Part of a person's responsibility when choosing to be a pet owner, is keeping his or her pet safe from common hazards. In the summertime, this is especially true.
As a season, summer is unique in the hazards it presents in the upper half of the continental United States. Insects, activity of wild animals, temperature, and time spent outside by pets are all different compared to the rest of the year.
Summertime dangers to pets may be divided into a few main groups:
- Hyperthermia — Dangers posed by heat include hyperthermia or "heatstroke" or sunstroke." When the internal body temperature of a dog, cat, ferret, or other warm-blooded pet is abnormally elevated, signs of heatstroke will develop. Watch for excessive lethargy, confusion, reluctance to walk, uncoordination, and even vomiting and diarrhea. Move the pet into the cool indoors and, call your veterinarian or local emergency veterinary clinic for information. Pets especially at risk for heatstroke include: ferrets, bully breed dogs with shorter muzzles, dark coated dogs, obese pets, and longhaired cats.
To lessen a pet's chance of developing hyperthermia:
- Always have clean, fresh water available.
- Do not walk or exercise a pug, bulldog, boxer or other "bully breed" dog, or an obese dog during hot humid weather. Walk them only in the early or late hours when it's cooler.
- Do not keep a ferret outside in the sun. Move ferrets to the basement or air conditioning if the temperature is over 80 degrees.
- Make sure that all outdoor dogs have shade in addition to water. Outdoor cats will naturally seek shade, but dogs may need to be brought inside. All outdoor dog runs must be shaded in the summer!
- Hot Pavement — Another heat-related summer hazard for dogs is hot pavement. If it's too hot for you to touch, it's too hot for a dog to walk on. Foot and toe pads may be badly burned requiring weeks of healing.
- Parked Car — Perhaps the fastest way to create deadly hyperthermia in a pet is to leave it in a parked car in the summer sun. A study in 2005 at Stanford University School of Medicine found that when the temperature outside is between 72 and 96 degrees, the temperature inside a parked car, even with the windows open, goes up 40 degrees within the first hour. Eighty percent of that is within the first half hour. Even if you think you're only going to be parked for five minutes, leave your pet safe at home.
- Open Windows — Lastly, hot weather means open windows. High rise syndrome in cats is a real condition. When a window is open, and a curious cat pushes on a loose screen, it may fall out. The typical injuries of high rise syndrome include: bruised or ruptured lungs, broken pelvic bones, broken legs, broken teeth, broken jaw, and shock. The good news is that 90% survive and recover with good treatment. If you have cats, make sure your screens are secure.
Wild Animal Dangers
- Porcupine Quills — Dangers posed by wild animals include porcupine quills, skunk spray, and snake bites. Curious dogs may suffer embedded quills usually in the face or feet from encounters with porcupines. Since the quills are barbed, they may not be pulled straight out, and will actually tend to work their way further inward the longer they are present. The least traumatic most successful removal is done under general anesthesia to completely relax the muscles. Tense muscles and moving skin of awake dogs may cause quills to break off leaving a piece of the shaft under the skin to later cause an abscess or migrate into a body cavity requiring a much bigger surgery to remove.
- Skunk Spray — Most of the time, having a pet sprayed by a skunk is a temporary annoyance. When a pet, usually a dog, is sprayed in an enclosed area, it can be dangerous. Skunk spray directly into the eyes can result in corneal ulceration, conjunctivitis, and even uveitis (internal inflammation of the eye). In rare cases, skunk oil toxicity has lead to convulsions, anemia, and death.
- Snake Bites — Snakes are another warm weather hazard for curious pets. Depending on where you live, venomous snake bites may be quite serious. To make your property less attractive to snakes, trim tall grass and remove any piles of junk. Refer to the ASPCA's website for information on snake bite prevention and tips.
- Rabies — Rabies is a fatal virus that any mammal can be infected by and pass on. The most common wild animals to be infected with and contagious for the Rabies virus are: raccoons, bats, skunks, and foxes. Be especially wary of any nocturnal wild animals seen out during the day, and any wild animals that have lost their normal fear of humans.
