It’s summertime and the livin’ is easy! Although we expect a hot, humid summer season here in southeastern and coastal Georgia, it’s still time for getting outside. This article will include a few tips on troubleshooting common summertime woes that may befall your pup or cat during these months.
As spring time fades into summer, flowers bloom, grass is green, and you and Fluffy spend more time outdoors. Insects of all sorts are also emerging from their winter hibernations, and the cases of dogs and cats with ant bites, mystery swellings and hives, and skin allergies soar.
One of the most common urgent appointments vets see during this time of year is acute and itchy facial swelling and hives. Usually, the history is that Fluffy was normal one minute, perhaps outside playing, and suddenly an owner noticed that he was trying to rub and scratch his face or body. In many cases, we do not know the offending insect or exact cause of the reaction. It could be that Fluffy attempted to bite a bee or wasp; some animals even develop itching and swelling after sticking their faces into bushes or grasses thick with pollens which trigger an allergic reaction.
The first thing to do is NOT PANIC. Acute, itchy swelling is almost never life-threatening. There are some cases of more severe anaphylactic reactions, or of pets who have attempted to swallow a stinging insect that can result in swelling of the throat and risk of suffocation, but these are rare.
Diphenhydramine is a well-known antihistamine drug by the brand name of Benadryl®, and is used to control mild to moderate cases of acute allergic reactions and swelling. Administer the 25 milligram tablets by mouth at a dose of 1 milligram per pound of body weight (for example, a 50-pound dog will get 2 tablets), and repeat every 4-6 hours. For small dogs and cats, use the Children’s liquid Benedryl dye-free formula. A teaspoon is equal to 5 milliliters in volume, so a 6-pound dog or cat may get half of a teaspoon or 2.5 milliliters, depending on the units of your oral dosing syringe. Remember that this particular antihistamine will cause drowsiness in humans and likely for Fluffy, too.
There will be allergic reaction cases that are slow to respond to diphenhydramine alone, and if swelling and itching are persistent or severe, you should visit your veterinarian.
Snakes are active during warm weather, and Fluffy always seems to find the one that will bite back if bothered. You should know that many snakes which Fluffy will encounter are non-venomous.
Copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes are the most common culprits. Their venoms contain hemotoxins, which generally cause localized pain, swelling and tissue damage, and interfere with blood clotting. There is a vaccine for dogs (none for cats, sorry) that offers protection against rattlesnake venom and some cross-protection for copperhead and cottonmouth venom. The vaccine will not prevent all clinical symptoms from developing: it will only dampen the body’s response, but could save the dog’s life. Ask your vet if the vaccine is available.
Coral snakes are found in eastern Georgia, and should be given a wide berth. Their venom contains a neurotoxin, and the likelihood of acute, life-threatening complications is high. Some populations of timber rattlesnakes also have a component of neurotoxin in their venom. If either of these snakes are seen near Fluffy at the time of a bite, steer clear of the snake, and get to an emergency room immediately.
If a venomous snake does strike at your dog or cat, be aware that it may have inflicted a “dry bite” and not injected any venom into the animal. Envenomation sites are often on the muzzle, head, or front legs. Bites can quickly become amazingly swollen and excruciatingly painful and may be life-threatening. Any wound that is found that has one or two puncture holes close together, oozes blood or serum, or develops bruising warrants a trip to your veterinarian. Benadryl ® will NOT treat a snake bite, so do not waste time attempting to get him to take pills. Get to your vet or nearest emergency center.
If possible, safely get a photograph of the snake in question, as it may assist your vet in species identification. There are excellent Georgia-based snake ID groups on social media that are always willing to help identify (and sometimes remove) snakes through photographs posted to the site.
In times of good weather, vets always see an uptick in cases of dog bites. Always monitor Fluffy’s whereabouts when outside, and be aware of other animals. Keep all dogs and cats on a leash when in public or when going outside without a fenced-in yard.
Mosquitos thrive during humid southern summers. It is the high season for transmission of heartworm disease from infected mosquito bites to dogs and cats, so double and triple check that Fluffy is up to date on heartworm prevention! Intestinal parasites (hookworms, roundworms, whipworms) take advantage of warm weather and moisture to reproduce, but heartworm prevention or deworming should help eliminate infestation. Ectoparasites such as fleas and ticks are also more active this time of year. Talk to your vet about prevention.
Georgia summers are defined by high heat and constant humidity. Heat dissipation is lousy when the air is moist, which brings about the subject of heat stroke. The hugely over- simplified summary of the science of heat stroke is that sometimes, when both outside temperature and humidity are high, a dog or cat’s internal cooling mechanisms malfunction. If their body temperature reaches a dangerous point, blood will coagulate inside vessels and cause organ dysfunction, bleeding and abnormal clot formation. Shock ensues, and unfortunately, death may follow if treatment is not immediate.
Dogs and cats cannot sweat like humans. They have to “pant” and seek cool or wet areas and circulating air to be able to spread out their body heat. The animals most likely to be affected by heat stroke are dogs, usually larger breeds, with thick coats or dark colored fur. Also at higher risk are brachycephalic breeds such as bulldog and pug varieties, pit bulls, and overweight animals.
One way to prevent overheating while a pet is outside is to reduce daytime exercise: go out only during the early morning or late evening, and for heat-intolerant animals, eliminate outdoor activity completely for a few months. Add fans to shaded places for dogs and cats to go for shelter on hot days. Place a water source (changed daily) in the shade to allow drinking, bathing and soaking. DO NOT EVER, FOR ANY REASON, leave Fluffy inside a vehicle without air conditioning running, even if the windows are down. Do not leave pets in the bed of trucks: there is no shade there, and many bed liners are dark colored and absorb heat, which can burn paw pads.
Signs of heat stroke in dogs and cats include rapid, open-mouthed breathing (for cats, any open-mouthed breathing means distress), restlessness, drooling, acting wobbly, weak or falling, vomiting, or having diarrhea (sometimes bloody). Keep a digital thermometer around for pet use only: if a dog or cat’s rectal temperature exceeds 105 degrees Fahrenheit, emergency cooling treatment is needed.
If you need to start treatment for heat stroke at home, apply cool water or soaked towels to Fluffy, COMBINED with cool flowing air. Do not bundle Fluffy in wet towels without circulating air, because this will act as insulation and make hyperthermia worse.
Heat stroke is considered a veterinary emergency, and unfortunately comes with a guarded prognosis depending on the breed, severity, and stage of shock on presentation. Please, avoid this at all costs!
Hopefully, these tips will help you and Fluffy have a wonderful summer season! Great resources for further reading include the Veterinary Partner website, the AAHA and AVMA websites, and your vet.