Integrative Pet Vet column: Pets coping with heat and the potential after effects
Integrative Pet Vet
Many people are struggling to cope with the hot summer. Our pet companions also have to cope with the heat. The hot summer and continuing heat has created numerous challenges, including the direct effects of heat on body temperature, activity levels and appetite. In addition, methods used to provide cooling can contribute to unexpected issues including skin infections from chronically wet skin and asthma episodes from exposure to outdoor allergens during the night when windows are open.
Clearly, hot temperatures can be dangerous for pets. Pets should never be left unattended in a car. The temperature in a car can rise quickly, reaching 120°F and higher even on a mild day. These temperatures are rapidly dangerous for pets, especially those with existing health challenges, like heart disease, or those in vulnerable groups, like the young and geriatric. Street surfaces can become very hot and result in heat damage to foot pads. Caution when walking on these surfaces is important. Hot temperatures also increase the risk of dehydration, so providing plenty of fresh water is essential.
Pet caregivers have evolved numerous strategies for helping pets to cope with the high temperatures. These include early morning walks when it is cooler and using water for cooling, like wading safely in the river, swimming, sitting in a wading pool, playing in the sprinkler and using a mister. When available, air conditioning can help keep the interior spaces comfortable. For those without air conditioning, using fans and opening windows in the evening helps dissipate the indoor heat.
Each of these strategies help to improve coping with the high temperatures, but they can contribute to other problems in susceptible individuals. For example, bacterial or yeast infections can affect the skin when it is wet for extended times. This is a bigger problem with heavy-coated dogs. These infections often occur in areas where there is a skin fold or under the collar, where the skin tends to stay wet longer. Signs of an infection range from minor with small pustules on the surface to red, inflamed skin with discharge and severe pain. Treatment often includes shaving the affected area, gently cleansing, keeping the area dry and treating with topical medications or shampoos. Sometimes oral antibiotics are indicated if it is a severe bacterial infection. Preventing the skin infections involves completely drying after getting wet.
Some dogs that swim frequently have more problems with ear infections. This may be in part due to getting moisture in the ear canals. Using strategies to routinely inspect the ears and flush the ear canals can be valuable for preventing ongoing ear infections. Only flush the ears after consultation with your veterinarian.
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Some dogs and cats have reactive airway problems. These pets are generally allergic to an airborne allergen. Exposure to these allergens results in coughing or asthmatic episodes. Increased exposure to allergens often happens at night when the windows are open while cooling the house. This can create a significant challenge while we attempt to balance the need for lowering the home temperatures while avoiding increased stress from allergic reactions. This becomes especially challenging when the reactions become life threatening, like with asthmatic cats.
It is important to recognize that there are illness problems that can cause a dog or cat to pant, but panting is also response to heat. This makes it important to have an evaluation by a veterinarian to help rule out problems not related to the high temperatures. A loss of appetite or increased drinking can happen with increased temperatures. As with panting, loss of appetite and increased drinking can occur with numerous health problems.
Being aware that many of our strategies for managing the heat can contribute to other health challenges is important. This recognition can aid in avoiding unintended consequences and also provide clues for managing these issues. If your pet is experiencing health concerns or you have questions about managing the heat for your pets, contact your veterinarian.
Ron Carsten, DVM, PhD, CVA, CCRT was one of the first veterinarians in Colorado to use the integrative approach, has lectured widely to veterinarians, and has been a pioneer in the therapeutic use of food concentrates to manage clinical problems. He is also the founder of Colorado Animal Rescue (CARE). In addition to his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, he holds a PhD in Cell and Molecular Biology and is a Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Therapist. He practices integrative veterinary medicine in Glenwood Springs.
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