Dogs should be protected from summertime perils

AUBURN – Dog owners need to take precautions to keep their pets from suffering heat-related illnesses and dangers this summer, according to an Auburn University veterinary professor.

Dougie Macintire, AU’s P.B. Griffin Distinguished Professor of Emergency and Critical Care in the College of Veterinary Medicine, says the summertime heat can cause a multitude of problems for pets, such as such as heatstroke, snakebites and tick-borne diseases.

“Dogs do not have sweat glands, so they pant to cool themselves,” Macintire said. “If the air temperature around them is hot, they cannot cool themselves, so their body temperature increases. Never leave a dog in the car, even for a few minutes.”

Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s body temperature rises to 106 degrees, which can damage the liver, kidney and gastrointestinal tract. Brain swelling and seizures can occur as well. A dog’s normal body temperature is 100 to 102.5 degrees.

She says the most at-risk dogs are those with short noses, such as bulldogs and Pekingese, and long-haired dogs, such as huskies and Saint Bernards. Older dogs or those with heart disease are also at high risk because they have to work harder to breathe in hot weather. Labrador retrievers and other athletic dogs are at risk as well.

“Labs love to run, but they don’t know when to stop,” she said. “People stand and throw a Frisbee while the dog runs back and forth until he collapses.”

If outside, Macintire says, the dog should have plenty of shade, a water bowl that will not tip over and a wading pool. The best advice, especially for at-risk dogs, is to keep them inside where it is air conditioned.

The signs of heatstroke are excessive panting, incoordination, weakness, mental dullness, and collapse. If heatstroke occurs, the dog should be wet down with a hose and then taken to a veterinarian. The car’s air conditioner should be turned on or the windows rolled down. However, she says to never use ice water to cool the dog because it will shock the dog’s system and cause the blood vessels to contract, which will constrict blood flow.

Snakebites are another deadly threat for man’s best friend as snakes seek water and food. “We are seeing an increase in the number of snakebite cases because of the drought this summer,” Macintire said. “One of the most common dogs bitten is the Jack Russell Terrier because he picks a fight with the snake.”

The College of Veterinary Medicine most often treats bites caused by rattlesnakes, followed by copperheads and water moccasins. Macintire says rattlesnake bites are the most severe and may require multiple vials of antivenom, the same used to treat humans.

“Antivenom costs $350-$400 per vial and there is a short supply this year,” she said. “A person can spend $1,000 to $2,000 to have their dog treated, including blood work, a hospital stay and various tests.”

She advises owners to walk their dogs on a leash, keep their yards clean and to stay away from tall grass. If a dog is bitten, the owner should pick up the dog and carry it if possible to prevent increased circulation of venom from the site of the bite wound. Tourniquets or cutting the skin with a knife to “suck out the venom” are not recommended. The pet should be transported to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Owners should not “wait and see” what happens to their pet, because the sooner antivenom is administered, the more likely serious complications can be prevented.

Tick-borne diseases, like Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme disease, are also perils that can be deadly to dogs, as well as people. They can cause fever, enlarged lymph nodes, anemia, low platelets and joint pain and stiffness.

“Dogs do not transmit the diseases to people, but can bring the ticks inside,” Macintire said. “We run tests for tick diseases in dogs, and most cases that are caught early are treatable. Prevention is best, though. Flea collars for dogs and a good tick repellant for humans are very important for anyone spending time outdoors.”

Contact: Gary Beard, (334) 844-3699 (beardgb@auburn.edu) or
Charles Martin, (334) 844-9999 (marticd@auburn.edu)