Tips on keeping your pets safe this summer

cjurney@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

K.B. Burns covers his head from the heat as he walks his dog K6 last week in Raleigh.

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

  • Heatstroke in animals

    Heatstroke is common in animals exposed to extreme temperatures or direct sunlight, and it is important to recognize the symptoms.

    An animal suffering from heatstroke will pant or drool before becoming weak and collapsing, said Raleigh veterinarian Dan Johnson. If this happens, pet owners should wet the animal with tepid water and bring it immediately to a vet for emergency care.

    “In case of a heatstroke, take a dog outside, hose it off and apply rubbing alcohol to its feet, which dissipates the heat,” Wilmington veterinarian Claire Hohenwarter said. She said not to use ice, which slows blood flow by constricting vessels.

Correction: This story incorrectly spelled the name of a pet sitter. He is James Sidbury, not James Sidburn.

With sweltering temperatures settling on the Triangle already, the heat is on pet owners to stay vigilant in keeping their critters safe. We asked some veterinarians and pet sitters for tips.

In the car? No way

Not even for a few minutes: When it’s hot out, it’s more critical than ever not to leave animals in vehicles or expose them to direct sunlight without shade, said Dr. Dan Johnson, a veterinarian at Avian and Exotic Animal Care in Raleigh.

Plus, it’s now against the law. The North Carolina General Assembly passed a bill last year permitting rescue workers to break into a hot car to remove an animal. If you see an animal in a hot vehicle, say something. If the animal’s owners cannot be notified, call 911.

Cracking a window or parking in the shade doesn't make a difference, said Darci VanderSlik of the Wake County SPCA.

Outside? Shade and water

Living outside: All domesticated animals – even tropical or desert species – need weeks to adjust to harsh temperatures, Johnson said. If they are acclimated to the weather, be vigilant in refilling water and provide an area for shade.

Even animals that live in outdoor hutches or pens year-round, like rabbits, need extra attention in the summer and a shaded area within the cage.

Going for a walk: Opt to walk dogs in the morning or evening when temperature and humidity are lower, and shorten the walks, especially those midday, said Dr. Claire Hohenwarter, a Wilmington veterinarian.

“If it’s hot out there for you, they’re in fur coats, so it’s hotter for them,” said James Sidbury of Raleighwood Pet Sitting. Also, allow dogs to walk on grass, which is easier on their paws than hot, artificial surfaces. Following a walk, coax your pet to drink plenty of water but monitor their water intake to prevent uncomfortable bloating.

Inside? Close the curtains

Hot house: When leaving an animal at home, make sure it has access to windowless places, which provide relief from hot sunlight. Summer haircuts for dogs and regularly brushing your cat or small mammal will allow them to cool down naturally. However, shaved animals will require pet-approved sun screen, said VanderSlik.

Thunder: Thunderstorms are common during the summer and can startle anxious animals, even those inside. Pet owners should close doors and windows to stifle the noise and provide pets with a place to hide their heads. Products like Thundershirt, a snug jacket for dogs, can be used to comfort skittish animals during storms.

Party time?

Take precautions

Cookouts: Outdoor celebrations can be fun with pets, but present many hazards. When using a grill, leash your dog and ask someone else to entertain it far from your cooking space. Don’t leave any harmful substances in reach of your pets, including lighter fluid, alcohol, insect repellant and coals. And remember – they can jump. Keep animal treats on hand and ask guests to refrain from feeding other food to pets.

Johnson said it’s important to keep birds away from fumes produced by grills, citronella candles and tiki torches.

Fireworks: Loud noises can startle animals, so refrain from bringing them along to firework displays. If you’re leaving skittish pets at home on the Fourth, leave them in an interior room and turn on the television, fan or other white noise to drown out the sounds, VanderSlik said.

At the beach: Keep your dog from drinking ocean or pool water, which can cause digestive problems, Hohenwarter said. And be sure to pick up after your dog at the beach, because failure to do so can spread parasites. Never assume a dog can swim and consider outfitting your dog with a canine life vest if it will be near deep water or on a boat.

Leaving Fluffy?

Get a good sitter

A good sitter: Vacationing without your pet can be stressful for the animal if it is not familiar with its temporary caretaker.

It is best for the pet sitter to meet the animals with the owner, prior to the sitter’s first visit, said Sidbury. This lets pets know the sitter is not a threat. Frequent communication between the sitter and the owner is also important in monitoring pets’ changes in behavior, which can be indicative of larger problems, he said.

“Exotic animals can hide signs of disease better than a dog or cat, and many exotics are nervous about strangers or particular about the way food is presented,” Johnson said. “Leave your pet sitter plenty of your pets’ regular diet, and make sure your pet sitter knows what danger signs to look for while you are away.”

Going along: It is unwise to travel with a pet on airlines during the summer, said Hohenwarter, because layovers can be long and animals might get stuck in the heat. When traveling by car, be sure your animal is properly medicated if it has anxiety or motion sickness.

“Don’t put them in a situation that stresses them out,” Hohenwarter said.

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