Ten Summer Tips for Pet Owners

Keeping pets safe while still having fun
July 5, 2013

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Rushmie Nofsinger

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 NORTH GRAFTON, Mass. — Being outside with a beloved pet is a wonderful way to enjoy the warm summer months. But hot weather, traveling with a furry companion and being outdoors more often can create situations that compromise a pet’s health and safety. With a little planning and forethought, pets can remain cool and happy.  

 “We see an uptick in emergency room visits during the summer due to situations that can be easily avoided,” said Dr. Claire Sharp, an emergency and critical care specialist at the Cummings School for Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University. “Intense heat and increased physical activity are factors that can contribute to dangerous situations for pets.”

Emergency and critical care veterinarians at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, one of the busiest academic veterinary teaching hospitals in the country, have put together a list of their top tips for a safe, fun season with your pet. 

1.      Schedule routine check-ups. Summer means more time outside and coming into contact with other animals so it’s a good idea to ensure vaccinations are up-to-date. Also if there are any health issues, like respiratory problems, they can be detected early.

2.     Don’t leave your pets in the car on a hot day. Bottom line: it can be fatal. Temperatures rise quickly in cars and the heat can do significant damage to a dog’s internal organs. Take pets inside or leave them at home.

3.     Have emergency supplies on hand. When traveling, even for a day trip, pack extra water, blankets, bandages and gauze so in the event a pet becomes sick or injured, you can administer initial first-aid on the way to the veterinarian.

4.     Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate. Ideally, have water available to your pet at all times, or offer water frequently.

5.     Give a cold water bath or apply wet towels to a dog experiencing heat stress. When a dog’s body temperature escalates to a dangerous level, organ systems can be severely damaged. Every minute at these high body temperatures worsens the damage, so quickly cool them off before heading to a veterinarian.

6.     Exercise your pet during cooler hours of the day and seek shade whenever possible. If the temps are really scorching, keep pets inside. Not only can their body temperatures rise quickly but hot asphalt can hurt the sensitive paws of cats and dogs. 

7.      Know the warning signs of heat stroke. Early signs include lethargy, heavy panting, bright red gums and tongue, rapid breathing, drooling, vomiting and diarrhea. Advanced stages of life-threatening heat stroke can result in collapse, labored breathing, white or blue gums, and shock.

8.     Supervise swimming. Pools and other bodies of water may be inviting but not all dogs are good swimmers. Keep a watchful eye on them and don't forget to rinse the chlorine or salt water out of their fur after a dip.

9.     Watch what your pet eats. Backyard barbeques are a fun way to beat the heat but typical fare can pose health hazards. Bones, corn cobs, shish kabobs and other foods-on-a-stick could wind up causing blockages or gastrointestinal perforations if eaten by your pet.  Fatty foods should also be avoided as they can cause gastrointestinal upset in dogs.

10. Avoid chemicals. Lawn and garden insecticides, and mouse and rat baits can be harmful to cats and dogs if ingested so keep them out of reach.

As a resource for pet owners, the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine provides small and large animal emergency services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In case of an emergency, please call (508) 887-4623.

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About the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University

Founded in 1978 in North Grafton, Mass., Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University is internationally esteemed for academic programs that impact society and the practice of veterinary medicine; three hospitals and four clinics that combined log more than 80,000 animal cases each year; and groundbreaking research that benefits animal, public, and environmental health.