Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Hot Weather Care Tips for Pets

Pet Column for the week of June 19, 2006

Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Brookelyn Nitzkin
Information Specialist

As many of us know, summer can be the best time of year for our pets: lazy afternoons outside, swimming, and lots of sun. But all of the splendors of summer come at a cost. Our pets must endure the heat, bugs and allergies that come with the months that encompass May through August of each year.

Since the heat of the summer is right around the corner, there are some things that will help make your companion more comfortable. Some of these things are simply common knowledge, but it's easy to forget that pets have a different physiology than we do and often have a more difficult time in the heat than humans would.

First and foremost, don't leave your dog in a locked car for any period of time. When it is hot it only takes minutes to reach dangerous temperatures inside the car. Dogs can't sweat the same way as humans can. They thermo-regulate mostly by panting and can sweat minimally through the bottom of their feet.

Heat stroke is a very serious life-threatening disease that can afflict dogs quite rapidly. dark-colored dogs are particularly prone to heat stroke due to the fact that their dark coat absorbs heat. Other medical factors that predispose your dog to heat stroke are obesity, laryngeal paralysis and heart disease. Some common early signs of heat stroke include panting, excessive salivation, hyper-excitement and increased rectal temperature. Heat stroke can affect every organ in the body; if you suspect that this is taking place, seek immediate veterinary attention for your pet.

Never leave your dog tied in a place where it cant find shade or access to water. This seems very commonsense, but sometimes dogs left on chains or leads may wind themselves around a tree and cut off their access to water.

We all know that summer means bugs, and bugs are pests for humans and canines alike. Fleas are a common pest that thrive in moist, humid climates. Fleas live off the blood from their hosts and can cause itching from the bite itself or simply from crawling around under your pet's coat. Flea bites can also cause an allergic reaction, called flea-bite dermatitis, in certain animals resulting in severe reactions such as intense itching, crusty skin and hair loss. Fleas can also be carriers for other parasites, such as tapeworms. Dogs that itch will groom themselves and ingest fleas, providing a direct route for tapeworms to develop in the intestines of your pet.

Mosquitoes, another pest of the summer, can carry larvae called Dirofilaria immitus, or heartworms, that can lodge in your dog's pulmonary artery and cause serious health problems. Preventatives for fleas and heartworms are available in many different varieties and can be purchased from your veterinarian. Heartworm pills and flea preventative are relatively inexpensive and far outweigh the nuisance and health hazards triggered by a flea or heartworm infestation.

Many people clip or shave their dogs in the summer time with the logic that less hair will allow for a cooler canine. However, Dr. Karen Campbell, a veterinary dermatologist at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, Ill., explains that clipping your dog may be counterproductive. The canine coat is designed to hold heat near the body in the winter, but also to insulate against the heat from the sun in the summer. Leaving your dog's hair coat intact will actually provide a cool microenvironment for your pet. Your pet's fur also helps act as a sunscreen to protect its skin from ultraviolet radiation. Yes, dogs can get sunburn as well.

Dr. Campbell does concede that a dark-colored dog will get a lot hotter in the summer due to his color (dark colors absorb more heat energy from the sun). If you do own a dark-colored dog it may be beneficial to clip it despite the loss of the insulating properties of their hair coat.

One thing is for certain, dogs that are outside in the summer heat should be properly groomed. Dr. Campbell reminds us that a matted coat will trap moisture on the skin providing an excellent environment for skin infections or even worse problems.

Allergies are a problem for humans and dogs alike. Allergic reactions may develop on your dog to various causes. One type of these reactions is called "hot spots." They look like red, round spots that tend to have a slightly slimy appearance. While hot spots are an issue that certainly require a veterinarian's care, Dr. Campbell recommends the temporary use of tea bags applied directly to these hot spots until a veterinary appointment can be made. "The tanic acid in the tea bags may help to relieve some of the irritation," she says.

While the heat of summer can be oppressive to dogs there are some simple things like water, shade, flea and heartworm prevention, grooming and allergy care that can help make it more bearable. After all, our pets want to enjoy the summer as much as we do.

For more information about summer care for your pet, consult your local veterinarian.