It’s summertime, and “the livin’ is easy.” But is it easy – or even safe – for your pets?
That’s what we asked Dr. Jess Nord, VMD, of Veterinary Specialty Care of Mount Pleasant and West Summerville. What’s commonly called the Lowcountry’s “animal hospital,” Veterinary Specialty Care offers a full array of specialty services in virtually all small animal veterinary disciplines, including neurology, dentistry, internal medicine, cardiology, surgery and acupuncture.
Dr. Nord said that summer is a great season for your pets, but only if you keep in mind a few recommended practices that will keep them healthy and strong when the thermometer soars into the 80s and 90s. In discussing the good and the bad for domestic pets, Dr. Nord chose to focus on dogs and cats – especially dogs.
“While some people may have parakeets or turtles or gerbils as their beloved pets,” she said, “the vast majority of pet owners have a dog or a cat at home.”
Dogs, she observed, are much more likely than cats to encounter problems during the sweltering summer months. And there’s more than a simple biological reason for that.
“Most pet cats spend the majority of their lives indoors,” Dr. Nord said. “Even those cats that do roam outdoors know their limits, and they’re not hesitant to share that information with their owners.
“Where dogs are ‘people pleasers’ who will exhaust themselves trying to make their owners’ happy, cats are ‘cat-pleasers.’ If they feel that they have had enough of any activity, they’ll just quit and do precisely what they want to do,” she added. “In many respects, they’re like little aliens in alien bodies.”
And Dr. Nord should know. She has four of them at home.
Dogs fall into a different category, and Dr. Nord said that VSC had already (in May) “seen an uptick in patients coming in with heat stroke,” which is a dangerous elevation of core body temperature.
Heat stroke tends to happen most frequently at the beginning of the heat season. One reason for this is that the hypothalamus, an important part of the brain that regulates body temperature, hasn’t had a chance to acclimate the animal to the temperature outside.
Heat stroke is anything but a minor disorder. Untreated, it can affect all the organs. It decreases the availability of good, oxygenated blood to the rest of the body as well as decreases the availability of certain enzymes that function maximally at lower temperatures.
“We note changes in heart rate and blood pressure, and we do a full panel of bloodwork in these cases to assess organ function, because without proper care, the result could be multiorgan failure and even death,” Dr. Nord said.
She added, “It’s wise to remember that when you are running outdoors with your dog or playing fetch, they’ll do what they think you want them to, even if it’s too much for them. Cat’s don’t tend to do this.”
Another danger to dogs that normally isn’t faced by felines is the human desire to go to the beach and take their canine friends along. Most dogs love the opportunity to romp on the sand and in the water. The villain here is the water itself. Whether intentionally or accidentally, a dog can ingest enough salt water for it to be toxic for them. The concentration of sodium in the water wreaks havoc on their electrolytes and can lead to vomiting, neurological changes and even death in the most severe cases.
“Always have clean, fresh water available for your pet to drink, at the beach and wherever you might go,” Dr. Nord said.
And never ever leave your pet alone in a locked car, particularly when the temperature is on the rise.
“The interior of a car can get superhot very quickly, and animals have died after being left there for as little as 10 minutes. Even cracking a window or two won’t help in our Charleston heat,” Dr. Nord warned.
Heartworms tends to flare in the summer months in the South, the doctor observed, and a monthly, year-round regimen of preventive treatment is very important for cats as well as for dogs.
“If you have any questions about the right medication for your pet and how to administer it properly,” she said, “don’t hesitate to reach out to your pet’s primary care veterinarian.”
Another thing to be aware of is the often-blistering temperatures of the surface your dog or cat is walking on.
“If you can’t put your hand on the pavement and hold it there for five seconds, it can literally melt the pads off your pet’s feet,” she said.
Summer is also a wonderful time for nice long walks with your dog.
“But keep Fido on a leash,” she said. “It’s the only way to control where your dog goes and help keep him or her from dangerous fighting with other dogs you may encounter.”
So have a great time in those lazy, hazy crazy days of summer with your dog. But understand his psyche and his physical limitations and respect them. Don’t worry so much about your cats. They’ll take care of themselves!
By Bill Farley