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July 26, 2005 > Summer is fun, but what about summer safety for your animal friend?

Summer is fun, but what about summer safety for your animal friend?

by Nancy Lyon

It was great fun at the recent Niles Dog Show but the temperature was soaring and the dogs were eagerly taking advantage of the event's water park. It would seem safe to say that summer has finally caught up with us. With this onset of hotter weather, we need to have a heightened awareness of precautions we need to take to protect our animal friends from serious harm and even death.

Most of us know that animals in cars in warm weather clearly spell danger. But what we may not know is that even on a seemly "OK" warm day the temperature in a parked car can reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes -- even with the windows partially down and the car parked in the shade. Because of the "greenhouse effect," a dog or other animal can quickly suffer brain damage from heatstroke or suffocation when trapped in high temperatures. The basic rule-of-thumb should be to never leave your companion animal or a child unattended in a parked car for any period of time.

While you may never do this, there are many less knowledgeable people. By knowing the signs of heat stress you may be able to save a life. If an animal left alone in a car exhibits one or more of the following symptoms, you need to intervene: frantic barking, heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid pulse, a deep red or purple tongue, excessive drooling or vomiting. This is definitely an emergency and the animal should be quickly removed from the vehicle and immediately seen by a veterinarian.

The best solution to prevent our fuzzy-coated friends from becoming victims of the heat is to leave them safely at home. No matter how much you may want him with you or he tries to convince you that he'll die if he can't come for that ride -- the opposite could well be the terrible truth.

If you witness an animal in distress, call for assistance without delay - don't wait! While animal services agencies place priority on these emergency calls, with limited field service staff their response time can be delayed or it may be completely unavailable. Ask when they will arrive, or if you can't reach a live person, the best option is a quick call to the Police Department emergency line. Let them know you will be waiting at the vehicle and give a clear description of its make, license number and location. For the sake of continuity, make sure to get the name of your phone contact.

Prevention is the best course of action and by following some basic hot weather tips you can help insure your animal friend's comfort and survival:

You may exercise your dog on a daily basis, this is a good thing but why alter your routine in warmer weather? As the weather warms, humans alter the type and amount of clothing worn, and we sweat more. Dogs are still jogging in their winter coat (or a slightly lighter version) and can only cool themselves by panting and a small amount of sweating through the footpads. Not enough! Many dogs, especially the "athletes" will keep running, no matter what, to stay up with their human. A change of routine to early morning or late evening exercise can prevent heat stroke and save their lives. If you're an early bird, leave before the day warms up and remember it will be hotter on the way back so don't go too far. It will be easier and more pleasant for both of you.

Remember that if the sidewalk is too hot for you to place your hand on comfortably for more than a couple of seconds, then it's too hot for your dog who isn't wearing insulating tennis shoes to comfortably walk on with his unprotected paws.

While we never recommend transporting your dog in the back of an open pickup truck, the same considerations should apply. The bed of an uncovered truck exposed to the sun can quickly become a frying pan to your poor dog. Dogs trying to escape the burning heat may fall into traffic, or if tethered, strangle themselves. Have him ride inside next to you. After all, he's your buddy - right?

Don't ever exercise your dog while riding your bicycle and running him on a lead. He can quickly overheat and dogs trying to keep up have died agonizing deaths. Your dog trusts you to use good judgement on his behalf, and the walking will do you both good. After all, could you run behind a moving vehicle for any length of time even in good weather?

Many people head for the lakes and rivers this time of year, and the family dog is often part of the fun. Water safety is important, as not all dogs are excellent swimmers by nature, especially if Fido has underlying health problems such as heart disease or obesity to contend with. Consider protecting him just as your human family -- with a life preserver. If he is knocked off of the boat (perhaps getting injured in the process), or is tired/cold from choppy water or a sudden storm, a commercially available life jacket could be what saves your friend's life.

If you're on a walk or hike, make sure a clean water source is handy. Consider carrying your own, it's safer from contamination and there are collapsible water bowls available that are easy to carry and will help protect your friend from dangerous dehydration and exposure to microscopic creatures that could be a health threat.

Dogs are not the only critters that become victims of hot weather. Rabbits, guinea pigs, reptiles and other small animals can suffer and die of overheating. Fresh water, a cool inside room, a large pop bottle filled three-quarters full with water, tightly re-capped and frozen can be snuggled up to and can provide a cooling lifesaver. Avoid exposure to direct sunlight.

Caged birds depend on us to protect them. In their natural environment birds are able to control their exposure to the elements. Since we have taken their ability to fly away from them, the responsibility is now ours. They should be placed in cool rooms away from direct sunlight. Their condition should be carefully monitored during the day.

Sun-loving cats like to hangout on windowsills. Not all cats land on their feet and falls from open windows above ground floor level can result in severe injuries not to mention hefty veterinary costs. Make sure those screens are secure.

You may want to keep these vital contact numbers in your purse or wallet so no time is lost in an emergency:

Fremont Animal Services: 510-790-6634/5 (Tuesday-Friday)
Fremont Police Department: 510-790-6800 press # 0 ask for dispatch (weekends and Monday)
Union City Animal Services (Monday-Thursday) and Police Department: 510-471-1365
Newark Animal Services and Police Department: 510-790-7237 (dispatch)

OHS has leaflets available cautioning on the dangers of animals closed cars in hot weather.

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