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Six Summer Dangers for Pets

Summer may be your favourite season, but how does it affect our pets? There are a number of health issues that are particularly common in the warmer weather - in this blog, we’re going to look at six really important factors to bear in mind this summer!

1 - Heatstroke

Summer’s main danger is from the heat. It’s widely reported in dogs left in cars, but also occurs when taking your pet out in the middle of the day, over-exercising or not giving enough fresh water.

Dogs are at the highest risk, because they are adapted for a cold climate; however, in some cases cats can develop heatstroke as well. If you come across a dog (or a cat, or indeed any animal) trapped in a hot car or building, and you suspect they are showing signs of distress, call 999 immediately - the police dispatchers will be able to advise you and, if necessary, give you authorisation to break a window to rescue the animal.
Signs of heatstroke include open mouth breathing, panting or raspy breath, salivation, collapsing and seizures. It is a veterinary emergency, so get them into the shade ASAP, try and get some air movement over them (e.g. with a fan), and put cool towels or tepid water on them (NOT cold water, which can cause them to go into shock). Even if they appear to perk up, there can be long-term complications, so call us as soon as you can.

2 - Creepy-Crawlies

Parasites such as fleas and ticks love the summer too, so it’s important to keep up-to-date with preventative treatments for these. If your dog gets a lot of ticks, you may wish to consider a Lyme disease vaccination as ticks can carry this, especially in our part of the world.

3 - Snake Bites

Cold-blooded snakes love the hot weather, and will often get out and about to bask in the sun. Unfortunately, that’s when your pet is likely to come across the UK’s only venomous snake, the adder. The adder’s venom causes severe pain and local swelling - bad enough on a foot, but potentially lethal on the muzzle or throat. In addition, in some animals the venom can cause tissue death and kidney problems. If you suspect your dog is bitten, call us straight away – this is an emergency.

Viper antivenom is unfortunately very expensive (up to £1000 per dose), but may be covered by your pet insurance; it is also the most effective treatment and the only way to prevent more serious long-term organ damage.

The best way to avoid snake bites is to keep your pets away from rough, open countryside and woodland edge areas – the adder’s main habitat, especially in the early to mid-morning when the snakes are sunbathing to warm up for the day.

4 - Water Poisoning

This time of year, we are generally more concerned that our pets aren’t drinking enough, but it is possible for them to drink too much. Some dogs can ingest dangerous amounts of water in a short period of time, leading to hyponatremia, or “water poisoning”, a condition where the animal has a dangerously low level of sodium in the blood.

Water poisoning leading to hyponatremia is relatively rare but potentially fatal. It is most commonly seen in dogs that love to play in water; retrieving things thrown into the water and competing with other dogs retrieving things is one way a dog can ingest a lot of water quickly. It may also occur in dogs “catching” water from a garden hose or sprinkler.

The symptoms are varied, and may include loss of coordination, lethargy, glazed eyes, excessive salivation, seizures and coma. You may also see bloating, vomiting and difficulty breathing. If your dog has been playing in water and shows signs of water intoxication, get them to the vet immediately as this condition is potentially fatal.

When dogs empty their water bowl after hard play or exercise, give them a little break before refilling the bowl – this may seem counter-intuitive, but it’s important for them to pace themselves.  If your dog’s a guzzler, you can put a large, heavy stone in their water bowl to slow them down.

At the end of the day, it’s still very important for dogs to have access to fresh water, especially during heatwaves – we’re by no means advising restricting water supply.  However, it’s important to monitor how much your dog is drinking, as both too little and too much water can be potentially dangerous. 

5 - Burning

Yes, animals can get sunburnt! It most commonly affects the tips of the ears, the nose and the belly - places where the fur is thinnest. It’s also much, much more common in pink-skinned animals. As well as being very painful and uncomfortable at the time, it can lead to skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma) later in life - this is one of the commonest skin cancers in white cats and dogs.

You can protect your pets by using a pet-safe suncream (NOT a human one), and keeping them in the shade whenever possible during the day. The UV forecasts on the weather reports are also really useful!

While we’re on the subject of burns, we’ve had a couple of days already this summer when the tarmac has started to melt - this is really dangerous for animals. Not only will the heat cause severe burns to their feet, but the sticky tar will cling and continue burning, even when they take their feet off the ground. If it’s really hot, keep your pets indoors or on grass until the tarmac has cooled!

6 - Food Poisoning

Partly we’re thinking of “traditional” food poisoning here, with food that’s been spoiled in the heat - although cats won’t usually eat anything “off”, dogs will, and can develop some really dramatic explosive vomiting and diarrhoea. Occasionally, this can be quite serious, resulting in dehydration, shock, collapse and kidney failure. If your dog’s vomiting profusely, do give us a call for advice!

The other issue is that in summer people have all sorts of different foods around - and often animals like to give them a try! We’ve seen dogs poisoned by chocolate ice cream before, and remember, grapes and onions are both toxic, but are often found in fruit- and Greek-salads, respectively. Limit treats to proper dog or cat treats, and not too many of them!

If you’re worried about your pet, give us a call for advice.