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Keeping pets cool key to dog days of summer

Posted: Sunday, June 20, 2004

The "dog days" of summer are here, but with the long days of warm weather and bright sunshine come additional responsibilities to our furry friends.

Hot weather can make us all uncomfortable, and it poses special risks to pets, but keeping a few safety concerns in mind can keep dogs happy and healthy as the mercury rises.

In the car

Never leave dogs alone in cars in warm weather. On a 60- to 70-degree day, the temperatures inside a vehicle can quickly reach lethal levels, even when windows are cracked.

Leaving the windows down farther isn't much of a solution since dogs can escape or be bothered by a passerby or animals in other cars.

If a pet must be left in a vehicle for a couple of minutes, try to find a spot in the shade, preferably with a good breeze. Leave plenty of fresh water in a non-tippable bowl while away.

Some owners also may bring two keys so they can lock the car while leaving it running with the fan on.

However, even with the emergency brake set, this can pose other dangers if the pet is loose. If leaving the car running it's a good idea to have the dog in a kennel or behind some other barrier so it can't reach the controls of the car.

At play

Dogs that have sat around the house all winter shouldn't be forced to go on long hikes. Injuries can occur if they are not allowed to build up to longer excursions. The transition from winter to summer should be slow and steady.

Overweight, older animals and those with preexisting medical conditions should have several weeks of gradual transition to outdoor activities.

Also, keep in mind that dogs may need to acclimate to the warm weather as much as to the exercise itself.

Dogs with short hair, white fur or pink skin can sunburn quickly. Limit their exposure to direct sunlight and keep a watchful eye on sensitive areas like around their eyes, ears and nose.

Snub-nosed and short-faced dogs, such as boxers, bulldogs and Boston terriers, can have an especially hard time in hot weather because they can't pant as efficiently as longer-faced dogs.

Long-haired dogs can overheat more quickly than their short-haired counterparts. Keeping a dog well-brushed and clean can help them stay cool since their coats will insulate against high heat better. Dogs can be shaved, but their coat should never be trimmed down to the skin.

Try going for walks, runs or hikes in the early morning or evening or pick trails that are heavily shaded by tall trees.

Just like humans, dogs can get thirsty while exercising, so bring water along for them. Don't let pets drink from puddles or other foreign sources of water that could cause illness.

At the beach

Cook Inlet is known for some of the most dramatic tide cycles in the world. Currents can rip in and out and dogs should be watched closely while swimming and not allowed to get too far from shore.

Don't let dogs drink salt water, either, since the salt can make them sick. Bring along fresh water in case they get thirsty.

Salt and other minerals in the ocean water can damage a dog's coat, so rinse them off after leaving the beach. Also, dry a dog's ears completely after swimming to prevent infection.

Running in beach sand can be even more strenuous than running on hard ground. Excessive play can result in pulled tendons or ligaments.

Use good judgment when playing with pets.

What to watch for

Heatstroke can occur in any of these situations. It can come on quickly and result in brain damage or death so owners should know the warning signs.

Watch for symptoms such as heavy panting, lethargy, lack of coordination, unwillingness to move, excessive drooling, lack of appetite, dark tongue, white or blue gums, rapid heartbeat, fever or vomiting.

If a dog shows any of these symptoms, get the animal into the shade immediately and call a veterinarian.

Lower the animal's body temperature gradually by providing water to drink, applying a cold towel or ice pack to the head, neck, chest and groin area. The dog also can be hosed down or immersed in lukewarm (not cold) water.

Lawn care

The summer season is when many people garden and tend to lawn care. But fertilizers, weed killers and other lawn and garden products can be harmful to pets when ingested or inhaled.

Be aware that pets may not eat these items directly but can walk through them. Then as the chemicals start to irritate a pet's paws, they begin licking at them and ingest the product.

Store all lawn care and other potentially poisonous products in locations inaccessible to pets. Keep dogs out of gardens and off lawns that have been treated. Also, it never hurts to know the number for the poison control hot line, just in case.

Identification

One final bit of summer advice is to make sure all pets have well-fitting collars with current identification that includes a correct phone number in case they get lost.

A permanent form of identification, such as a subdermal microchip, can't fall off like tags can and lasts for the life of the dog.

If on vacation, think about having two forms of identification on pets one with their permanent identification and one with the contact information for wherever their owner is temporarily staying, or their cell phone number.

Joseph Robertia is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion. He has worked with wildlife and domestic animals for more than 10 years as a veterinary technician, a zoo keeper, and most recently as a zoologist for the Wildlife Conservation Society.

He welcomes any pet-related questions or story ideas, but please none of a veterinary nature. Ideas and questions can be sent to his attention by e-mail at clarion@ alaska.net.



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