Summertime and the living-is easy-so an old song went. As much as you, your cat or dog may enjoy summer, don’t forget it’s a bit more challenging for them. During the summer our pets join us as we walk, bike, run, barbecue, go to the beach and have 4th of July parties. With all these joys, however, come some attendant risks: heat exhaustion, sunburn, tick/fleas, roundworms and heartworms, skin and ear infections, and other injuries. Here’s help to combat some of the most common problems.
Dogs having their sun-day: Occasionally the sun is not our friend, so to shave or not to shave is the $1M question. Canines also sustain painful burns and potential skin cancer. Our dog’s fur naturally regulates their body’s temperature in the heat of summer. Therefore, shaving your dog interferes with this system. This is why vets recommend that you leave an inch of fur regardless. Some dogs are more susceptible: white dogs tend to have fair skin underneath all their hair and thus greater sunburn potential. Pups with naturally thin hair and especially hairless breeds are considered at-risk for sunburn and skin cancer. All dogs can sunburn on the belly, the nose, and the ears. Sunscreen? Yes, but there is only one FDA-approved one; Epi-Pet Sun Protector. A homemade concoction with essential oils and other natural ingredients can help (see the below link, DIYers and check out the list of foods to help sun-proof him ‘from the inside out’):
Provide shade for your dog and allow for plenty of shade breaks. He’ll instinctively seek it out. Avoid walking him from 1-4:00 pm when the heat is highest. Remember, if the asphalt is hot enough to burn your feet, it can burn his paw pads! Apply sunscreen liberally to the sensitive areas and be on the lookout for sunburn signs with your pooch. His nose ears and tummy will show overexposure first: dry, cracked skin and curling at the edges of his ears, constant scratching in tender places accompanied by a whimper, and pulling away if you try to pet him are signs-even fever from too much sun. First aid of an oatmeal bath using lukewarm water and rolled oats ground into a powder can soothe the burned skin, or a few drops of neem oil added to his bathwater. A dog’s signs of heat stress are heavy panting, dry or bright red gums, thick drool, vomiting/diarrhea. Normal dog temperature is between 100 and 103 degrees. Over 104 is the danger zone ; 106 or higher-fatal.
Felines in the Sun. How about shaving our feline friends? According to Mark J. Stickney, DVM, clinical associate professor and director of general surgery services at Texas A&M University’s veterinary medical teaching hospital, cats have a pretty good built-in bodily temperature regulating system, and truly do not benefit from being shaved. Kitty is NOT cooler temperature or fashion-wise just because you shave her to look like a lion.
It’s far more important to keep her safe by allowing her to be beautiful just the way she is. If she will be outside, sunscreen around her eyes, belly and on her nose will also help.
Cats don’t tolerate heat any better than dogs. They can only get rid of excess heat by panting or sweating through their foot pads. As their body temperature rises, the cat will suffer heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke. Serious organ damage or death is the result of persistent high body temperature. Signs are: restless behavior (trying to find a cool spot); panting, sweaty feet, drooling, or excessive grooming. Escalation of heat exhaustion brings rapid pulse/breathing: redness of tongue and mouth, vomiting, lethargy, and a stumbling, staggering gait. If high enough, your cat’s temperature will cause her to collapse and have seizures or slip into a coma. Temperature >105=vet’s immediate attention. Certain cat breeds have low heat tolerance, like short-faced (e.g., Persians) or obese cats. Keep your cat inside on very hot days.
Fleas and ticks are especially bothersome for cats and dogs alike in summer. Flea collars or good but topical prescription drugs are superior-ensure they have both. Flea-proof your house if necessary. Ask your vet about the appropriate products to use for your cat or your dog. Some prescription products, such as Revolution (selamectin), not only kill adult fleas but can be used to treat ear mites and ticks, and helps to control roundworms and hookworms in cats.
Roundworms and heartworms enter your pet’s system through the pads on his or her feet (or in small animals he/she eats). Dogs are natural heartworm hosts but cats are not, and once a cat is infected, there is no known cure-prevention is everything. Foxes and coyotes, wild species which live in proximity to many urban areas, are natural heartworm carriers. Protect your cat/dog by annual testing and give your pet heartworm preventive medicine 12 months a year. Many heartworm preventives also control roundworms. Ask your vet which treatment is appropriate.
Special Concerns: Cats and dogs should always have cool water on hand and a cool, shady place to unwind. It’s a sad reminder, but please please please do not EVER leave your dog or your cat in the car. Take them inside with you or leave them at home in cool safety! At the BBQ: don’t share these scraps with your dog or cat and avoid using charcoal briquettes, which can cause serious health problems for either from ingestion, and perhaps a case of perionitis. Finally keep BOTH cats and dogs far away from firecrackers and remember to clean up the trash left behind to prevent accidental ingestion and possible death.
Summer can be challenging for our cats and dogs, but it doesn’t have to. Be heat, tick/flea and roundworm/heartworm-aware, and Summer 2015 will be one of your best!