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Published: Monday, 7/7/2008

Dog days can be perilous for pets

BY LAURA BENNETT
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Summertime - with its long days and endless games of Frisbee toss - is canine heaven.

The prospect of idle afternoons spent romping through parks and devouring picnic scraps is enough to make most pets giddy.

Even though dogs seem inexhaustible in their love of the outdoors, the summer months can be perilous for household animals.

"Heatstroke is one of our needless killers," said Dr. Kittsen McCumber, a veterinarian at the Animal Emergency and Critical Care Center of Toledo.

In early summer, before pets and their owners have grown accustomed to the higher temperatures, Dr. McCumber sometimes sees seven or eight dogs suffering from heatstroke every week.

Early indications of heatstroke can be difficult to distinguish from the normal signs of healthy fatigue: panting, listlessness, and rapid heartbeat. Other symptoms include a dry nose, refusal to obey commands, and dark red or purple gums and tongue.

Long-haired or short-nosed breeds and older or overweight animals tend to be most susceptible to overheating.

"Some dogs just don't listen and will overexert themselves," said Dr. Matthew Verbsky, a veterinarian at the Southgate Veterinary Clinic in Bellefontaine, Ohio, and president of the Ohio Veterinary Medical Association.

Last summer, Dr. Verbsky treated a young Labrador retriever that had bolted out of the house in pursuit of a wild animal. The dog was out for about two hours under the sweltering afternoon sun before his owner found him collapsed about 1 1/2 miles from home.

After Dr. Verbsky used a combination of cool water and intravenous fluids to bring down the animal's body temperature, the dog recovered fully.

Some pets, however, aren't so lucky.

Because of their playful nature and eagerness to please, dogs are particularly likely not to know their limits when it comes to physical exertion. But other animals are at risk when the weather starts heating up.

"Almost every year, people with pocket pets think, 'Oh, my guinea pig is going to like to be outside,'•" Dr. McCumber said. "Don't stick a caged animal in the sun."

When a pet begins to show signs of heatstroke, steps should be taken immediately to lower the animal's body temperature.

"Use cool water on extremities; just don't douse the dog in cold water or you'll send it into shock," Dr. McCumber said. "Then take the temperature. If it's over 105 degrees, I don't care how good your dog looks to you, your pet needs IV fluids."

One particular admonition rings like a refrain in veterinary advice: Don't leave your pet in the car.

"As sunlight goes through the glass, it can turn into an oven in there in a very short time period," said Dr. Michael Myers of Hartman Veterinary Hospital in Toledo.

Heatstroke is not the only hazard facing pets during the summer months. Hot asphalt can burn animal paws, and chemicals used to fertilize lawns and gardens are often toxic if ingested.

"These chemicals can get in paw pads, and the pet will want to lick it out, which is dangerous," said Sherri Miller, spokesman for the Toledo Area Humane Society.

With a combination of savvy pet care and common sense, the summer months can be the stuff of every dog's daydreams.

"Just think, if you wouldn't put your kid in that situation, I wouldn't put your pet in that situation," Dr. Verbsky said.

Contact Laura Bennett at:

lbennett@theblade.com

or 419-724-6728.



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