Top 5 Dog Summer Health Concerns
By Elizabeth Wasserman
The hot and sunny stretches of summer can bring with them a whole set of health concerns for your dog. From parasite-spread illnesses to paw problems caused by walking on hot surfaces, a wide range of summer hazards can plague canines.
Here’s how you can keep your pet safe in the summer sun.
"If we're hot sitting outside in T-shirts and shorts, our dogs are certainly going to be hot sitting outside in a heavy fur coat," says Adam Goldfarb, director of the Pets at Risk program for the Humane Society of the United States. Be mindful of what type of dog you have and how old it is -- these factors may determine your dog's tolerance for heat. Older dogs, puppies and northern breeds with heavy coats may have a harder time withstanding heat.
What to do:
- Walk or exercise your dog in the early morning or early evening, when it's cooler out.
- Never leave your dog in the car. A car can heat up within several minutes to more than 100 F, causing heatstroke or even death, says Lisa Peterson, communications director of the American Kennel Club.
- Don't shave your dog's coat during the summer. "A dog's coat helps insulate them from the heat in the summertime," says Peterson. Without their protective coat, dogs can also get sunburned.
2. Fleas and Ticks
Some dogs have flea allergies that make them scratch until their skin is raw -- or in extreme cases, until they bleed. Ticks are even more dangerous because they carry a variety of diseases, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, anaplasmosis and Ehrlichia. Symptoms of tick-borne diseases can range from the fever and swollen joints that afflict Lyme sufferers to possible death, as in the case of Rocky Mountain spotted fever victims.
What to do:
- Find out from your veterinarian what type of anti-flea and tick medication is best for your dog.
- Check your dog for ticks as soon as it comes in from the outdoors, since ticks can cling to its hair. If a tick bites your dog, remove it as soon as possible. (Use a blow dryer on the cool setting to help part the hair, Peterson recommends.)
- Control fleas by vacuuming regularly -- particularly the areas where your dog lies -- to remove any adult fleas or eggs.
3. Paw Problems
The pads on your dog's paws are very sensitive, so the heat on concrete, asphalt, beach sand or other surfaces can be a big problem during the summer. The pads can burn, dry and crack.
What to do:
- Walk your dog on the grass, Peterson recommends. That way, your pet doesn't have to deal with the intense heat of the pavement.
- Try doggie booties. Some pet stores sell booties for your dog to wear in winter, but these shoes may also help protect your dog's paws during the summer.
- Apply a paw balm to your dog's paws regularly to help keep them moist and prevent cracking, which is painful and can increase the risk of infection.
4. Water Safety
Wherever your family goes during the summer, be it the beach or backyard pool, be aware of the risks these bodies of water hold for your pooch. Dogs may drink from stagnant ponds and contract intestinal ailments, such as giardia. Canines may also jump into a lake or pool and panic when they realize they don't know how to get out. What’s more, pools contain chlorine, which can be harmful to your dog's health.
What to do:
- If you have a pool, consider using dog-friendly pool chemicals, which are now commercially available.
- Keep a life preserver on hand in case your dog jumps in. Dog life vests are also available.
- Don't leave your pooch alone when there is an open body of water, as you wouldn’t leave a child in a similar situation. Make sure fresh drinking water is available at all times.
5. Wildlife Contagions
Dogs can pick up diseases, such as rabies, from infected animals from the wild, including bats, raccoons, foxes, skunks, cattle and coyotes. Rabies is transmitted through saliva, usually after a bite. The virus affects an animal's central nervous system, and common symptoms are erratic movements, partial paralysis and unprovoked aggression.
What to do:
- Keep your dog's vaccinations against rabies up to date. "It's likely that your city or county requires your dog to be vaccinated anyway," Peterson says.
- Don't let your dog roam free and unsupervised, particularly when you are in areas where Rover is more likely to encounter wildlife.
Supervision is the key to summer dog safety. "Be mindful of where your dog is," Peterson says. "If you let them off the leash, keep them in visual contact." That way, the “dog days” might just be some of the best days of the year that you and your dog will enjoy.
Elizabeth Wasserman, a Washington, D.C., area-based freelancer, has been writing about pets, among other topics, for more than 15 years. Her love of dogs, in particular, was handed down through the generations from her great-grandfather, Eric Knight, who wrote the book Lassie Come Home in the 1930s.