It’s that time of year again in the desert, when our weather hits triple digits. Our severe heat can be uncomfortable for us but it’s also especially dangerous for our pets. Summer safety is key to protecting our beloved fur family members.
Unlike people, most animals do not have the ability to sweat throughout their bodies. Dogs and cats perspire through their paws and will pant to evaporate water from their oral cavity and upper airways. This is an important fact to know when it comes to outdoor activities and traveling with pets.
For example, consider a common summer activity, such as hiking. As we know, hiking is more strenuous than walking, with the uneven terrains, inclines, and of course the various creatures we often encounter, including snakes. If you’re going to be hiking on rough, rocky terrain, consider putting hiking booties on your dog’s feet (remember to take the booties off on a break, because dogs only sweat through their paws and leaving the booties on too long could cause your dog to overheat).
The pads of dogs’ feet are soft and can get easily cut; their toenails can also easily become damaged or torn. And one of the greatest concerns is foreign debris, such as cactus spines, fox tails, grass awns and tumbleweeds, can become embedded in their feet, resulting in pain and infection.
If not removed immediately, such debris may ultimately require surgical removal, along with antibiotics, pain meds and anti-inflammatories from your veterinarian. Fox tails and grass awns, once embedded, can actually travel under the skin, causing a “draining tract”—a connected area of infection and inflammation that can be extremely painful for your dog. Besides the paws, these two menacing plant bits are commonly found in and removed from dogs’ noses and ears. Thus, when you’re hiking, never allow your dogs to bury their heads in thorny-type plants.
Additionally, especially while hiking, it is best to keep your dogs on a leash. Leashing protects them from getting into things they shouldn’t, helps them avoid other pets that might not be so friendly, ensures they won’t get lost, and can protect them from threatening wildlife, such as rattlesnakes. If you do come across a rattlesnake on a hike, you have a better chance of controlling your dog and preventing a snakebite, which can be lethal to your dog. Talk to your veterinarian about the yearly rattlesnake aversion training classes offered throughout the Coachella Valley, as well as the rattlesnake vaccine, which can help save your pet’s life if they do happen to get bitten by a rattlesnake.
Making sure to have water, not only for yourself but also for your dog, is critical. There are collapsible dog bowls you can purchase that can hook onto you or a backpack for easy carrying. It is best to avoid letting your dog drink from outside natural water sources, because they may be contaminated, leading to possible parasite infection or just general gastrointestinal upset.
Another important aspect of summer is remembering to NEVER leave a pet in a car, even if it’s “just for a minute.” It is illegal and you can be arrested and charged with animal endangerment and cruelty.* Many people think that, if their car is on with the air conditioner running, leaving a dog alone in the car is okay. It is not—air conditioners can fail and a pet could easily overheat.
Animals that overheat can suffer from “heat stroke,” whereby their temperature rises dangerously high, and—if high enough—can result in potentially fatal organ and brain damage.
Always be mindful of possible heat stroke when you take your pet out during the day. Never walk, hike or run with your dog in the middle of the day, when temperatures are at their highest. A simple rule of thumb: if you can’t walk on the pavement barefoot, then it isn’t safe for your pet, either. Also, keep in mind that pets who spend a great deal of time in the backyard or use a doggie door and cats who live outside MUST always have fresh water and shade available. Ultimately, it is best—and safest—to leave all pets indoors during the summer months.
Certain breeds and body conditions are more prone to heat stroke. Dark, thick/double-coated breeds, brachycephalic, and overweight animals are a few examples. Remember, heat stroke, while potentially deadly, is completely preventable!
Safe summer activities for pets include swimming, indoor doggie play dates/day care, and making fun treats, such as “pupsicles.” Make sure your pet knows how to swim, and never assume they will instinctively know—they must be taught and monitored. Gated pools are much safer for protecting pets from accidental drowning.
Summer is a great time for families and their pets to be together, enjoying fun activities. For veterinarians, this can be one of the worst times of year for animal emergencies. Remembering these safety tips will protect your fur family members and keep them from being rushed to a veterinary hospital.