog’s coat forever, according to groomers. If you shave right down to the skin, you might predispose them to sunburn skin damage so best to stay at a one-inch length. Cats should be brushed often and they can also be given a lion cut”. They may not enjoy the process of getting a lion cut, but they sure seem to enjoy the benefits!
  • Do not apply any sunscreen or insect repellent product to your pet that is not labeled specifically for use on animals. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.
  • Having a backyard barbecue? Always keep matches, lighter fluid, citronella candles and insect coils out of pets' reach. It is truly amazing what dogs will consume.
  • Please make sure that there are no open, unscreened windows or doors in your home through which animals can fall or jump.
Stay alert for early signs of overheating in pets, which include excessive panting and drooling and mild weakness, along with an elevated body temperature. Take these actions if a pet is overheating:
  1. Immediately move to a shaded area;
  2. Stop or slow down activity;
  3. Offer small, frequent amounts of ice chips or cool water to the pet;
  4. Spray the pet with cool water or immerse in cool water (do not use ice cold water, which can worsen the condition!);
  5. Expose the animal to circulating air, for example, by using a fan;
  6. Apply a small amount of rubbing alcohol to the pads of the feet (do not let the animal lick this!);
  7. Contact your veterinarian.

If an animal collapses or has difficulty breathing, contact a veterinarian immediately. Heat stroke is a medical emergency.

The Okanagan is also host to several other hazards lurking in the outdoors during the summer. These include ticks, already discussed in a previous issue, and these parasites should be gone by July. Spear grass commonly causes problems in dogs. This nasty stuff gets in between their toes, in their ears, up their nose and in their armpits as well as occasionally being inhaled into a lung. It causes small draining fistulas in the toes and armpits, great discomfort in the ears and sneezing attacks if it goes up the nose. Avoid fields and other walking areas where this plant is numerous and you will avoid a big bill for having to get it removed!

We also have rattlesnakes here and these can be surprised by an unwary dog. I have yet to treat a dog with a rattlesnake bite, but I would rather not have to. It might be best to keep Rover on a leash during hikes in rattlesnake territory, which would be dry rocky landscapes. Rattlesnakes, by nature, are shy retiring creatures that would normally depart or seek cover when approached by people or pets.

Have a great summer!

Dr. Moira DrosdovechDr. Moira's Bio: A practicing veterinarian for 20 years, has been in Kelowna since 1990, first owning Rutland Pet Hospital and now, after selling the former, Pawsitive Veterinary Care, opened in 2000 and focused on primarily holistic health care. She welcomes new clients and loves to educate! Kelowna (250) 862-2727. - Dr. Moira Drosdovech Website - Email

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