July - August - September 2014

Doggone The Heat Is On! (p.26)

By Dr. Erin Kelly Byrd

Summer is here! It's time for sunny weather and outdoor fun. But the season also presents dangers to our pets. The heat, bugs, and plants can pose possible dangers to them and summer activities can end badly if precautions aren't taken. For all you pet parents out there, following are some of the most common summer hazards and what you need to know to keep your furry family members safe this season.

Heatstroke cases skyrocket in the summer. Pets do not sweat as we do to cool down. Instead, they rely on panting and heat loss from their feet to cool off. The most common cause of heatstroke is a result of leaving animals in vehicles, but it can also occur if a pet is left outside in hot and/or humid conditions or exercises in similar weather. Brachycepahlic breeds (Pekingese, bulldogs, pugs, etc.) are especially susceptible. Signs of heatstroke are distress, excessive panting, and restlessness. As it progresses, pets can drool excessively, have difficulty walking, and their gums can turn blue/purple or bright red. In very severe cases, pets can be found having seizures or in a coma.

If you see these signs, you need to get your pet out of the hot environment and begin cooling him or her immediately. Directing a fan towards the animal and placing cool towels on the back of the neck, armpits, and groin can start this process. You can also put cool water on the ear pinna. However, absolutely do not use ice water or ice! Ice can cause the peripheral blood vessels to constrict and prevent cooled blood from getting to the internal organs. If you are able to get a rectal temperature, do it and record the number. Getting the temperature to 102-103 during transport is a good place to be. And get your pet to a veterinarian or a veterinary emergency facility immediately. Heatstroke affects every body system, so your pet needs to be checked out by the doctor.

You can prevent this problem by keeping your pet in a cool, well-ventilated area with plenty of clean, fresh water. Lots of pets enjoy car rides, but it is best to leave them at home when running errands or going to events this time of year. The temperature inside a car can rise 40 degrees compared to the outside temperature, even with the windows cracked. Many jurisdictions now allow law enforcement and security staff to break into cars when pets are in distress.

Summer is also the time when pets are bitten by snakes and other critters, or stung by insects. Make sure your pet's rabies vaccine is up to date, as they may encounter a carrier. Don't let your pet roam unattended. And if you notice an insect nest or snake nest, make sure your pet does not go near it or call in a professional to move it. The common signs of a bite or sting are an obvious wound, unusual swelling, or pain. If your pet shows any of these signs, call your veterinarian immediately. If you happened to see what caused the injury (snake, insect, other) be sure to mention this to the vet, as this can direct treatment. Do not give your pet any medications unless instructed to do so by a vet.

Lots of dogs love the water (mine included) but not every dog swims well or can safely enjoy it. Brachycephalic breeds especially have a hard time swimming. If you have a pool or spend time at the lake or beach, make sure your pet cannot get to the water unless supervised by you. Training your pets on where the steps in the pool are located can help them escape if they fall in unexpectedly. Pets can drown just like you and I can, and they are also susceptible to "dry drowning," which is a buildup of fluid in the lungs later. It is also advised to keep pets from drinking pool and ocean or lake water as much as possible. The chemicals can cause electrolyte imbalances and there could be contaminants that cause other diseases.

Spring and summer bring out the best in our yards and gardens, but many of these plants that bring so much beauty can be dangerous for your pets. Depending on the plant, your pet could experience everything from mild diarrhea to severe heart problems if ingested. The ASPCA website ( provides a great list of toxic and non-toxic plants for dogs. It is prudent to check it before you introduce a new plant into your yard or home. If you are wondering about the other plants in your yard that you currently have, compare their names to the list. If you discover you have a toxic plant in your landscape, con-sider removing it and replacing with a non-toxic one.

You are likely asked it at every visit to the vet – "Is your pet current with her heartworm/flea/tick preventatives?" We ask this because our area has so many mosquitos that spread heartworms and fleas and ticks, and they then spread other diseases. While these bugs can hang around all year, they are especially busy in the summer. Heartworm disease can be devastating for a dog, yet it is so easy to prevent. Fleas spread diseases like plague, which has been found recently in the southwestern United States. Ticks spread lyme, ehrlichia, and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever – all diseases that humans can get as well. In controlling these parasites on our pets, we can also reduce the risk to our own families.

Summer is the perfect time for family fun, enjoying the outdoors, and creating memories – and taking precautions with your pets can help ensure you and your family make some great ones. Your veterinarian can help answer questions specific to your pet to make sure he or she enjoys the season as much as you do. Happy summer!

Erin Kelly Byrd, DVM is with Paws at Play of Brier Creek. For more information about pet care, please visit



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