Monday, July 23, 2012

Pets and hot weather don’t mix

It may be the "dog days," but hot and humid summer weather is no friend to man's best friend. In fact, as Paula Belknap of Cannondale Animal Clinic recalled earlier this week, it can be downright deadly.

She said she knew of a dog owner some years ago who looked out to see their two seven-month-old golden retrievers playing on a hot, summer day.

"They were playing on the lawn one minute," she said, "and then they laid down in the sun. It looked like they were taking a nap." When the owner went to check on them a bit later, they were dead.

She speculated the dogs were too young to realize the toll the heat was taking on them until it was too late.

"You have to remember dogs pant to sweat," she said. "If a dog's temperature gets to 105 or 106, it can die." (A healthy temperature for dogs ranges from 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.)

Dr. Belknap saw a canine victim of overheating during Memorial Day weekend this year. The dog, only three years old, had been playing with the family's children. They kept throwing a ball for the dog, but he finally decided he didn't want to play anymore and laid down. An hour later they checked on the dog and found he couldn't walk.

When the family brought the dog to Dr. Belknap she said his temperature was 106.5. "We cooled him down quickly with a hose," she said. When a dog is overheated, it should be cooled down as quickly as possible, but not shocked. A hose over the back of the neck is OK, not an ice bath.

"You can also use a bottle of alcohol over the dome part of their head where the hypothalamus is," she said.

Probably the biggest danger for dogs in summer is a ride in the car. Whether the windows are open or shut, a dog left in a car is at a real risk of dying from heat. Dr. Belknap said sometimes people leave their dog in the car with the air conditioner on, but this, too, is dangerous.

"If the car conks out with the AC running, the windows are up, now the dog really has no chance," she said. "It's really safer to leave them at home."

Other animals

Unlike dogs, healthy cats don't pant. "A cat loses moisture through its tongue and foot pads. They sweat through their feet," she said.

"If you see a cat panting that cat is in serious trouble. It either has heart problems or is overheated."

Horses sweat, much as humans do. Horse owners should check on their animals on hot days. If a horse in a barn in the afternoon is sweating, it should get hosed down, Dr. Belknap said.

She doesn't think coat thickness contributes to overheating. "Huskies and dogs like that, with thick coats, like a collie's, they act like insulation," she said, adding this is her own opinion and she is not an expert on the issue. "When you shave a dog, that's when they get in trouble." Those dogs should be watched more closely, she added.

Ease up on walking

Owners who use common sense can generally keep their pets out of trouble. For example, she said avoid walks after 10 a.m. and offer lots of water. The problem is, some dogs won't drink when they are out and you can't get them to drink before they go out. Even dogs that are fit shouldn't walk as far in the heat as they would on a cool day.

Dogs with heart conditions should be watched carefully.

Sunscreen is also a good idea, especially since dogs can get skin cancer. "Dogs with white and pink noses or white on their feet can benefit from sunscreen," she said.

by Jeannette Ross