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Summer Pet Pitfalls: Keep Your Pets Safe

Protect your furry friend from these common hot-weather hazards.

By Patti Greco

Drowning

Pets that love splashing around in water require vigilant supervision. Some dogs will overexert themselves and then not have the strength to get out of the water. Also, consider your dog's health and age: An overweight or older animal may have more trouble swimming than he had in his fitter, younger days.

Cause for concern: If you see your pet struggling to stay afloat, hook his collar with a pole or provide a raft he can crawl onto and pull him to safety. If he's not breathing, administer CPR.

To keep your pet safe: Animals should never be left alone in or near water. If you take your pet swimming or on a boat ride, suit him with a life jacket and let him play in the water for just a few minutes at a time.

Poisonous Plants

Summer foliage and flowers, such as daffodils and tulips, often look good enough to eat but can be toxic when consumed by dogs and cats.

Cause for concern: Eating bulbs can lead to cardiovascular problems and endanger the central nervous system; ingesting lilies can cause kidney failure in cats. Certain fertilizers and lawn chemicals can be toxic to your pet. If you notice signs of poisoning -- vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, or tremors -- take your animal to the vet.

To keep your pet safe: Plant nontoxic blooms, like violets, orchids, or daisies, in the yard. And if your pet tries to nibble from a community garden, tug at his leash and firmly tell him "no." As for fertilizer, choose one that doesn't contain insecticides or herbicides. How to tell? If the package says, "kills weeds" or "kills insects," the fertilizer may also be a danger to your pet.

Bugs

Bugs like mosquitoes, ticks, and even flies can cause severe illness or worse.

Cause for concern: Mosquito bites can lead to heartworm in cats and dogs. While symptoms can be hard to detect, they include sudden respiratory problems like difficulty breathing and a persistent cough that requires immediate medical attention. Ticks are a common external parasite that can transmit fatal illnesses, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever (watch for depression, weakness, tremors, or seizures) and Lyme Disease (symptoms usually occur two to five months after the tick bite and include a fever of between 103 and 105 degrees, shifting leg lameness, and swelling in the joints). Flies are unlikely to spread disease, but they will, on rare occasion, lay eggs on a cut or fecal-stained fur, which can lead to an under-the-skin maggot infestation that could be fatal. If you smell a strong, foul odor coming from a wound, head to the vet.

To keep your pet safe: Do daily checks for bites, ticks, and sores. If you notice a tick, remove it with tweezers by the head or mouth parts, right where it entered the skin. Do not grasp the tick by the body, as you do not want to crush it and force harmful bacteria into your pet's bloodstream. Then apply an antiseptic to the bitten area. Ask your vet for preventive heartworm medicine and, while you're at it, get a recommendation for an anti-tick spray and a pet-safe fly repellent.

Burns

Sound familiar? Your dog or cat smells something cooking on the grill, and in an effort to grab it, he scorches his paws. Sun-baked asphalt and sand can also hurt his pads.

Cause for concern: A wounded animal may hide or withdraw to tend to his injury, but he needs your help. In addition to keeping track of his whereabouts, watch for signs of pain when he's walking, incessant licking of the paws and cracking or blistering on his pads. If he suffers a minor burn, apply a cool, wet compress to the wound, cover it with a burn ointment and wrap it with gauze.

To keep your pet safe: It's best to not let him loose while you're barbecuing. But if you must have him in the yard while you're grilling, keep tennis balls or dog bones nearby to distract him when he starts hovering. Also, steer clear of hot black concrete when walking him, and avoid the beach on blazing hot days. If you can, save your strolls for twilight or early morning.

Heat

Temperatures pushing 100 degrees put pets at risk for heatstroke, which can lead to brain damage -- or even death -- within 15 minutes. Limit extended sun exposure on moderate days too.

Cause for concern: If you notice uncontrollable panting, a rapid heartbeat, excessive drooling or lethargy, bring your pet into an air-conditioned room, give him a bowl of cool water, and wet his belly and inside his front and hind legs. Immediately call your vet.

To keep your pet safe: Make sure your dog's or cat's water bowl is continually refilled with cool water. Also check the water level periodically to make sure he is drinking. In addition, try to limit outdoor activities to early morning or evening hours. If he's itching to play outside at high noon, fine -- just be sure to hose him down every few minutes, or keep a kiddie pool out in the yard so he can take a dip when he's hot. (Empty out the pool every evening to avoid attracting mosquitoes.) Finally, when running errands with Rover, never leave him in the car unattended. Instead, have someone stay with him and keep the air-conditioning on. And, no, a cracked window won't keep him cool.


Copyright © 2008. Used with permission from the May 2008 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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