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The dog days of summer
It’s summer time and the living is easy – but many of us don’t realize that our four-legged family members need extra attention in the warmer months.
When you take Fido along on vacation, there are a few things to keep in mind, said Cranbrook veterinarian Gerry MacIntyre of Kootenay Veterinary Clinic.
“Little things happen that can create strife on your holiday,” he said. “If you are aware of the problems that can arise, you can hopefully avoid most of them.”
When you are packing for a holiday within Canada, take your dog’s own food rather than counting on buying it wherever you go – especially if your dog has a special diet.
If you’re travelling to the States, you won’t be allowed to take dog food with you, but research where you can buy it once you get across the line.
Also if you’re crossing the border, be sure to take your dog’s rabies vaccination papers. A rabies dog tag alone isn’t enough to allow your pet to be admitted to the States.
Do some research about common dog problems in your holiday destination. For instance, while heartworm and fleas are not common in the East Kootenay, they are much more so in the Okanagan and the Lower Mainland. Consider a preventative treatment program before you leave.
It’s also a good idea to bring some water from home for your dog – a sudden change in water source can cause gastro.
If your dog is on prescription medicine, make sure you have packed more than enough to get through the holiday, because vets out of town may not be able to issue a new prescription to a one-off client.
It’s a good idea to think of your dog when packing a first aid kit for your family. Take things like bandages – self adhesive vet wrap is good to have – plus polysporin, antihistamine for stings, tums for tummy upsets, gauze for pad tears, and the essential-in-an-emergency skunk off shampoo.
“There’s nothing worse than sleeping in a camper with a skunked dog,” said MacIntyre.
If you are going camping, there are several tricks of the trade to ensure your dog’s safety, he continued.
You can buy small containers that attach to your dog’s collar at pet stores and outdoor stores. On a piece of paper, write down where you are staying so if your dog wanders off and you don’t have cell service, a good Samaritan knows where to bring the dog back to.
Microchips are good, but they depend on a vet with a good scanner, and on the owner updating their information when they move or get a new phone number.
Dogs can get a bit carried away with campfire pits, MacIntyre said. “It’s virtually an open smorgasbord.”
But eating scraps can cause diarrhea, vomiting and blood in the feces.
Similarly, try not to let your dog drink from stagnant water – the Alkalis in Cranbrook’s Community Forest are a good example but watch for any water that doesn’t have much movement, that smells or has algae growing. Drinking stagnant water can also cause vomiting and diarrhea, and swimming in it can give the dog duck mites that cause itchiness, and in a recent case in the Lower Mainland, a stagnant pond contained norovirus.
You can also get a multi shot from your vet that helps protect your dog from ticks, mites, fleas and tapeworm it can pick up in the forest and from small critters it could come into contact with.
Closer to home, it’s very easy for dogs to overheat in summer. It’s common knowledge not to leave your dog in the vehicle on a hot day, but even in your backyard your four-legged friend can overheat.
“Dogs don’t sweat except through the pads of their feet, so they will look at ways of using the environment to cool themselves off,” said MacIntyre, saying this is why dogs will often dig holes to lay in in the backyard or in the sand at the beach.
They will pant to cool themselves off – moving air over the tongue rapidly – but this is only effective if the air around them is moving.
Some breeds have more trouble keeping cool than others. Dogs without a snout, such as pugs and shih tzus – are less efficient at panting to cool themselves down. Similarly, dogs without an undercoat can overheat faster because the undercoat traps cooler air against the skin.
For that reason, wetting down a shaggy dog can make it harder for the dog to keep cool because there is less air space against its body.
Also keep in mind that surfaces could be hot – asphalt can easily reach 75 degrees Celsius in direct sun. A good rule is if it’s too hot for your feet, it’s not a good idea for your dog either.
If your dog does overheat, cool it down gradually.
“Too rapid a body temperature change can compromise organ function,” said MacIntyre.
The vessels in the skin open up more to help the dog cool off. Hosing it down with cold water or throwing it into a cold lake can cause those vessels to constrict and reduce the cooling mechanism.
But overheating can be deadly so the best move is to get your dog to a vet as quickly as possible.
Speargrass is another common summer hazard for dogs. The pointy dried grass has a barb that makes it easy to go into the dog’s ear, eye or skin, and hard to get out.
After your dog has been running through grass, check it over thoroughly. If your dog is constantly holding its head to the side, it’s an indication there is something inside the ear. If its eye is weeping, don’t assume eye drops will solve the problem – it could be speargrass inside the third eyelid.
Take speargrass seriously, MacIntyre said, and seek medical attention.
“In most cases, the animal will require sedation. If you try to (remove it) yourself, you could end up perforating an ear drum. All it takes is the dog moving sharply just once.”