Keeping pets cool in summer
The week was almost over and I was still undecided as to what to discuss when in walked Snoopy. And as Snoopy’s problem unfolded, it reminded me of e-mails that I received from a friend that same week. Here, I thought, is a very timely topic to discuss.
Snoopy is a beautiful white-speckled elderly racing greyhound who chose Malta as his country of retirement. Whenever I see him, I invariably wonder at all the stories he would have of his racing days in the greyhound stadium.
I was informed by Snoopy’s owners that his professional life would have lasted around four years; after which he was placed up for adoption.
Today he is lucky enough to live as a companion pet and this is his first summer here. Unfortunately, Snoopy has not taken very well to the hot weather and although he is a lot better now, he did have a couple of days of feeling, quite literally, ‘under the weather’.
Dogs do not sweat; therefore they need to pant to reduce their body temperature. Snoopy’s was a relatively mild case of ‘heat stress’, but when dogs are left in very high temperatures, the condition rapidly turns into ‘heat stroke’ which becomes life threatening.
During a heat stroke, a dog’s body temperature can go up to 41.1˚C and over when the normal body temperature of a dog is 38.6˚C.
Quite apart from the obvious rule of never leaving your dog in the car in the sun – with or without ventilation – there are also unfortunate situations where dogs are left on the roof with no shelter, or unthinkingly left in a yard which then becomes a heat trap on summer days.
I have encountered situations of intense heat building up behind a metal garage door with pets left locked up in the garage. And I remember one fatal case when a dog was taken for an enthusiastic run by a friend of the owner in the early afternoon on a hot summer’s day.
Although such incidents should be consciously avoided, in case of an accident, an immediate cold shower or bath, repeated until the dog’s temperature is at a more acceptable level, would be the best first aid that you can give to your pet, followed by a call to your vet as soon as possible for additional guidance, and a follow-up visit for peace of mind.
Cats tend to avoid heat stroke, and this is possibly because they normally have more freedom of movement around their environment and so always manage to find the coolest place to lie in.
With cats, an important thing to be aware of is severe inflammation of the tips of the ears that can occur, particularly in white cats. This is due to the fact that white cats’ ears have no protection from the sun’s rays and, if left unchecked, can become extremely serious.
White cats that regularly sunbathe are at risk of skin cancer on their ears and, in extreme cases, the ears have to be amputated in an attempt to prevent the cancer from spreading.
The e-mail I mentioned earlier on discussed issues regarding dogs and boats. First of all it is important that whatever precautions we take for ourselves with regard to heat stress and sun stroke, such as staying in the shade and drinking lots of water, we also need to apply to our dogs if they are going to spend the day out on a boat.
In terms of safety, you’ll find that all manner of canine life jackets are available on the online market.
Another thing to remember, especially when you have a puppy, is that the first times that it goes swimming it will have no idea that seawater is not potable; if you’re not careful your puppy may drink quite alot of seawater and this will give it terrible diarrhoea.
Finally, always remember to rinse your dog from seawater after a swim.
This brings to mind a related topic: a common problem I find is that many dogs are not washed often enough in summer. This causes the skin to dry out and, by September, dry skin problems become evident.
The skin needs to be considered as a tree and unless we keep it hydrated it will dry out.
The nicest coats I see are those of dogs which are rinsed or washed on a regular basis – at least twice a week if not more often during the hot summer months.
Dr Martin Debattista is a veterinary surgeon.