State Veterinarian Offers Tips for Keeping Pets Safe in Summer Heat

ANNAPOLIS (June 10, 2011)—With record-breaking heat making much of the Northeast miserable early in the summer season, Maryland Department of Agriculture State Veterinarian Guy Hohenhaus is offering advice on how pet owners can protect their four-legged friends from potentially deadly heat.

"Even the youngest and healthiest cats and dogs can become dangerously overheated very quickly in these temperatures,” said Dr. Hohenhaus. “Pets can’t tell you when they’re hot and thirsty. You should assume that if you’re hot and uncomfortable outside, your pet will be even more so. You should also be able to recognize and quickly respond to signs of heat stress and injury.”

Prevention is the best protection

• Give pets a haircut; especially those with longer or thicker fur. Most cats and dogs are more comfortable with shorter hair and less likely to suffer heat injuries during hot weather.

• Avoid walking pets on hard surfaces, especially asphalt exposed to direct sunlight, which can heat up under the summer sun and burn a pet’s paws on contact.

• If your dog takes a jog with you every day, consider leaving it home. Humans can wear lighter clothes and sweat. Pets don’t sweat and can quickly suffer a heat injury, even before the run is finished.

• Owners need to reduce the duration and strenuousness of exercise, limit exercise to early mornings and late evenings on hot, humid days, and always keep a fresh, full bowl of water nearby. A cool environment should always be available, and animals should not be left outside for long periods during the day without lots of water and adequate shelter from the sun.

• If possible, don’t take your pet in the car. Even with air conditioning, pets can overheat when exposed to direct sunlight in the car. Pet owners should never leave a pet in a car in summer heat, even if the car is parked in the shade with the windows cracked. It only takes a few minutes for temperatures inside a car to reach dangerously high levels and it is against the law in many places.

• While all dogs and cats are at risk, special care should be taken with older or very young pets, overweight pets, animals with chronic disease such as cancer, heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes and other endocrine disorders, and short-nosed dogs (like pugs and bulldogs).

• Not all dogs take to water or know instinctively how to swim well. Don’t throw your dog into a pool or other body of water if he’s never been in one before. A dog can tire quickly, become exhausted and could drown.

Know the signs; know the proper response

• Heat stress is a warning that the pet is becoming overheated. If not corrected, heat stress can lead to heat injuries, often very suddenly. Signs of heat stress include weakness, reluctance to move, refusal to continue exercising, unusually red or dark colored gums, excessive salivation, unusual thirst, excessive panting or difficulty breathing. If you observe any of these, stop the exercise immediately and get the animal to a cool, shady area immediately and provide cool water and rest. If the animal does not recover quickly or gets worse, cool them with water, wet towels, fans, ice packs etc and immediately consult a veterinarian.

• Heat injuries may be life threatening. Early signs of heat injuries include apparent lameness (from cramping), vomiting during or after exercise, inability or refusal to rise or walk. Heat injuries can progress rapidly and need to be treated immediately. Immediately get the animal to a cool place and take steps to cool them described above. Allow them to drink water if they are able. If they cannot drink or if their condition deteriorates, continue to cool the animal and immediately consult a veterinarian.

• Serious heat injuries are a life threatening event. Quick, correct action is essential. Cool the pet and take them to a veterinarian immediately if you observe disorientation or other abnormal behavior, collapse, seizure or loss of consciousness. Do not attempt to force water on a pet that is not able to drink without assistance.

“Every summer we see tragic, unnecessary deaths and injuries to pets because pet owners don’t fully appreciate the danger these high temperature pose to companion animals,” said Dr. Hohenhaus. “Just a little awareness on this issue can prevent your pet from suffering and save a lot of pain and heartbreak.”

Other simple summer pet safety tips

• Beware of poisonous or dangerous items such as plant food, insecticides, fertilizer, antifreeze, coins (especially pennies), string or fishing line, citronella candles, oil products, and insect coils that may be around the home and yard and make your pet sick if eaten. This is particularly important for puppies, kittens or any animal that chews indiscriminately.

• Limit the access to human food. Too much fatty food during picnics or after eating from the garbage can may lead to a life threatening condition of the pancreas.

• The heat, loud noise, and confusion of crowded summer events can stress pets and isn’t always an enjoyable experience for them.

• Make sure your pet is always wearing a collar or identification such as a tag or microchip. Ask your veterinarian to scan the microchip and make sure it is working on each visit.

• Maintain recommended heartworm medication since heartworm disease, transmitted by mosquitoes may be life threatening.

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