Thursday, June 9, 2011

Surprising Summer Dangers for Pets

Heat stroke is by far the most common summertime danger for our pets but there are a few other things you should be aware of during the warm months.

Cookouts are surprising source of danger for your dog. Any respectable chowhound will spend a fair amount of time searching for a tasty morsel. Chicken and rib bones are usually digestible and rarely result in intestinal obstruction but often cause a nasty case of pancreatitis due to a very high fat content. The pancreas is a gland that lives near the stomach and gets very angry when exposed to a high fat diet. This results in severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea that usually require medical attention

Another cookout troublemaker is corn on the cob as it is the perfect size to be scarfed down whole and then lodge in the small intestine. This then causes an obstruction that almost always requires surgical intervention for removal. Signs to watch for are decreased or loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea or abdominal pain. If your dog displays any of these clinical signs please bring him to your veterinarian immediately.

Other dangerous food items are onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, chocolate and sugar-free gum. If you think your dog may have snacked on any of these items either see your veterinarian or call ASPCA’s animal poison control 24-hour hotline.

If you are going to have guests staying with you this summer and you have a nosey dog or cat be sure to tell them so they can put away any medications they may be taking. Even over the counter drugs such as Tylenol, Advil, Aleve and Sudafed can be life threatening to pets.

If you notice most of what I have been talking about is directed towards dogs. It is not that I have been neglecting cats but as a general rule they are usually smart enough to avoid most of these issues. You rarely see a cat running around outside in 90 degree weather or jumping up on the picnic table to grab an ear of corn.

The one lapse in judgment that almost all cats suffer from is their determination to eat plants and flowers. Many indoor and outdoor plants and flowers are extremely toxic to cats and dogs causing clinical signs that range from stomach upset to death. The most infamous flower is the Lilly. Kitties only need to eat a small bit of petal or leaf to cause acute kidney failure, which quickly leads to death. The ASPCA website has a comprehensive list of plants that you need to watch out for.

Finally, fireworks and thunderstorms can be a source of fear for your pets. If you notice that your dog or cat does not seem to appreciate the loud noises be sure to take precautions so they don’t run away or destroy your home. Speak with your veterinarian about administering an anti-anxiety medication. Pure sedatives are not ideal and can actually make things worse as your pet is still afraid but too sedate to do anything about it. This then causes a rebound effect and the next time they experience feelings of anxiety it will be much worse.

Also keep in mind during the warm weather fleas, ticks and mosquitoes are out in force. Be sure to administer your pet’s monthly heartworm, flea and tick preventatives. This goes for indoor kitties too, they are still at risk for heartworm disease.

I hope these tips help you and your pets have a happy and safe summer.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Hello Summer!

According to weather reports the east coast is about to get slammed with a heat wave this week.  I wanted to take a moment to warn dog owners about their pets’ risk of heat stroke. Every summer far too many dogs are brought into Friendship after collapsing due to heat stroke. Unfortunately, despite agressive treatment many of these patients do not make it, which is truly tragic since the event could have been easily avoided.

One of the patients that sticks in my mind as especially tragic was a bulldog that was taken out for fifteen minutes around noon as part of a mid-day walk. He collapsed on his walk and was immediately rushed to Friendship. Sadly, despite aggressive treatment, complications from heat stroke damaged his organs so severely that he had to be euthanized the next day.

“Smushy-faced” (brachycephalic is the technical term) dogs like bulldogs and pugs are especially susceptible to heat-related illness. This is because breed characteristics such as narrow nostrils and elongated soft palates decrease their ability to effectively cool themselves.

drawing by Robert Cole

Though bulldogs and pugs have an especially tough time in the warmer weather, ALL dogs are more susceptible to heatstroke than their human companions are. As if wearing thick fur coats weren’t enough of a challenge, dogs have only two ways of dissipating heat: by panting, and through their paw pads. When the temperature rises, neither of these cool-down tricks works too well. Panting becomes much less effective when the weather is hot and humid and when your dog walks on a scorching sidewalk his paws stay too hot to help him cool down.

If you’re out on a walk with your dog and he collapses, becomes unresponsive or loses consciousness, seek veterinary care immediately. DO NOT try to cool down your dog on your own as bringing the body temperature down too quickly can make a dire situation worse. If for some reason you can’t make it to a veterinary hospital immediately, you can soak a towel in tepid (not cold) water, place it over your dog, and aim a fan at him. Take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as he is more stable.

What makes heat stroke potentially fatal is that the patient can develop a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) that causes massive and widespread damage to the blood vessels. This quickly results in multiple organ failure and the patient loses the ability to clot his blood. Treatment consists of aggressive supportive care and plasma transfusions, both of which are very expensive and not guaranteed to prevent death.

When it comes to heat stroke, the best treatment is prevention. Here are some commonsense tips to help you keep your dog cool and comfortable.

  • Avoid taking your dog out during the hottest times of the day. (Quick rule of thumb: If it is too hot for you, then it is definitely too hot for your dog!)
  • Keep an eye out for unusual behavior: If you are out in the hot weather with your dog and he slows down, lies down or acts reluctant to keep walking, you should let him rest, offer him cool water and head inside immediately.
  • Make sure your dog has cool, fresh water available at all times.
  • Never leave a dog (or any other pet) in a parked car when it is even slightly warm out. The temperature in the car can rise amazingly quickly and before you know it you have an overheated animal.
  • Don’t take your dog running. I am never a fan of running with your dog but in this weather it is an especially bad idea.