Summer is ideally a time of long sunny days, when we can enjoy more of an outdoor life with our pets than in winter. But the warmer weather is not all good, as it can bring with it some specific health issues for our pets.
Dr Bradley Viner BVetMed MSc(VetGP) DProf MRCVS
The most obvious issue for summer animal care is heat stroke. Whereas cats rely on evaporation of the saliva that they use to groom themselves, dogs cool down by panting. A dog shut in a parked car even in hazy sunlight will quickly overheat, because as the moisture builds up inside the vehicle, panting becomes less and less effective. Breeds of dog with flattened faces are particularly susceptible and should not be exercised in the heat of the day. Heat stroke can be rapidly fatal, so should, of course, be avoided whenever possible. If it does occur, try to lower the dog’s body temperature rapidly with copious amounts of cold water and a fan if available, until veterinary assistance can be obtained.
Fleas can be a problem all year round, but parasites are even more of an issue in summer. Both dogs and cats are generally affected by cat fleas, and while some animals are quite tolerant of the irritation that they cause, others are allergic and develop severe skin problems after even a single bite. Ticks bury their head into the skin and enlarge as they suck blood. Since they tend to be picked up in long grass they’re most common in late summer and autumn. Lungworm is particularly common in dogs in this part of the country. It is contracted from foxes, but via slugs and snails, so occurs only when these are to be found. It can be fatal, so it’s important to take steps to prevent infection. Veterinary spot-on preparations can protect against such problems. The most effective are available only on prescription, so seek advice from your vet on the most appropriate product for your pet. Once the grass begins to go to seed in late summer, sharp-pointed grass awns are easily picked up in the coat of long-haired dogs such as spaniels. They can penetrate the skin almost anywhere, but most commonly get into dogs’ ears, or between their toes. Long-haired dogs should always be checked for grass awns after exercising in areas where they’re likely to be found as, once they penetrate the skin or enter the ear, an anaesthetic is usually required to remove them.
Dogs and cats are often unable to resist the temptation of attacking a wasp or bee, so stings most commonly occur on a forelimb or around the face, causing pain, swelling, and in the former instance, lameness. The consequences of a sting are not usually serious, unless an animal develops an obstruction to its breathing due to a bite within the back of the mouth, or in case of allergy. When an animal is stung on the face, severe breathing problems can develop rapidly and will need urgent treatment.
Kennel cough is a dry, hacking cough that can be caused by one of several different infectious agents. It’s more common when groups of dogs come together in the summer months as it can be easily spread between animals. A vaccine given as drops into the nose helps protect against the disease, but be warned that even vaccinated animals can become infected. It’s vital that affected dogs are rested until they have recovered, both to help prevent a chronic throat inflammation developing and to reduce the chances of the disease being spread to other dogs in the area.
The coat of our pets generally acts as an effective prevention against the effects of chronic sun burn. There are exceptions however, such as the ears and nose of white-haired cats, which can develop a form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma. This causes a chronic ulceration of the skin that fails to heal due to the presence of cancerous cells that eat into the surrounding tissues. Although treatable, prevention is best so protect susceptible cats by keeping them indoors when the sun is high. Applying a non-toxic sun screen to the hairless areas will also help.
Don’t forget the rabbit!
If your rabbit has any unhealthy tissue, such as an infected wound, it can be rapidly affected by fly strike, where flies lay eggs that develop into maggots. It is particularly common in rabbits that become soiled around their anal area so your rabbit needs to be checked regularly and kept on clean, dry bedding. Biting insects can carry myxomatosis, which is usually fatal, so even rabbits that live alone should be vaccinated against this disease every year.