Ask the Veterinarian: “Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy”

Ask the Veterinarian: “Summertime, and the Livin' is Easy”

Ask the Veterinarian

By Dr. Hagerty and Avery
Photo by Penny Pitcher

The seemingly endless daylight hours of summer should be filled with sunburns, icy cold ocean swims and new island adventures. There is no one more eager to accompany you for all of these things than your faithful four-legged companion. But before you run out the door, leash in tow, make sure you are both ready.

Staying Afloat:

Not all dogs can swim. Some canines cannot even achieve a passable “doggy paddle” and mine is a perfect example. Avery grew up in the hills of Scotland, eyeing rabbits and following sheep, and we didn’t frequent the North Sea very often, as it was perpetually raining. So, when Avery moved to Vancouver Island, all of the lakes and endless beaches were a new discovery. Avery’s first encounter with water involved chasing two ball crazy Labrador crosses into a lake (probably his first mistake). He was fine and having fun splashing behind them, pretending to be a big dog, until he got chest deep in the cold water and lost his balance plunging sideways and submerging his head for a moment. Coming up with an ear full of water, he suddenly panicked and couldn’t figure out how to stay up or which way to go. I was two steps away from diving in after him when he finally paddled a little, found ground and his sighthound personality spotted the dogs and ball back on shore and he was off again, like nothing had happened. However, that was his last trip into the water and he remains firmly planted on shore whenever we visit a lake or beach.

For most dogs in this area, swimming is an excellent exercise and a way to stay cool in the summer months. Care must be taken to act as your dog’s lifeguard, as currents and overenthusiasm may lead them too far from shore and exhaustion can takes its toll. Dog life vests are good safety precautions, depending on how much boat and water adventures the summer holds. Make sure that the vest fits correctly and that your dog can get use to wearing it outside the water prior to the first plunge.

In freshwater, be mindful of toxic algal blooms, which pose risk to you and your pets. Saltwater itself can be a risk, causing vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Often the dog will happily lap up the endless miles of salty coldness, but this quickly will make them sick. Salt poisoning (hypernatremia) can occur with excessive salt water consumption. This causes the dog to vomit the majority of the water back up, but the salt accumulates in their bloodstream and quickly becomes dangerous to systemic organs, including the brain. Always remember to bring fresh water with you and plenty of it! Small frequent drinks are better than gulping back a full bowl. It takes a few minutes for the thirst receptors in the brain to register the volume of liquid being consumed and tell your pet “enough”.

At the end of a good swim make sure to rinse your dog off with clean water. Dry ears thoroughly and remove wet collars to prevent skin irritation and infections.

In the Heat of the Day:

Enjoy the early mornings before the heat of the day. Combine your morning coffee or green smoothie with walking your pets and enjoying the cool surfaces of the sidewalks and roads before they heat up. Dusk is another perfect time to saunter outside for a walk. Remember, if you couldn’t handle going barefoot on the hot surfaces which have been baking in the sun all day, its likely that Fluffy would rather not burn his toes as well. Signs of burned pads can include, limping, licking at their feet and blistered or damaged pads. If playtime falls in the middle of the day, make sure that frequent water breaks and shade are part of the routine. Treat your furry friend like an over enthusiastic child who might not realize their own limits yet; water, rest and a few minutes to cool down are necessities. 

Lastly, yes, pets can get sunburnt too! Especially, light-coloured, thin coated dogs. Tips of pink noses and pointed white ears are prime targets of UV light. Using a sunscreen designed for pets or babies is recommended, depending on your dog’s complexion. Take care when applying to avoid eyes and other sensitive parts, just as you would for a child.

It’s an Oven in Here, Literally:

On a warm sunny day (26 degrees Celsius) the inside of a parked car can reach temperatures of over 43 degrees Celsius after only 20 minutes. Regardless of parking away from direct sunlight or cracking the windows, those “just a minute” stops can be dangerous to your pet. Dogs and cats can’t sweat effectively. Dogs cool off by panting. Respiration rate increases, which allows air to pass over the nasal passages, mouth, tongue and lungs creating cooling through evaporation. However panting only does so much when the air inside the car becomes unbearably hot, hotter then the air already inside their lungs. Heat stroke can develop quickly. An overheated dog will begin to drool excessively, their eyes will be bloodshot and their gums may become dark or bright red. Heat stroke can progress to vomiting, collapse, staggering, seizures and even coma and death. Act quickly to seek emergency medical attention if you think your pet has become too hot. In the mean time use cool water, but not ice water to help cool them down, as very cold water can cause constriction of blood vessels and actually slow down the cooling process.

Sometimes we need to stop and think that at times, our pets may be safer, cooler and happier staying home. Although it’s hard to deny Fluffy his ride in the car, plan and ahead and realize the risks aren’t worth it.

Poem: Rock Lichen

Poem: A Park Meadow