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Sizzlin' Summer Means Hazards for Pets

With the heat of summer here and people headed outside to enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures, it may seem like a great time to take your dog for a run. But is it safe?
BATON ROUGE, La. - With the heat of summer here and people headed outside to enjoy the sunshine and warm temperatures, it may seem like a great time to take your dog for a run. But is it safe?

Maybe not, said LSU AgCenter veterinarian Diana Coulon.

"The sweltering summer temperatures and humidity pose significant risks for the health and well-being of our furry friends," Coulon said. "Heat exhaustion and stroke, sunburn, and asphalt and garden hose burns are all serious potential problems pet owners should know about before heading outdoors with their pets."

Heat exhaustion and the more life-threatening heat stroke are significant summer hazards. Prevention is key because heat stroke can lead to permanent disability and is fatal in about 50 percent of cases.

Environmental factors can increase the risk of heat exhaustion or stroke, she said. They include water deprivation, lack of shade, high humidity and confinement in a poorly ventilated area, such as a car.

In addition, she cites exercise or play in extremely high temperatures, especially after a meal or for animals not accustomed to exercise.

"Dogs don't sweat, so they have to rely completely on panting to dissipate heat," Coulon said. "Heat exhaustion is a very 'sneaky' problem and can occur very quickly with little warning. Many dogs are so loyal they will continue to follow a runner long after they should have stopped."

Symptoms that may indicate your pet is suffering from heat exhaustion and/or stroke include excessive or exaggerated panting or drooling along with sluggishness, weakness and even collapse.

"Cats do not pant," Coulon warns. "A panting cat is a medical emergency."

"If you notice these symptoms, cooling your dog or cat immediately could be the difference between life and death," she said. "Use lukewarm water - not cold water or ice - to wet down your pet, and then immediately bring the animal to your veterinarian."

Heat exhaustion and stroke can be prevented by taking several precautions, including using caution during exercise, avoiding concrete or asphalt, providing plenty of fresh, cool water and avoiding the heat of the day.

Pets also can suffer from sunburn and skin cancer, just like people do, Coulon said.

"White or lightly pigmented skin and sparsely haired areas like the nose, tips of ears and trunk can be highly susceptible to sunburn," she said. "Dogs or cats that are 'belly-up' sunbathers are also susceptible to sunburn on the chest and abdomen."

Sun screens with titanium dioxide that are clear and waterproof are a preferred product to protect pets from sun. Products should have an SPF of 30 or greater.

Concrete and asphalt pavements, open beds of pickup trucks, sand beaches and similar areas can cause severe burns to pets' feet and skin. And asphalt temperatures can reach upwards of 160 degrees in summer.

Pets can burn the pads of their feet, and pain may be the only sign this has happened, Coulon said. More severe signs may be blistering or peeling of the paw pad. Immediate care should include immersing the feet in cool water, but stay away from ice.

The best preventative is to avoid pavement, soil, sand and even pickup truck beds in direct sunlight, she said. "Grass is the best surface in summer."
 
"If you think your dog or cat is suffering from these types of burns, see your veterinarian immediately," she warns.

If you're thinking about hosing down your dog to give him a "cool down" during the summer, be careful. Your pet could be severely scalded from water in garden hoses that have been lying in the sun.

Another water activity that should be approached with caution is swimming.
Experts estimate that thousands of pets die each year in drowning accidents, Coulon said

She recommends several points to remember about pool safety:

- Not all dogs have the natural ability to swim. Some will paddle better than others, and some will just sink. And even experienced swimmers can panic if they accidently fall in a pool.

- Dogs that are overweight or heavy with short legs, like basset hounds and dachshunds, have a greater challenge trying to swim.

- Older animals, those that suffer from a heart condition or those that have a seizure disorder should not be left unsupervised near a pool.

- Pets that use a pool should be taught how to get out of the pool and where the steps are located. Small dogs may have a difficult time clearing steps designed for humans, but a pet-safe pool ladder can be installed.

"If you are taking your dog to the beach or lake, or enjoying a boat ride, put a life vest on your dog," Coulon said.

"So enjoy those summer days with your best pal on four legs, but enjoy them with conscientious decisions regarding the weather" Coulon said. "If you are hot and miserable in the heat of the day, your pet most likely is, too.

"Keep in mind that your pet is closer to the ground surface where temperatures are hotter. And if you can't stand on sand or the sidewalk without some flip flops, your pet can't either."
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