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Ask the Vet: How can I keep my dog safe from the Summer heat?

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Ask the Vet: How can I keep my dog safe from the Summer heat?

Chris Simmons and his dog Griff.
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Hi again 🙂 Before I get to it, I have another exciting announcement! Simmons Vet is holding an Open House this coming Saturday, June 3 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. We’ll have coffee and donuts and hors d’oeuvres. We’ll even have a dog kissing booth! And we’re raffling away a really cool custom pet photography sitting with Dog + Wolfe. Hope to meet some of y’all there!

For those new to this segment, I’m a veterinarian and owner of Simmons Veterinary Clinic, a recent business school graduate, and a fellow Decaturite. Given the emerging and escalating Great Veterinary Shortage, some pet parents are finding it harder than ever to ask questions, let alone get answers from their veterinarian. While this column certainly can’t replace that relationship, I’ll do my best to address some of your questions, ranging from the most pressing to the silly. And hopefully, have some fun along the way! 

On to the Questions! 

“Can a dog get too much exercise” – Jack R.

“How do you keep your dog safe from heat stroke, sunburn, and dehydration?” – Robin M. L. 

Hi Jack and Robin! A dog can absolutely get too much exercise, especially in our hot and humid Atlanta weather. And though uncommon, heat stroke is a very real and potentially fatal risk to consider. 

Shouldn’t my dog be able to handle the same summer exercise as me? 

Perhaps. But you should take caution for a couple of reasons. 

1. Permanent fur coats: We can wear summer-specific clothing like dri-fit shirts and shorts. Dogs are stuck wearing their fur coats! So they generally stay much hotter than us in the same temperatures. 

2. Less efficient evaporative cooling processes: We sweat through our skin which works very effectively to cool off our body. Dogs can only sweat small amounts through their paws. Rather, they primarily use their tongue to cool off! Those big ol’ panting tongues make for excellently doofy pictures (and even great logos 😉), but they also serve to dissipate heat when they pant to cool their body temperature. The problem: it’s not nearly as effective as human sweating. 

So how do I know if my pup is overheating? 

Signs include panting excessively, seeking cool and shady areas, or drooling copious amounts. In more serious cases, you may see vomiting or diarrhea, bright red gums, and even incoordination (stumbling). If any of the latter are noted, I’d recommend dousing your pet’s head, body, and paws in lukewarm water and immediately heading to your nearest emergency veterinary clinic.  

What are some tips to prevent this situation? 

The easiest way to avoid an overheated dog is to leave them home in the cool A/C when it is too hot outside. That said, there are definitely safe ways to exercise with your pup during the Summer. I’d recommend early morning or evening outings with frequent breaks and ample access to shade and water. 

Special note for you smoosh-face pooch lovers: Keep these guys indoors as much as you can during the Summer. Breathing is hard enough for them naturally, so they are at a much higher risk of overheating!

And as far as sunburn risk, dogs and cats with thick hair coats don’t usually need sunscreen. But, animals with thinning hair coats (or absent haircoats) would likely benefit from a spritz of a veterinary-specific sunscreen.

“Can dogs be allergic to grass?” – Elizabeth W.

“Can you give some info on seasonal allergies?” – Kira M.

It is officially allergy season! And that means some of y’all assuredly have dogs and cats that are starting to itch more on the daily. And I’ll bet some are even experiencing such severe allergies that they have developed “hot spots”. 

In general, there are three major allergy types in dogs and cats: fleas, food, and the environment. We covered fleas in my first column and discussed food in my second column. Today, we’ll review environmental allergies 🙂.

Environmental allergies (Atopic Dermatitis) are a common condition in which significant skin inflammation occurs as a response to inhalation of or direct contact with allergens, such as pollen or grass. When this happens, animals can become miserably itchy. And worse, their skin’s barrier function breaks down, sometimes leading to opportunistic secondary bacterial and yeast infections. 

So, what can we do to keep our furry family members less itchy?

Early recognition and early intervention are key.

Here’s my playbook for fighting off environmental allergies: 

1. Use a new-generation flea medication: Flea allergic dermatitis commonly occurs in tandem with environmental allergies, so it is paramount to use a good flea product such as Bravecto or Nexgard. Atlanta fleas just don’t seem to care about Frontline at this point (or any other over-the-counter flea prevention for that matter).

2. Regular bathing with a veterinary-specific shampoo: It’s crucial to rinse the allergens off of the skin. The longer an allergen makes contact and the more it builds up on the skin, the more likely it is to cause itching. I prefer to use Douxo shampoos as they offer a nice combination of rinsing, cleansing, and cultivating a healthy skin barrier. 

