Summer Fun & Follies
Summertime is here, bringing with it plenty of opportunity for fun and adventure as well as a few missteps. From the most publicized warm weather threats like heat stroke and rushing water to the less obvious (hello, glow sticks), let’s explore some of the summer follies that can occur when the “weather is warm and the livin’ is easy!”
Heat Stroke and Dehydration
It is important to remember that dogs cannot control their body temperature by sweating as humans do. With only a relatively small number of sweat glands located in their footpads, their primary way of regulating body temperature is by panting. Just like with humans, dehydration occurs when a pet eliminates more fluids than it recovers, causing an imbalance of electrolytes in the body, leading to kidney failure, loss of consciousness, and in extreme cases, death. Dry gums, loss of skin elasticity, lethargy, loss of appetite and vomiting are all signs you need to take swift action.
Similarly, body temperatures above 106°F are most commonly associated with exposure to excessive heat. Dogs suffering from heatstroke can have elevated breathing rates, dry or sticky gums, abnormal gum color, bruising in the gums, lethargy or disorientedness, and can have seizures. The most common cause of heat stroke is leaving a dog in a car with inadequate ventilation on a warm day. In this situation, a dog’s body temperature can elevate very rapidly, often within minutes!
The best treatment for both dehydration and heat stroke is prevention. Make sure your pet has ample access to proper ventilation, shade, and fresh water at all times. Never leave your pet unattended in a car on a warm day. Avoid excessive or vigorous exercise in hot temperatures and don’t walk them on hot pavement which can burn sensitive pads. If your pet does experience heat stroke, safe, controlled reduction of body temperature is a priority. Cool water (not cold) may be poured over the head, stomach, armpits and feet, or a cool cloth may be applied to these areas if they are replaced continually. Ensure a continuous flow of air across the dog to help increase evaporative heat loss until treatment is received at your veterinary hospital.
Runoff from Colorado’s high country fills our spring and summer rivers and streams, resulting in rushing water that may look cool and inviting, especially after a long hike. However, avoid letting your pets enter these dangerous waters which can swiftly carry them downstream where they can be caught under rocks, logs or other debris and face drowning. Consider outfitting your dog with a flotation device if she or she will be accompanying you around rushing water for any length of time, including paddleboarding, kayaking or tubing.
Animals are just as sensitive to altitude as humans. Generally, pets that are otherwise healthy may only experience more fatigue and less endurance than usual. However, while your dog may be acclimated to mile-high elevation on the front range, low oxygen levels associated with altitudes above 8,000 feet in the mountains can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting. In extreme cases, it can also cause a build up of fluid in the lungs and brain. If you notice signs of altitude sickness in your pet on your next high-mountain adventure, immediately hike to a lower elevation. Give him or her plenty of water to rehydrate (you might have to pour it down their throat using a syringe from your first aid kit), and rest until their behavior and respiration/heartbeat returns to normal.
In Colorado, rattlesnakes are frequently found sunning themselves on trails and in other open spaces where you and your dog enjoy the great outdoors. Fortunately, most snakes will try to avoid people and pets. If you see a snake, the best thing to do is avoid it, giving it a wide berth or even returning down the trail if you must. Rattlesnake bites are medical emergencies requiring immediate attention, including treatment to counter shock, low blood pressure, infection and respiratory distress, as well as the administering of appropriate antivenin. When out walking or hiking, stay on open pathways and keep away from snake resting places such as holes, logs, or rocky outcrops. First aid should be aimed at reducing rapid spread of venom in the body. If possible, carry the dog rather than allowing it to walk, and keep him or her quiet and warm on the journey to the veterinarian. Try to keep the area bitten at or below the level of the heart to reduce blood flow to the area.
Summertime means festivals and parties often include glow sticks that find themselves attached to a pet’s collar. Glow sticks contain an oily liquid called dibutyl phthalate (DBP). While non-toxic in small amounts, DBP can be harmful if curious pets bite the glow stick. The bitter tasting liquid causes gagging, drooling, and irritation of the eyes, mouth, and skin.”If a pet chews a glow stick, breaks the vial and swallows the glass fragments, gastrointestinal (GI) injuries may result in bloody stool or vomiting, or worse,” says Dr. Brown, Medical Director at Harmony Veterinary Center. If your pet chews a glow stick, tame the bitter taste of DBP by offering him water or a treat. Turn off the lights and wash any areas of your pet’s fur that are glowing. That way he won’t lick his fur and get another DBP dose.
From cookouts to campfires, hot stuff is dangerous and not just the pavement. Pets are curious and will investigate the grill or fire pit. Going in for a closer look may mean singed fur and burned skin. Plus, sparks and ashes that float up and land in the eye can cause pain and injury. Even after the fire goes out, hot ashes and coals will burn paws if your dog or cat walks through the fire site. Keep your pet away from open flame and douse all campfires thoroughly when done.
Summer cookouts mean fresh corn on the cob. Instead of nibbling the kernels, pets often gulp the whole cob. Corn kernels are fairly digestible, but corn cobs are not and can get stuck in the stomach or intestinal tract causing an obstruction. Sometimes, the only way to relieve the obstruction is to surgically remove the corn cob. If the intestines are damaged, sections of the GI tract may have to be removed as well. If your pet swallows any portion of a corn cob, he may vomit, strain to defecate, or experience abdominal pain. Take him to your veterinarian immediately; quick medical attention may prevent GI damage.
You may enjoy barbeque chicken, ribs, or steaks so much that you lick the bones, but you know better than to eat them. Not so with pets! Unfortunately, bones present several potential dangers. First, bones are not very digestible, and like corn cobs, can cause intestinal blockage. Secondly, brittle bones (i.e., cooked chicken bones) may break into shards that puncture the intestinal wall. If GI contents leak into the abdomen, a serious, life-threatening infection may develop. Thirdly, bones can break teeth or become wedged in the mouth. “We often see bones that become stuck between molars and cause irritation and infection on the roof of the mouth,” says Dr. Brown. Lastly , bones can be a choking hazard. If your dog has had a bone and begins to drool, lose his appetite, starts to vomit, or strains to defecate, call your veterinarian. To be safe, avoid giving your dog bones, even the ones sold as canine chew toys. If you do give your dog a bone, pick a large one (about the size of your dog’s head) to decrease the chance that he’ll break off a fragment and swallow it.
Let’s single out one particular fruit. Lots of summer cookouts end with cool, refreshing watermelon. Watermelon is fun for pets; the high-water content hydrates them, and the glucose gives them energy. The folly is that pets often swallow the seeds or eat the rind and both can block the GI tract. To avoid GI blockages, cut the melon from the rind and remove the seeds before sharing this classic summer treat with your pet.
Pay close attention to what is happening around you, heed the potential hazards outlined, and you and your pets can enjoy the stretch of Colorado warm-weather months safely. Happy summer!