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Vet shares tips to keep pets safe this summer

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Shelly Birkelo
Monday, July 2, 2012

— Summer is a time to have fun and relax in the great outdoors.

But the hottest part of the year can also be dangerous for pets if owners don't take precautions.

To keep your pet safe during hot weather, Dr. Sandra Sawchuk, clinical instructor at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital UW-Madison, shared these tips:

1. Use sunscreen. When left outside and in the sun too long a dog or cat can get sunburned and in extreme cases light-pigmented animals can develop skin cancer. So buy pet appropriate sunscreen sold at pet stores or online and apply to areas hit by the sun and susceptible to burn such as ear tips and bridge of the animal's nose. In a pinch, sunscreen for human babies is OK if applied to the pet where it can't lick.

"You can keep reapplying, but that's not going to allow the animal to be out in the sun indefinitely. So you need to really be careful and be the pet's brain like parents with kids," Sawchuk said.

2. Trim coats with care. Poodles are groomed regularly, but shaving a breed not meant to be shaved, such as a golden retriever, may expose the dog to sunburn without hair protection.

"Clipping is not a do or a don't. There's a lot of variability. So talk to your vet or groomer who knows the pet's coat and skin and get their opinion," she said.

3. Use caution when walking. A dog can only expel extra body heat through the pads of their feet and by panting. So exercise in hot weather can be deadly.

"Be cautious. Exercise in the early morning or later in the evening once humidity and temperatures drop," Sawchuk said.

4. Don't leave dogs in vehicles. Vehicles heat fast and can kill pets quickly.

"They have a different cooling mechanism than humans so are just not able to get that hot body temperature down because they're trying to expel warm air into even hotter air," Sawchuk said.

5. Avoid heat exhaustion. When a dog is overheated, it will open its mouth wide, pant excessively and its gums will turn a dark red brick color. Its pupils will dilate, and the dog will be unresponsive and lethargic. If you notice these symptoms, get your pet into a cooler environment. Don't cool the pet's body temperature too fast because it could go into shock.

"Put a cool, wet towel over them to slowly cool them down," she said.

6. Use a lifejacket. Even the best swimming dog can get into trouble.

"So, like people, they should wear a life jacket in case they fall overboard, get exhausted and can't make it back to shore or get disoriented and don't know where they are," Sawchuk said.

7. Provide water. Make sure to take water for your dog to drink. You don't want to let your dog drink from the lake or streams laced with blue algae, which can be toxic, or waterborne infectious diseases, which can cause liver and kidney failure.

"Dogs will drink from the lake but encourage them to drink water from home rather than from the lake because it may put them at risk of other disease," she said.

8. Avoid swimmers ear. Water can pool and cause ear infections because a dog's ear canal is J-shaped.

"Your vet can supply you with or recommend products—drying agents—especially for dogs that are ear-infection prone," she said.

9. Avoid parasites. This is perfect weather for parasites such as hookworms to develop. Clean up after your pet and avoid areas where people don't clean up to avoid exposure. That's why vets recommend year around heartworm control because the heartworm medication also controls intestinal parasites.

"Some are applied topically monthly. Many people use an oral tablet once a month," Sawchuk said.

10. Choose pet-friendly insect repellents. The top three insects to bug dogs are fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.

"There are a lot of different preparations easy to apply and available. But always consult with your vet to get a recommendation.

"Some repel mosquitoes, while other don't. So, you've got to know what product you're using," she said.

11. Sawchuk, who survived a tornado while on vacation with her pets, offered one last suggestion.

"When living in an area where severe weather can happen, have a plan of attack. Have supplies necessary to take with you like leashes, and microchip your pets so if they survive and get lost they can be reunited with you."

Last updated: 5:02 pm Tuesday, August 27, 2013

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