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Dog Days Of Summer

06/08/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey

Protecting Pets When Temperatures Rise

BY Hailey Hensgens Fleming

It’s no secret that the summers in Acadiana can be pretty brutal. Heat, humidity and swarms of mosquitoes create a merciless climate that can make even the most avid outdoorsman miserable. Precautions can be taken to protect ourselves, but as the heat index begins to rise, it’s important we take steps to safeguard our animals from the dangers of a Louisiana summer as well. A few local veterinarians have weighed in, offering insight on a few of the most common hazards as well as ways to keep your furry friends happy through the heat.

Danger #1: Heat Stroke
Rising temperatures are the most immediate danger facing both indoor and outdoor animals in the summer months. According to Dr. Shannon Gonsoulin, the veterinarian at All Creatures Animal Hospital in New Iberia, an animal’s body temperature tends to increase with the heat index. When that heat index is 90 or above the animal never has a chance to cool off, so its body temperature remains elevated. That is when heat stroke occurs. Although all animals are at risk, Gonsoulin explains, “Heat stress is mainly associated with dogs of color because the pigmentation absorbs more heat on a darker animal than a lighter colored animal.”

Owners can be proactive in taking steps to prevent heat stroke by providing their animals with access to shade and fresh water. “We tell clients when they have a dog outside to make sure there’s plenty of shade,” explains Gonsoulin. “You’ll drop the temperature 10 to 15 degrees just by having shade.” This can be as simple as stretching a tarp over the kennel or ensuring your dog can reach a shaded area as well as providing an inexpensive plastic pool for your dog to cool off in. Gonsoulin also offers a word of caution for owners who place their dogs on lead lines and leave for the day, “Unfortunately, we’ve seen those problems happen frequently where the dog got tangled up, caught in the sun during the day and couldn’t get to the shade. By the time the owner finds them and gets them to the clinic a lot of those dogs are just too far gone.” 

You can also reduce the risk of heat stroke by minimizing activity during the hottest hours of the day as well as monitoring your animals for signs of distress. “When you’re throwing the ball with your dog in the afternoon during those hot summer months the dog’s getting all worked up and, within a matter of 20 to 30 minutes, they can get overheated. It happens very quickly, especially with dogs that have smushed faces,” explains Dr. Christopher Dupuy of Dupuy’s Animal Hospital in New Iberia. “Be aware that, just like humans, you want to take breaks and provide them with water,” he continues. “If it’s hot outside for you then it’s definitely hot for your dog.” Signs of heat stress include heavy panting, lethargy, heavy drooling, respiratory noise when breathing and decreased appetite. If caught soon enough, Dr. Dupuy explains the animal should be soaked in water, covered in cool damp towels or brought in the air conditioning as soon as possible. However, if progressed enough, it should be rushed to the veterinarian.

Danger #2: Fleas and Ticks
Fleas are one of the most common by products of the warmer months as the season begins in March and continues through October. “They tend to follow the mosquito tempered zone, so whenever you start seeing mosquitoes out, fleas are certainly out also,” explains Gonsoulin. Whether cat or dog, indoor or outdoor, your animal is at risk and these pesky little bugs can be a major nuisance to animals and owners, alike. “If you see a flea you need to start treating pretty quickly because each flea can lay about 30 eggs a day. If you get 20 fleas, it doesn’t take very long to have a population developing in your home,” he says. 

Like fleas, ticks tend to make their appearance in the summer months and can cause serious problems for your animal. Although less common in our region, ticks make their nests in the ground, can latch on to your unsuspecting cat or dog and cause infection or spread diseases, like Lyme Disease. If you find a tick on your pet, Dr. Angela Darby of Magnolia Mobile Veterinary Clinic explains you should allow your veterinarian to take a look. “If the tick is tiny they can try to remove it themselves, but if any of its appendages are left in the skin it can cause some infections,” she states. “Additionally, if someone finds one tick they need to know if there are more, so it would be advised to have a veterinarian check the entire animal out. Fleas like to go in the ear canal and that’s a place an owner wouldn’t be able to check.” Thankfully, most flea prevention medicines will take care of ticks as well and can be administered as early as six weeks of age. In order to avoid these parasites and the dangers they pose, putting your animal on a year-round preventative is highly recommended.

Danger #3: Heartworms
Heartworms and their associated symptoms are a common struggle for pet owners over the summer, but pose a risk year-round. Dr. Darby explains, “Heartworms are spread by mosquito bites and we pretty much have mosquitos here all year.” Due to the high volume of mosquitos in the area, especially as the weather warms, heartworms are easily contracted and expensive to treat. Additionally, after contracted, heat and humidity seem to only exacerbate the symptoms. “Heartworms affect the cardiovascular system, so anything that increases stress on the heart or breathing can cause clinical signs,” explains Dr. Gonsoulin. For this reason, the American Heartworm Society recommends animals in our area be on heartworm prevention year-round.

Danger #4: High Birth Rates
Although less often noted, the summer months tend to come with a spike in new puppies and kittens due to the heat cycles of cats and dogs. “People often don’t realize that cats can get pregnant as young as five months old. So, those little babies that are born in February can become pregnant during the summer,” Dr. Darby explains. “Cats can have up to four litters of kittens in a year so fixing your cat is very important.” This surge in births, many of which are unexpected, means animal shelters fill up quickly and several precious animals are left without homes. Fixing your pets, preferably by the time they’re four months old, is the best way to help alleviate this problem.

On the other hand, if you’re looking for a new fur-baby to welcome into your family, checking out your local shelter over the summer is the perfect place to start! Not only can you help lighten the load, but also you can provide a forever home to a sweet cat or dog. Shelters that serve the Acadiana area are the Angel Paws Adoption Center and Iberia Parish Rabies Control.

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