By Christine R. Rutter, DVM, DACVECC
As the cold weather finally releases its grip on Western Pennsylvania, families and pets head outside for some much needed sunshine and fresh air! While there’s nothing like an invigorating walk in the woods or a scenic picnic at the park, don’t forget to help your pet avoid the common warm weather hazards! Let’s take a few minutes to talk about a few of the big ones: heat stress, animal bites, stings, and (of course) cars.
Heat stress (heatstroke) can sneak up on even the best of us. My own dog had a heatstroke while hiking just a few years ago- and I should know better! Thankfully, he’s ok after spending a night in the ICU, but it was a lesson for me about how easily pets become overheated. They don’t sweat the same way we do, and rely on panting and convection (cooler air moving over the body) to dissipate heat. Be sure pets always have free access to fresh water and a way to escape the heat, such as air conditioning or shade. Avoid exercising your pet during hot or humid conditions, and NEVER leave your pet in a parked car (even with the windows cracked). Parked cars can become dangerously hot within as little as 15 minutes! Pets that are panting heavily, have acute vomiting, diarrhea, or weakness could be in very real trouble! Keep in mind that pets with short noses (bulldogs, pugs, Boston Terriers, and Persians), overweight pets, thick-coated pets, and pets with medical conditions will be even less tolerant of temperature extremes. If you suspect your pet is overheated, wetting their fur will help reduce heat as you drive to or contact a veterinarian.
While we are all outside enjoying our newfound freedom, our pets have increased contact with other animals and the environment. Animal bites from other pets and wildlife can be life threatening. Dog parks, hiking trails, and even your own yard will have increased traffic by both domestic and wild creatures. A veterinarian should evaluate any animal bite on an emergency basis. Wounds are often more serious than they appear on the surface, and most bite wounds become infected without proper veterinary care. Be sure your pet has a current rabies vaccination, and be able to locate his or her rabies tag or certificate. According to the PA Department of Agriculture, “Rabies is widespread throughout Pennsylvania.” Most cases are in wildlife, but Pennsylvania has the highest reported number of domestic animal rabies cases in the country. While gaining popularity, vaccine titers for pets are not considered an alternative to vaccination in Pennsylvania. Failure to vaccinate your pet for rabies potentially puts your pet and family at risk for this life-threatening virus. You could also incur a fine, and/or require quarantine for your pet in the event of a bite event. More information about rabies, vaccination, and the laws regarding animal bites can be found at the PA Department of Agriculture website: (http://www.agriculture.state.pa.us/).
Thankfully, most of the snakes in Western Pennsylvania are not poisonous, but a veterinarian should evaluate any pet that has been bitten by a snake immediately! Snakebites are often very small, so increasingly large areas of bruising, pain, and swelling may be most noticeable to owners. Some snakebites require only supportive care (including pain management), but a few can be life threatening and/or require surgical intervention. A veterinarian should evaluate wasp and bee stings if your pet has facial swelling, hives, rash, vomiting, diarrhea, or weakness. Often these signs show up without owners knowing that their pet has been stung, and I find surprisingly few stingers left in pets with known or suspected stings. Thankfully, hypersensitivity to stings is typically responsive to medical therapy, so long as it is addressed early.
Pets and cars often don’t mix well for many reasons. Vehicular trauma is significantly more common in the summer, as pets roam or run across streets. A veterinarian should evaluate any pet that is hit by a car. Pets could seem uninjured at first, but later display life-threatening injuries. Respiratory distress, head trauma, internal bleeding, and organ injury may not be immediately apparent. If your pet has a run-in with a car, it is important that he or she gets medical attention, and sometimes even overnight observation.
Roadways are an obvious pet hazard, but driveways and parking lots can also be dangerous. Tempting garbage and toxic liquid spills (antifreeze, solvents, and oils) are common around roads and parking areas. Hot pavement can burn footpads, and parked cars provide a tempting but dangerous shelter from the sun. Pets who sleep soundly or with limited vision or hearing are especially at risk for trauma around parked vehicles. We always assume that pets will move out of the way when the car starts to move, but trauma due to cars moving at low speed is actually pretty common. Be mindful of your pet and watch out for pets having a siesta under your own car.
Now that we’ve covered the scary stuff, enjoy your summer and the gorgeous weather! Talk with your family veterinarian about your pet’s particular needs and how to best keep your pet happy and healthy this season!
- Don’t walk pets on or near busy roads
- Hot pavement can burn paws
- Avoid strenuous activity during the heat of the day
- Be sure your pet has fresh water and a way to escape the heat
- Pets should remain on a leash or supervised within a restricted environment when outdoors.
- Be sure your pet has a current rabies vaccination, and keep your pet’s proof of vaccination and pet license (where required) handy for emergencies.
- Have your veterinarian’s contact info handy and know the location of the closest veterinary emergency center