Although our pets don’t seem to suffer from bouts of “June gloom,” and are impervious to the fog and chilly breezes that often define summers on the mid-Peninsula, there are a few rare days when temps do rise and we, as their loyal companions, must be mindful of their health and safety during the dog days of summer.
Warmer days are great for human activities, especially on a holiday weekend, but excessive heat and increased outdoor activities could spell disaster for pets.
According to Veterinary News Network, the most common heat related problem for pets is heat stress, also known as heat stroke or hyperpyrexia. Even on a moderately warm day, an excited dog might show a body temperature increase of 2-5 degrees.
Since dogs don’t sweat, they are unable to dissipate the excess heat, causing heat stroke. Short-faced breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are at higher risk of heat stroke.
Every year, thousands of pets succumb to heat stroke because they were left in cars while their owners ran “just a few” errands. Even on a 70 degree day, temperatures inside a car can soar to more than 110 degrees in less than an hour.
Some owners try to help their pets by shaving the dog’s long coat. Although this seems like a good idea, a well groomed and clean hair coat can actually insulate the dog from the heat and help keep them cooler.
Veterinarians will recommend shaving specific areas in long haired breeds. For example, shaving around the anus and groin can help keep the area clean and free from infections.
In some cases, shaving the hair coat could expose a lightly pigmented dog to potential sunburn. For short haired lightly colored breeds, canine solar dermatitis is another problem. Boxers, pit bulls and Dalmatians are just a few examples of dogs that are at risk. In these cases, chronic exposure to hot sunny days damages the skin and causes tender, red scaly lesions. Eventually, the skin becomes thickened and scarred.
Don’t leave your pet unattended outside or plan heavy exercise on hot days. If your pet is left outdoors, he must have access to adequate shade and fresh water.
When it’s time to run errands, leave your pet at home. Even a few minutes in a hot car is enough to increase your pet’s body temperature dramatically.
If you find your pet disoriented, panting excessively or collapsed in the yard, move him immediately to a cooler environment. Use cool wet towels over his back, armpits and groin to help bring his temperature down. Fans are often helpful too. DO NOT USE ICE! Then, get him to your veterinarian immediately so that they can assess his status and begin life saving treatments.
Warmer days also bring out pests that seek out your pets. Even one of Belmont’s main thoroughfares, Alameda de las Pulgas (translated: “Avenue of the Fleas”), is a reminder of the prevalence of those nasty pests, especially during summer months.
Fleas and ticks are two of the biggest challenges facing pet owners. They are dangerous disease carriers, and they can make your animal’s life miserable. Fleas can transmit tapeworms and cause itchy allergic reactions, which can lead to scratching, hair loss and infection. Ticks can carry the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, a serious condition characterized by lameness, swollen joints and fever.
Safely controlling fleas and ticks is a delicate balancing act---although there are veterinary- approved topical and oral flea and tick treatments available on the market, there are plenty of insect guards right in your own backyard.
The plant world offers safe, effective, and free de-bugging. According to Mother Earth News, commonly found backyard plants such as marigolds, nasturtiums and members of the garlic family are well known to organic gardeners and natural pest repellants. Chrysanthemums are also effective because they contain a chemical that deadens the nerves of fleas. Eucalyptus (plentiful in Belmont) is also known to repel fleas.
Mint and cedar are also effective flea deterrents when dried and added to the pets’ bedding or steeped and used as a final rinse at bath time. Cedar wood chips can be placed around bedding, and cedar wood oil extract can safely be on pets’ skin to keep fleas and ticks at bay.
Catnip, an easy-to-grow member of the mint family, severs a dual purpose: as a natural pet blockade, and it will make your cat deliriously happy.
The lazy days of summer are a great opportunity to spend time with your pet---make the most of it with a morning hike on one of Belmont's great canyon trails, followed by a snooze in the shade. And keep that water bowl full.
For a trails map, visit the Belmont Parks and Recreation office, or go to www.belmont.gov.