Warmer spring and summer temperatures often lead to more outdoor activities for people, and also for their pets. While these activities can be fun for all, there are some things to keep in mind to make sure that pets stay safe while having fun in the sun.
One of the biggest risks for pets is being left inside a parked car, even just for a few minutes—and even if the window is cracked. Despite outside temperatures that don’t seem scorching, the greenhouse effect of a parked car can intensify the heat. Temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s can easily get well up over 100 degrees in a car within minutes.
Pets should never be left inside the cab of a parked car, even just to run into a store “for a minute or two.” If your pet cannot come inside the store with you, or cannot be secured with a leash or kennel outside (ideally in the shade), it should not come along for the ride.
A parked car is not the only chance for a pet to get overheated. While outdoor cats can usually find shelter, and are usually not exercising much (especially in the heat), the same cannot always be said of dogs. A dog fenced or chained in a yard with no shelter can suffer heat stroke. Similarly, a dog taken for a long walk, that chases a ball, or does any other activity in the hot weather can easily get overheated.
Signs of heat stroke in pets include excessive panting, lethargy, and weakness. Heat stroke is a medical emergency, and pets may die from it despite aggressive treatment. It is best to avoid it by providing appropriate shade and water for outdoor pets, and by not promoting strenuous activity on hot days.
The sun provides other problems for pets, especially as temperatures rise. Hot pavement can cause burns to the bottom of the feet, so long walks on paved surfaces are not recommended unless the dog is wearing protective footwear.
Short-haired animals, especially those with non-pigmented skin, can get sunburned just as humans do. Additionally, certain types of skin cancer in animals are induced or exacerbated by solar radiation. Reducing sun exposure through shelter, clothing, and/or sunscreen can help prevent some of these conditions.
But sun-related complications are not the only problems that pets face during the warmer months of the year. Increased outdoor activity, although enriching, means increased risk for injury or illness.
Foxtails are a fact of life in northern California in the summertime. These plant awns can attach themselves to an animal’s coat, and can burrow deeper from there. They can find their way into the skin, ears, eyes, nose, mouth, and genitals; those that dive deeper can affect internal organs such as the lungs or liver. Animals spending time outdoors around foxtail-rich areas should be checked regularly for signs of swelling or injury, and any free foxtails should be removed from the coat.
Rattlesnakes are also prevalent during the warmer months. Owners may see their pet get bit, or may just find a pet with a large painful swelling. Rattlesnake venom can cause localized inflammation and necrosis, and can lead to systemic organ failure. A vaccine is available for dogs that helps neutralize the toxin, but any animal (vaccinated or not) should be seen immediately by a veterinarian if it has been bit. Rattlesnake avoidance classes may deter some dogs from approaching the snakes in the wild.
Fleas, ticks, and mosquitoes are also out in full force as temperatures rise. Appropriate parasite control measures can help minimize the chance of infestation and secondary diseases (such as Lyme disease and heartworm).
This is not to suggest that pets need to be quarantined in an enclosed, air-conditioned room at all times during the spring and summer. However, proper precautions can help a pet enjoy the warm weather while being as safe as possible.
— Keith Rode is a veterinarian at Woodland Veterinary Hospital and a graduate of UC Davis. For more information, call 530-666-2461