Caring for Your Pets in Summer
We aren’t the only ones who love summer. Our pets enjoy the season’s long days and outdoor activities, too. A few simple steps can keep everyone healthy and happy.
Start with drinking water. The more active your dog or cat, the more she needs extra water, preferably chemical-free spring or filtered water. Water can be delivered in a bowl, pet water dispenser, or travel canteen.
Some natural foods markets sell electrolyte-enhanced drinks for canine athletes and pets recovering from illness or dehydration.
Be sure to change your pet’s water daily, keep water dispensers clean, and encourage animals to drink more often when the mercury soars.
One reason hot weather is hard on pets is because they can’t cool themselves by perspiring through the skin the way humans do. Their only sweat glands are on their paw pads and noses. High humidity interferes with the cooling effects of panting. Veterinarians advise against leaving pets (especially those that are very young, very old, weak, ill, overweight, or breeds with snub noses such as Pekingese, Pugs, and Bulldogs) outdoors in hot, humid weather.
To avoid heat-related problems, exercise in the early morning or evening, substitute gentle walks for hard runs, and stop whenever your dog seems tired or is panting heavily. Swimming or splashing in a lake, river, ocean, or even backyard wading pool can help keep your dog cool. But be sure to rinse your dog’s coat after swimming in a chemically treated pool or saltwater.
Never leave your pet in a parked car on a sunny day or during hot weather, even with the windows open, even for a few minutes. Help prevent heat stress or heatstroke by using common sense, avoiding overexertion, and keeping your pet cool and well watered. If your dog pants heavily, fails to respond, develops a rapid heartbeat or bright red tongue, vomits, looks anxious, or feels hot to the touch, lower her temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the abdomen, lower legs, neck, and hairless areas. Then get her to a veterinarian immediately. Emergency treatment with intravenous fluids and medication to prevent or reverse brain damage may save your dog’s life.
In addition to keeping pets indoors and air-conditioned on hot, humid days, offer them a frozen water bottle, such as a water-filled plastic bottle, to help keep them cool in hot weather. Some dogs love to sleep on frozen water bottles, while others use them as pillows.
While most professional groomers and veterinarians recommend against shaving dogs and cats to their bare skin, a short summer trim can help long-haired pets avoid problems with heat-trapping matted hair and tangles. Daily brushing or combing will help your pet feel comfortable—and look great—in any weather.
If a honeybee (which leaves its stinger behind) attacks your pet, gently flick the stinger away with your fingernail or use tweezers to remove it. Don’t squeeze or press the stinger, which can release more venom. Rinse the sting with cider vinegar or strongly brewed chamomile tea. A single drop of full-strength or diluted essential oil of chamomile or tea tree oil can be safely applied to a bite or sting on most adult dogs (always avoid the eye area). But this disinfecting treatment cannot be used on cats, very small dogs, or young puppies.
Whenever fleas are a problem, combing with a flea comb removes shedding hair along with these parasites and their eggs. Also spray the animal and pet bedding with natural products containing neem (gentle to pets but toxic to parasites) to prevent infestations. Neem can help keep your dog free from fleas, ticks, lice, mites, flies, and mosquitoes.
Other Seasonal Concerns
Did you know that pets need sunscreen, too? Light-haired dogs and cats can get sunburned if exposed to too much midday sun. Sunblock can be applied to the tips of the ears, tip of the nose, and skin around the animal’s lips to help prevent sunburn, pain, and peeling.
Many dogs develop ear infections during summer months. Although chronic ear infections are common in long-eared swimming dogs like Labrador and Golden Retrievers, they can occur in any breed. To prevent yeasty-smelling ears, rinse or clean your dog’s ears with a solution of equal parts water and vinegar. This lowers the ear’s pH, making it less hospitable to Malassezia yeast cells, which cause most canine ear infections. Or use an herbal ear oil or ear treatment to keep your pet’s ears clean and healthy.
To treat ear infections and other allergy symptoms from the inside out, add a probiotic supplement to your dog’s food. Many probiotics are labeled for veterinary use, but any human probiotic can be adapted for pets. Determine an approximate dose by dividing your pet’s weight in pounds by 100. For example, a 50-pound dog would take half the label’s recommended dose, while a 10-pound cat or rabbit would need one-tenth the label dose. Because probiotics are very safe and there is no toxic dose, larger amounts are well tolerated.
Digestive enzymes added to your pet’s food help strengthen the immune system by improving digestion and the assimilation of nutrients.
Don’t Forget T
he better shape you and your pet are in, the more you’ll both enjoy summer—or any season. Like their human companions, dogs and cats benefit from a healthy diet and active exercise that is increased gradually to prevent injury. Couch potato dogs need regular exercise, not just weekend workouts, and every exercise session should begin with a gradual warm-up and end with a gradual cool-down. In case your dog overdoes it, treat acute, new injuries with cold, and treat chronic, old injuries, soreness, or joint pain with warmth.
Homeopathic arnica preparations reduce pain and swelling. Athletic dogs enjoy long hikes, lengthy swims, and everything else that summer has to offer. But as dogs age or recover from injuries, their joints can hurt or their body alignment can be thrown out of balance. Systemic oral enzyme supplements and anti-inflammatory herbs, including boswellia, devil’s claw, feverfew, and yucca, can help older dogs remain active and reduce the risk of injury in all dogs. Look for products labeled for pet use or adjust the label dose of human supplements, based on your pet’s weight.
The rapid growth of canine sports is making rehabilitation medicine a veterinary specialty. Acupressure, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic adjustments, and physical therapy all can help your pet.