- Insect Bites and Infectious Diseases — Dangers posed by insects include bites and infectious diseases. Mosquitoes may carry the larval stage of the heartworm. Pet dogs are a normal host species for this parasite, but cats and ferrets may be infected as well. Dogs with untreated advanced heartworm infection develop heart failure and death. Infected cats may show sudden death or develop chronic asthma or vomiting. Prevention is better than treatment and is readily available through your veterinarian or reputable veterinary pharmacy.
- Tick-borne Illnesses — Tick species are increasing their territorial boundaries. Lyme disease is transmitted by the bite of infected deer ticks (black legged tick) or the Western black legged tick along the Pacific. Anaplasmosis, another disease affecting dogs, is carried by the same black legged tick species that carry the bacteria causing Lyme disease. Ehrlichiosis, yet another tick-borne illness of dogs, is carried by the Lone Star tick. All of these tick-borne illnesses are caused by bacterial species passed from the tick into the bite victim.
- Bee Stings — Bee stings are another summer insect danger for pets. The face and the feet are the most commonly stung areas on pets' bodies. Mild swelling may occur. Serious allergic reactions are rare but do occur. If your pet vomits within 5-10 minutes or develops very pale gums and becomes weak, seek emergency help.
- Fleas — Fleas are another type of insect that plague pets. With increased outdoor pet activity in the warmer months, summer is associated with more new infestations. The "cat flea" is the only type of the 325 flea species in the United States to infest pets and occasionally bite humans. It also carries and transmits a type of non-dangerous tapeworm. Rodent fleas in the desert Southwestern United States transmit the bacterial cause of bubonic plague, and 10-15 human cases are reported yearly. The adult stage of the cat flea survives winter in the Northern United States and becomes active anytime the temperature is above 59 degrees and at least 50% humidity. Effective flea prevention and treatments proven safe for pets and people are readily available. Seeking advice from your veterinarian is wise. Note that there are controlled studies in which alternative flea control such as brewer's yeast has been proven ineffective.
Dangers from Poorly Groomed Coats or Open Wounds
- Pets that have poorly kept coats or open wounds are at risk for maggot infestation. Pets that are ill or otherwise have great difficulty moving may become soiled with feces. Various fly species are attracted to feces to lay eggs. Eggs hatch into maggots which feed on feces or damaged flesh. Elderly or injured outdoor pets are at highest risk.
Dangers from Parties, Poisons and Panic
- Parties and Barbeques — Summertime dangers for pets are also caused by parties, poisons, and panic. Barbeque and picnic gatherings include many things attractive to but unsafe for pets. Dogs may swallow corn cobs, peach pits, and pork, beef, or chicken bones which do damage to and may obstruct the intestine requiring costly surgery to fix. Aluminum foil, plastic wrap, and the strings from roasts are likewise attractive potential obstructions. Kabob skewers are uniquely dangerous on the way down, and the fatty drippings from cooking meat are a great way to cause pancreatitis or at least explosive diarrhea.
- Poisons — Many poisonings in pets are not unique to summertime. Rodent bait exposures, human medication ingestion, antifreeze/coolant ingestion, xylitol (artificial sweetener), and chocolate toxicity occur in all seasons. In Northern climates, cocoa mulch toxicity in dogs and lily toxicity in cats are more likely in the summer. Check the related articles and lists on the ASPCA's website for more information on animal poison control.
- Panic — Finally, panic caused by thunder storms or fireworks is a unique summertime hazard for pets. The number of lost pets increases by 30-60% around the 4th of July every year. When well-meaning owners bring pets out to the fireworks, panic may ensue. A panicked dog or cat may successfully wiggle or pull out of a collar or harness and run away desperate to escape the loud noise. Thunderstorms are another common cause of panic in many dogs. Training programs to gradually lessen fear, calming products, and excellent short-term use medications are available to help for the more than very mild cases.
Summertime activities provide enjoyable activities for people and pets. The more aware pet owners are of potential hazards, the more pets can be better protected from preventable illness and injury.
Dr. Kelly Kasum is an associate veterinarian at East Towne Veterinary Clinic. Dr. Kelly has practiced general small animal medicine and surgery in Illinois, Iowa, and Wisconsin.