Sun, Water, & Safety in the Sweet Summertime
‘A little bit of summer is what the whole year is about.’ – John Mayer
Summertime is upon us! It is absolutely a favourite time of year for me. I am a heat and beach seeking sort and I love time in the gardens. I will do just about anything to be out in the glorious sunshine.
When I am out in the warm weather, I am of course taking safety precautions including a hat, plenty of water, and sunscreen. I am also mindful of how I feel and when may be enough time in the heat.
We must consider all these things for ourselves, as well as our pets. There are significant risks for them too.
Let’s look at some of the safety concerns for our family members on four paws!
Considering how hot the day is may seem like a blatant statement of the obvious but with climate change, we are seeing prolonged periods of much warmer temperatures than in previous years.
Just like us, pets can be at risk for heatstroke. I have seen this most commonly in dogs. There are some breeds of dogs that are known to be at increased risk. Some of the more common I have seen in my career are any of our brachycephalic friends, Chow Chows, Greyhounds, many of the Retrievers, Giant breeds, among others.
Heatstroke is simply hyperthermia. Normal temperatures for dogs can range from 38 degrees Celsius to 39.4 degrees Celsius. Anything above 39.4 is considered hyperthermic. Body temperatures can elevate quickly in hot ambient temperatures. Critical temperatures (where multi-organ failure can occur) are over 41 degrees Celsius.
Dogs with heatstroke can have many symptoms (depending on body temperature). These can include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, tacky gums, injected (brick red) mucous membrane color, altered mentation, and potentially seizures/death.
The most common circumstance resulting in heatstroke presented to me is dogs left in a car for only a short period of time without adequate ventilation. This is traumatizing for both the pet and the guilt-stricken pet owner. A less common circumstance would include an active pet outside with little access to shade or water. Both circumstances are completely preventable .
Heatstroke in animals, like in people, can be a medical emergency and can be life threatening. The veterinary team must safely and effectively reduce body temperature. There are several ways to accomplish this including cool water (not cold) on many areas of the body, cloths soaked in cool water placed on the body (but replaced frequently), fans running, IV fluid therapy, and some people may use 70% isopropyl alcohol on the paw pads.
Active cooling can discontinue when the body temperature comes back to high end normal (39.4 degrees Celsius). Animals will typically remain in hospital for some time to monitor their progress and overall improvement. Prognosis can heavily depend on how long the animal was in a hyperthermic state. I have seen many positive outcomes.
Prevention of heatstroke is truly ideal. We need to make sure that we take the time to educate owners regarding how dogs cool themselves and what circumstances are unsafe for them. Dogs are safest in a cool home on a hot summer day. It is not the time to take them out for errands or to the beach on a 35-degree day. Encourage people to exercise them in the early morning or the evening.
On an appropriate day, what dog owner does not really enjoy taking their dogs to the lake or ocean? I had a retriever cross for years that loved her lake and ocean days. They were so much fun for both of us!
Fatigue can often become a concern for dogs that enjoy the water. They will run out and jump in catching toys again and again. They can be at risk for drowning due to fatigue. There are life jackets for dogs that are very effective at preventing drowning. I encourage owners to use them if they are spending time at the water either swimming or boating.
While preparing for a day at the lake, make sure to check the safety report on the lake you plan on going to. In recent years there has been an increase of blue-green algae in lakes. This alga is properly known as cyanobacteria. Exposure to this bacterium is very dangerous to both humans and dogs. It is known to produce hepatotoxins, neurotoxins, and dermatoxins. It can rapidly become fatal. Preventing exposure is simply the best way to stay safe. Fortunately, most areas are testing regularly for the presence of cyanobacteria and are reporting it. Inform your clients of reliable sources to check so they can stay current and plan a safe day for their family.
If the ocean is your playground of choice, there are some things to keep in mind there as well! The ocean is very much a living creature with tides and currents that change quickly. Watch out for strong currents (like a strong under tow) and riptides. These are dangerous to both us and our dogs. These sorts of currents can pull you both out to sea increasing risk of drowning. Most public ocean beaches will release a report on any dangerous currents and water temperatures.
Make sure to bring plenty of fresh water for both people and dogs! Saltwater is not appropriate or safe to drink. Most cases of saltwater ingestion are simply from playing in the waves and catching toys. This sort of situation typically results in some minor and self-limiting gastrointestinal signs, but excessive consumption can lead to more intense GI signs and dehydration. Saltwater can also affect the overall fluid balance of the animal with toxic levels of sodium having high rates of fatality.
We have talked plenty about dogs but there are risks to cats as well. Indoor cats are typically quite safe from many summer hazards, but outdoor cats can risk being exposed to toxins that are present in the garden.
Daylilies are wonderful and beautiful plants. They start growing their green foliage in the spring, flowers are seen into August, and bloom daily (hence their name) for quite some time. Lilies are extremely toxic to cats and all parts of the plant can produce toxicity (leaves, flowers, and pollen). Lilies are a nephrotoxin in cats and it does not take much exposure to produce toxicity or even death.
Other toxins commonly seen in gardens or around homes are rat poisons and slug bait. Some of these toxins can be tempting to dogs. Peanut butter is sometimes used in rat baits and dogs often find that irresistible.
If a rat poison ingestion is suspected by owners, the dog needs to have assessment/treatment immediately. Ensure to ask them to bring in the packaging as there are different products used.
Clinical signs can be various and can depend on the product in the bait. They can include pale mucous membranes, difficulty breathing, lethargy, weakness, collapse, signs of bleeding, vomiting, PU/PD, tremors or seizures, and paralysis.
Treatment needs to be rapid and is also driven by the product in the bait (beyond the scope of this article). Some common treatments I have seen are hospitalization, emesis, vitamin K injections, transfusions, and oxygen support.
Slug bait is a less common ingestion in my experience, but I have seen it happen. Slug bait contains a product called metaldehyde. The exact mechanism by which metaldehyde causes toxicity is not known but we do know it takes very little ingestion to cause signs of toxicity.
Clinical signs can include some GI signs (drooling, vomiting), panting, severe tremors, or seizures (and all the complications that come from seizure activity), and liver failure.
Treatment is most successful if done immediately after ingestion. Emesis and then activated charcoal is typical with gastric lavage being considered as well. Hospitalization, IV fluid therapy, seizure management, and continued monitoring should be expected.
Lack of treatment or poor response to treatment will end in respiratory failure and death.
Most people spend a lot more time outside in the summer doing a variety of activities. There can be dramatic increases of accidents. Many things can be seen including porcupine quills, lacerations, hit by cars, among others. It is always wise to discuss these things with owners and remind them to keep a close eye on their pets even in environments that are seen as ‘safe’.
Summer is an amazing time of year! There is so much fun to be had but safety must be considered. I am a firm believer in, ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’.
Taking the time to plan your day and then being mindful of the day as it progresses, can ensure a safe and comfortable adventure for your whole family.
With the right considerations, your only worry should truly be if the tide is going to reach your beach chair!