Dr. Laura Lefkowitz, WestVet ER vet, shares common reasons pets are treated at our emergency hospital during the summer and tips on how you can avoid a trip to the veterinarian.
While dogs benefit both physically and mentally from daily exercise, summertime adds extra considerations for pets. Excessive heat, your pet’s age and physical fitness, rattlesnakes, and even other dogs are just a few of the situations that could lead to a veterinary visit.
Overheating or Heat Stroke. It’s critical to consider outside temperatures before exercising with dogs. The canine body cooling system functions differently–and less efficiently–than humans, as dogs cool off primarily through panting. They can rapidly overheat and as they love to play, dogs typically won’t make a conscious decision about when to stop.
When a dog becomes overheated he/she could suffer from heat stroke—a devastating and often irreversible condition. Dogs can progress rapidly from an excessively high body temperature (often greater than 106 degrees) to developing edema of the brain, with seizures and coma. This may be followed with symptoms of intestinal hemorrhaging, cardiac arrest, kidney failure, and a high incidence of death.
How hot is too hot? Veterinarians routinely treat dogs for heat-related exercise incidents when outside temperatures reach 80 degrees. With triple digits temperatures, it is simply unsafe for dogs to run or hike during the heat of the day.
To help prevent heat stroke, wet your dog down before and during the activity and offer lots of drinking water throughout. Watch for signs of overheating. These include walking slowly, lying down, walking off balance, panting heavily, or collapsing. Heat stroke occurs in increments and can usually be prevented if you intervene. If your dog is overheating, immediately soak him/her with cool water and seek veterinary care as quickly as possible.
Contrary to popular belief, heat stroke does not only affect animals exercising on hot days, it includes pets intolerant of high heat, for example:
- large breed dogs
- overweight dogs
- dogs that are excessively furry
- Nordic breed dogs genetically designed to live in snow
- “smush-faced” dogs, (pugs, mastiffs, boxers, bulldogs, etc.) these breeds often experience difficulty expelling heat and cooling down
Senior dogs. For owners, it’s easy to assume that our dog is capable of the same length and speed of walks/hikes enjoyed in previous years. However, a dog’s body ages faster, and one year older may result in significant changes. Signs to look for include walking slower, an asymmetrical gait, limping, difficulty rising or lying down, yelping with a sudden movement, or reluctance to get up at all.
As veterinarians, we commonly see older animals that are stiff, sore, or limping after an exuberant day of outside play. Use common sense to determine how aggressively you allow your dog to exercise. Dogs, like humans, will tire easily if they are not physically fit. Start slowly. Increase the duration and intensity of your walks/hikes as your dog’s mobility and stamina allows.
In addition, lameness or gait abnormalities often reflect underlying medical issues such as arthritis. If your senior dog takes medication for pain or joint mobility, be sure to administer it the days before and the days following extensive exercise. If he/she exhibits signs of slowing down or painful movement, it is always appropriate to seek advice from your family veterinarian. In addition, there are numerous physiotherapy options, including massage, laser therapy, acupuncture and hydrotherapy that can restore mobility and reduce your dog’s discomfort.
Dogs meeting other dogs. Be careful around unfamiliar dogs. WestVet doctors frequently see dogs that get in scuffles while outside. If approached by another dog, notice both dogs’ body language. If you see raised hairs, intense staring, silent posturing, growling, dilated pupils or overt aggression, this may signal the other dog is unfriendly. We regularly treat dogs injured by another dog while hiking (regardless of whether the dogs were leashed or not).
Be especially careful with little dogs. Small dogs are not always perceived to be a dog; they may be seen as “prey,” like a rabbit or squirrel. You may want to pick up your small dog if unfamiliar dogs approach you.
Protecting paws. If your dogs are walking over coarse or rocky terrain, you may want to invest in protective boots. Some overly exuberant dogs that run on cement or rocky surfaces create painful ulcers on their paw pads. Another paw issue is “cheat grass” which grows abundantly in the Treasure Valley. These small barbs can become lodged in feet pads, ears, and eyes, they can migrate under the skin, creating painful abscesses that are difficult to treat. Always perform a thorough exam of your dog, especially between his/her toes for cheat grass awns after hiking. Pay attention to your dog following a hike; if you notice excessive licking at their paws, inspect them thoroughly.
Avoiding a snake bite. Rattlesnakes are also a potential problem in Ada County. The first course of action to help prevent a bite is a leash. If your dog explores off leash, enroll him/her in a rattlesnake avoidance program held intermittently in the Boise area. If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, seek veterinary care immediately as Antivenin may be needed. Be aware that emergency veterinary treatment for a snake bite can be expensive.
Most of all–have fun!
If you are concerned that your pet is behaving abnormally, it is always appropriate to consult your veterinarian right away. If your veterinarian is unavailable, WestVet is open and able to address your concerns 24 hours a day.