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July 20, 2010 > Ohlone Humane Society: The summertime blues

Ohlone Humane Society: The summertime blues

By Nancy Lyon

While it was doubtful for a while that summer would ever come, I think we can safely say it is now upon us with temperatures starting to soar. Personally, I'm not a warm weather fan and it's not only because the heat makes me miserable; it's seeing people unthinkingly exposing their animals to preventable heat-related harm.

Granted most people don't consciously put their animals at risk, and usually it's just a poorly thought out excursion that ends up badly for the poor critter. No matter why it happens, the result is the same if they end up with scorched paw pads, heat stroke, or even dead.

One of my personal pet peeves is when I see some idiot riding a bicycle with a poor dog in tow trying to keep up, and this especially applies in warmer weather. Usually it works best to first try to educate, but some people may be defensive, and though it can get a bit uncomfortable, it's still necessary to speak up.

If you've been around animals for a while you've hopefully spent a bit of time educating yourself about how to care for them when temperatures climb into the danger zone. If not, now is the time to do your homework. Here are a few summer basics to keep in mind to protect animals in your care, or if you encounter an animal at risk from the heat and need to take action:

-Dogs need exercise even when it's hot, but extra care needs to be taken with older dogs, short-nosed dogs, and those with thick coats. On very warm or hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours. Keep in mind that asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet's paws, as they don't have the advantage of wearing shoes.

-The same principal applies to dogs transported on the metal bed of a pickup truck or other vehicle. If you can't comfortably place the palm of your hand on the metal surface for a minute then it's too hot for your dog's feet. It may be cool when you start out but gets hotter as time passes, and if that's the case, bring them in the cab with you.

-Like humans, animals can get sunburned and may require special pet friendly sunscreen on their nose and ear tips. Those with light-colored noses or light-colored fur on their ears are particularly vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer.

-Provide plenty of fresh water and shade for your animals while they're enjoying the great outdoors so they can stay cool. If you have a pool, disasters can and have happened to companion animals as well as children. Prevent free access to pools and always supervise an animal in a pool.

-Even if tempted, it's inadvisable to bring your furry buddy along to crowded summer events such as concerts, fairs or farmers markets. The loud noises and crowds, combined with the heat can be stressful and dangerous for them.

-Without exception, never leave any animal in a parked car, even for a few minutes. During warm weather the inside of your car can reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even if you're parked in the shade with the windows partially open. Dogs and cats can't perspire and can only dispel heat by panting and through the pads of their feet. Those who are left in hot cars even briefly can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, suffer brain damage, and even die.

Don't think that just because you'll be gone for "just a minute" they will be safe while you're gone. If you do happen to see an animal in a car alone during the hot summer months, alert the management of the store where the car is parked. If the owner of the vehicle does not return promptly, call your local animal control or the police department immediately. If you can, carry the agency phone numbers with you - time is of the essence in these cases.

-Heat exhaustion is a very serious condition and should not be treated lightly, as it could cause death. The signs of heat stress include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, or a deep red or purple tongue.

If your animal becomes overheated, you need to immediately lower his body temperature. Move him into the shade and apply cool (not cold) water over his body to gradually lower his core body temperature. Apply cold towels or ice packs to his head, neck, and chest only. Give water in small amounts or let them lick ice cubes. Once you give emergency care, get him to a veterinarian immediately.

Other companion animals such as rabbits and caged birds are also susceptible to heat exhaustion if consideration is not given to their special needs. Regardless of the type of animal in your care, it's important to be aware and informed - their lives and well-being depend on you.

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