SOUTH COUNTY — No, the headline isn’t misspelled.
This story isn’t about what they call the “Dog Days of Summer,” the 40-day period between July 1 and early September when Sirius (the Dog Star) rises and sets with the sun.
It’s about the shock- or daze- that pets (especially dogs) can suffer if not cared for properly during this period of long, hot sultry days.
In fact, many die from heat stroke and related conditions each year simply because pet owners do not know the dangers- or warning signs- of trouble.
“Sadly Ruskin Animal Hospital continues to see dogs suffering from heat stroke every year,” said Dr. Hal Ott, founder and owner of Ruskin Animal Hospital and Cat Clinic. “Most of the cases are from people leaving their pets in a car, even with the windows cracked, and then getting distracted while shopping. But we also see dogs tied out in a yard without water or shade in 107-110 degree temperatures.”
Both situations are illegal yet people continue to do it, he said.
James Judge, media coordinator for BluePearl Veterinary Partners- the emergency service that takes calls and recommends where to go for treatment for veterinary clinics after hours and on weekends and holidays- said the first choice is always to keep pets in an air conditioned environment during the heat of the day.
But he knows that isn’t always possible.
“If your pet does become overheated, spray the animal down with room temperature or cool water, but never ice water,” he said. “Ice cold water causes a decrease in blood flow to the skin and heat can’t escape the body, which makes heat exhaustion symptoms worse. And don’t give your pets sports drinks or electrolyte supplements. Dogs cool off by panting and do not sweat like people. Supplements like sports drinks can actually harm animals and make pets sick.”
Chris Vergallito and Joann With of C.A.R.E. no-kill animal shelter in Ruskin had several good ideas to share.
The C.A.R.E. shelter is air conditioned of course, but some dogs are in large caged areas outside and all use the outdoor play yard.
“Always make sure there is some kind of shade or shelter available,” Vergallito said. “See how those two are under the picnic table?” As she spoke, two dogs were playing under a picnic table in the shade.
Then she suggested a trick I had never heard of before which I will definitely use because I am sometimes gone for long hours, and although my 11-year-old beagle-basset has the run of a fenced-in shaded backyard and access to our screened in porch, I am sure she gets hot from time to time when left outside.
“Mold some dog toys into a big block of ice,” Vergallito suggested. “The ice will last a long time if it’s in a big block. The dog will lick at it and chew to get at the toys, so it’ll be fun for her to do when she’s by herself.”
While Vergallito and With discussed using Jello molds and other kitchen things, I pictured my big girl more with a large block frozen in a plastic bucket or tub.
Another thing I noticed at C.A.R.E. was dogs playing in a baby pool. Why not take an old tub or baby pool out of the garage and fill it with enough water for a dog to play in when he or she gets overheated? Some breeds naturally like water anyway and like to splash around.
Two of the shelter animals were doing just that as I was interviewing their caretakers.
Not walking or exercising the dogs during the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. during the hottest months was suggested by every expert interviewed.
But Vergallito told me about someone she knew who had a great Dane that died because the owner thought it was safe to walk the dog during the heat of the day.
“She just collapsed, and of course she was too heavy for her owner to pick up and carry anywhere, and they were far from home, so she died,” she said.
Dr. Ott said if heatstroke or any heat-related condition is suspected, time is of the essence when seeking treatment.
“Some people still think the ice bath is the answer but the icy water constrict the blood vessels so the heat can’t escape,” Ott said, practically mirroring the statement made by Judge, spokesman for the emergency veterinary help line.
“The best treatment is to wet the dog — and its head — and take it to the nearest veterinarian’s office with the car windows down so air can flow over it while you’re driving. It is always a mistake to drop the temperature too quickly on an already weakened dog,” Ott said.