3. Early, as-needed medical intervention: For animals with frequent, recurrent itching, I recommend an at-home, as-needed, early intervention protocol with the use of a prescribed anti-itch medication called Apoquel. This medication knocks out signs of itching within 4 hours of administration. If your pet is itchy, I’d ask your vet about the potential benefits of this medication (or Cytopoint which is a long-acting injectable anti-itch medication).

“Is a heartworm test really needed annually if your dog has been on medication the entire time? If so, doesn’t that mean that the medication can’t be trusted throughout the year?” – Michael S.

Michael, I’m glad you asked this question because your logic is accurate. And I believe this line of thinking can lead to distrust of veterinary staff when we make this particular recommendation without appropriate explanation.

That said, I strongly recommend annual heartworm testing for three reasons: 

1. We live in an endemic heartworm region of the US.

2. Heartworm disease is “silent” and early detection is crucial for successful, non-invasive treatment.

3. t’s possible that heartworms could develop drug resistance.

OK, so how does heartworm disease work?

Heartworms are nasty little parasites that live in the bloodstream and attach to the base of a dog’s heart. They are spread by mosquito bites and can grow up to a foot long, causing disruptive vascular issues and inflammation of the heart and blood vessels. If left untreated, they can be fatal. And we live in the Southeastern US, a heartworm hotbed. There’s no avoiding mosquitoes here.

What do you mean by “silent disease”?

If your pup contracts heartworms, you will not notice anything for many months. And even then, the symptoms can be subtle, including just a mild cough and lethargy. It’s not like intestinal parasites where you’ll notice some diarrhea and then start treatment right away. 

How do you treat heartworm disease? 

Treatment is tedious and takes about 4 months. It involves a round of antibiotics in tandem with regular heartworm prevention, and a series of intramuscular injections are given about a month apart. All the while, the dog in question must avoid any rigorous activity to minimize cardiopulmonary complications. This part can be especially tough for active doggos!

What about heartworm prevention resistance? 

There is a real possibility that heartworms evolve to a point where they are resistant to our current heartworm treatment options. And, those annual heartworm tests serve as our best means to catch the first sign of widespread resistance. 

The good news is that heartworm prevention medications are currently very effective! And there are lots of great options out there. Commit to one, and you essentially do not need to worry about heartworm disease 🙂. As a bonus, many of these will also prevent intestinal parasites and even fleas and ticks. 

So, in summary: If you give heartworm medication monthly, the chance of your dog contracting heartworm disease is astronomically low. But, because heartworm disease is a “silent’ disease and endemic here in Atlanta, it is highly recommended to screen annually as a just-in-case measure. 

For those interested in learning more, the American Heartworm Society is a great resource. 

Rapid Fire: 

“Maybe some info about inverted coughs? That weird snorting noise dogs make when an irritant gets in their nose/throat and what to do!” – Stephanie D.

The dreaded reverse sneeze! These events can appear quite dramatic, but generally only indicate a little tickle of the dog’s nose. Ask your vet about dosing Zyrtec (Cetirizine) as that may help as a preventative during allergy season. To help them through an episode, gently massage their throat and/or place your fingers over their nostrils. In rare cases, reverse sneezes can be a sign of something wrong in the nasal passage. So, if the episodes are severe or alarmingly frequent, bring your pet in to your veterinarian.

If you notice your cat doing something like this, I’d bring them in for an evaluation, as it may be a sign of feline asthma

“Protecting paws in the summer heat on pavement – what should owners do/look for on paw pads” – Laura P. M. 

Paw pads tend to be rugged enough to handle most terrain, even hot sidewalks. That said, it’s completely worthwhile to try something like this natural wax to reduce the risk of burned paw pads! And you can intermittently wet their paws and/or the ground to cool them off. 

“How many cats equals one dog in terms of workload?” – Meddlin 

Amazing question because it’s vague enough for multiple interpretations!

1. Conversion to horsepower: If 5.25 dogpower equals 1 horsepower. And 1 horsepower equals 50 catpower. Then it takes ~9.5 cats to equal one dog in terms of average workload 🙃

2. Responsibilities as a pet parent: It depends on the individual animal, their medical needs and activity level, but cats are pretty self-reliant and independent. I’d estimate a roughly 2:1 ratio on average with a wide variance of individual outcomes 🤔

That’s it for today! Keep the questions coming! And remember to register for our Open House and book an appointment at Simmons Vet 🙂

– Dr. Chris