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Summer Hazards for Pets

Summertime is filled with warm weather and increased activities for pets and their people.  Here are some common problems to be aware of, and what to do. 


When there is hot sun, high humidity and higher heat indexes, the threat of overheating is real.
Just a very short time in a closed car or similar small space will exceed a dogs’ ability to stay cool and he or she could overheat and die.  Never leave a dog or cat in a car during hot weather!
Dogs are more interested in playing, being active and pleasing you.  They will run and exert themselves, regardless of how hot it is.  You must be the voice of reason and limit the activity and provide plenty of cool water and opportunities to immerse in cold water.
Certain dogs are less able to cool off with panting.  Short faced dogs often have abnormal upper airways that contribute to this problem. 
Overheated dogs feel hot to the touch, are often frantic, and will rapidly suffer major organ problems that can kill if not treated.  When in doubt, cool dog off with water from a hose, or immerse in a pool.  Any dog suspected of having overheated needs to be evaluated by emergency clinicians, who are equipped and able to deal with the situation.  Inability to clot blood, destruction of blood cells and muscle tissue, heart failure, and organ damage are the common results.  Treatment with careful cooling, intravenous fluids, plasma and supportive care measures is often successful if implemented early.  The hotter the dog gets and the longer they stay at that hot temperature, the worse the prognosis.
Cats rarely suffer heat problems, but do need access to water at all times.  Overheated cats are too commonly accidental victims of getting trapped in clothes dryers.

Old Labradors and laryngeal paralysis:

Many older Labradors develop paralysis of the vocal folds for reasons unknown.  Initially, a change in voice is heard and snoring sounds are common.  A little exertion and some hot weather will lead to panting and increased work of breathing, which can lead to swelling of these lazy, paralyzed vocal folds.  When that happens, patient will rapidly overheat and will be struggling to breathe, often turning blue.  Simply cooling such a dog will not be enough.  Control of the airway (which rarely will require an emergency tracheostomy), sedation and cooling measures are first priorities and surgical procedures to address the damaged vocal folds would be recommended.  Other breeds of dogs, and even cats, can have laryngeal paralysis as well.  
If you observe altered sounds and breathing, worse with exertion, in your dog (especially Labradors) discuss this problem with your primary care veterinarian. 

Hot pavement:

Dogs will run for miles alongside their people on bikes or on foot. People have adequate foot protection.  Especially during hot weather, dogs will suffer painful blisters on some or all of their foot pads.  This is best avoided;  do not run dogs on hot asphalt or concrete, and/or provide protective foot gear.  If foot burns do occur, medical attention is needed for your dog’s comfort and to reduce risk of complications such as infection.

Sports injuries:

Everyone is more active in the summer, it seems.  Your loyal companion can suffer acute sports injuries and can exacerbate more chronic problems.  Typical acute injuries include damage to cartilages in the knee (especially tearing of the anterior cruciate ligament), other ligament or joint injuries, broken bones, muscle pulls and the like.  Consult with an emergency veterinarian or your primary care veterinarian BEFORE providing any medication to your pet.  Some can be quite harmful. Many sports injuries need rest and pain relief, anti-inflammatory medications.  Many will benefit from short- term ice therapy. 
Many dogs have chronic bone and joint pain from arthritis and this can be exacerbated by increased activity, minor trauma and the like.  Pain relief therapy is also needed for them.  A plan of weight control, restricted activity and multimodal management of pain and inflammation is very helpful for regaining function and comfort.
There are increased opportunities to provide physical therapy and other forms of rehabilitation.  This includes underwater treadmills, chiropractic, acupuncture, physical therapy, Laser therapy and passive/active exercise routines.  Discuss long term management with your primary care veterinarian, who may refer you for care with other providers of these types of services.

Vehicular trauma:

Simply prevented with leashes or confinement, accidents still happen when dogs or cats get loose and into traffic, or are struck accidentally in their own driveways.  Even absent obvious external injury, serious injures are very common when small pets are hit by large, heavy vehicles.  If your dog or cat is hit by a vehicle, immediate care is recommended at an emergency and critical care facility, where pain management, shock therapy and surgery will be provided as needed.  Early treatment allows the best recovery.  Close monitoring is extremely important to allow detection of problems such as unrelenting pain, internal bleeding, lung damage, brain injury and myriad other possible problems.  Most such patients require a period of hospitalized monitoring for their safety.

Insect stings and insect borne diseases:

A very common warm weather hazard relates to bites and stings of arthropods (spiders and insects).  Only very few of these cause life threatening problems, but some can.  Many dogs and cats have allergic reactions if they have been sensitized by prior exposure, causing facial swelling, hives, itchiness and potentially breathing problems.  These are best and most efficiently treated in the ER, which prevents the life threatening airway difficulties.  Some can be managed with oral antihistamines and some dogs may benefit from having an Epi-Pen or similar device at hand.
Mosquitoes, fleas and ticks, among other arthropods, can carry infectious diseases such as West Nile, heartworm, Ehrlichia, Lyme and Anaplasma.   Some dogs and cats are, like some people, more bothered by mosquitoes than others.  Insect repellents and measures to prevent fleas are well worth the expense.  Obtain quality products from your primary veterinarian.  Off brands and internet purchases can be ineffective or hazardous. 

Dog maulings and cat fights:

With increased visits to dog parks and increased outdoor activity in general, dog fights occur and some can cause very bad injuries.  When a large animal grabs a small one, serious internal injuries can be inflicted in the blink of an eye, even while not leaving an external mark.  Small appearing puncture wounds may represent much larger wounds just underneath.  All bite wounds are painful and are likely to develop infection.  Small animals shaken vigorously by larger animals are at risk of many complications.  All such victims should receive evaluation and care by veterinary caregivers.
Cat bites, generally received by other cats, are often deep and almost always lead to abscess formation.  In certain locations, this can lead to loss of skin, limb function, etc.  Early treatment, the goal of which is to prevent abscess and tissue loss, is best.

Antifreeze is not just a winter hazard:

As car work occurs, it is common for car chemicals to leak or be spilled.  Antifreeze attracts both cats and dogs due to its odor/flavor and is very deadly in fairly small amounts.  Avoid this hazard by containing and cleaning any such leak.  If your pet ingests some liquid that could be antifreeze, have him or her checked.  There are tests to detect exposure and successful treatments, but both are only useful in the first 12 hours or so.


Many plants and other things become easy to find for curious dogs and, to a lesser degree, cats. Mushrooms can cause serious gastrointestinal and liver problems, and some are life threatening.  Many garden plants, including most lilies, can cause kidney failure in cats.  Grapes and raisins are dangerous to the kidneys of dogs.  Xylitol, a sugar substitute, can cause dangerous low blood sugar and liver disease in susceptible dogs.  Garbage, compost, carrion and other organic material can host many toxins that lead to various symptoms in dogs who ingest it;  this so called “garbage toxicity” may cause tremors and seizures and is often easily resolved when treated early.  Cocoa mulch and many garden chemicals are hazardous;  dogs will ingest the tasty cocoa mulch and can be intoxicated with the theobromine it contains (a form of chocolate toxicity). 

Thunderstorm anxiety and fireworks:

Dogs especially, but also cats, can develop severe anxiety related to thunderstorms, gunshots and fireworks, all of which are more common in summer and fall.  Your veterinarian should be consulted about appropriate anti-anxiety medications to use before this cause your dog to become frenzied.  In some cases, inevitably, they will need an emergency trip to the vet for injectable sedatives, as they can overheat or do themselves physical harm in extreme cases.


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