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Dog Days of Summer

August 3, 2006
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Veterinarians at the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania offer the following tips to keep pets healthy and cool during the hot days ahead:

· Do not leave your pet alone in the car. Vehicles heat quickly in the sun, and animals left in them can succumb to heatstroke in a very short time. Heatstroke is life-threatening for both dogs and cats.

Signs to watch for are heavy, loud breathing, a staggering gait, and a bright-red tongue or red gum tissue. If heat stroke is suspected, get the animal to a cool place, put cold compresses on his belly, or in severe cases, completely wet him down so that his hair is soaked. This is a medical emergency -- take him to your veterinarian as quickly as possible.

· To prevent overheating, do not let your dog exercise in hot weather. If you want to run with your dog, do it in the cooler hours of the early morning or late evening.

Dogs and cats need a cool, shady place to sleep during hot weather, as well as plenty of clean, fresh water, accessible at all times. Feed your dog or cat in the cooler hours of the day. Older animals have a hard time in hot weather, so be extra sensitive to their needs during the hottest hours of the day.

· Be sure that your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date. Parvovirus -- an illness that flourishes in hot weather -- can be fatal to dogs that have not received their vaccinations. Also, be sure your pet's rabies vaccinations are current. During summer, pets often spend more time outdoors, and the chances of encounters with wildlife (possible rabies carriers) increase.

· It's heartworm medication time. If your dog hasn't been tested for heartworm this year, see your veterinarian. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes, but it can be prevented by administering a monthly preventive between June and November.

· Keep your pet well-groomed, particularly during the warm-weather months. Daily brushing or combing lets you check for fleas and ticks. Fleas can cause allergic reactions and "hot spots" in dogs. Hot spots are large, wet skin sores that appear in areas where the dog has scratched. See your veterinarian for flea and tick preventives, or if a hot spot appears.

· Leashes save dogs' lives! Keep your dog on a leash when you're walking her so she can't run into traffic, or chase cats, squirrels or other wildlife.

· Use a heavy screen on windows or keep them closed if you have cats. During the summer, the number of cats suffering from "high-rise" syndrome, or falling from windows, increases dramatically.

· Playing a game with your pet when he shows early signs of anxiety, like pacing or trembling due to heat or nerves, can distract him from the stressor.

In the long term, it teaches him to associate that same stressor with positive things, such as play and treats. Petting him is likely to make no difference --and, in fact, it may reinforce the attention-seeking that comes with nervousness.

· Keep dogs away from picnic baskets and garbage. Ingesting corncobs, chicken wings (bones) or other hard objects can be life-threatening by obstructing or perforating the stomach. Also, according to the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, the peels, fruit and seeds of citrus plants such as lemons, oranges, limes and grapefruits contain varying amounts of citric acid, limonin and volatile oils that can cause gastrointestinal irritation, and result in vomiting and diarrhea.

The stems, leaves and seeds of apples, cherries, peaches and apricots contain cyanogenic glycosides that can cause vomiting and loss of appetite when eaten in large amounts. In severe cases, weakness, difficulty breathing, hyperventilation, shock -- and even death -- can occur. 

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