Now that summer is in full bloom, there are more dogs promenading by my window, snatching Frisbees at the park, and vying for a launch point at my local off-leash beach. It’s as if the canine population of Seattle has doubled, but I know most of these pups have been here all along. The simple truth is that at this time of year, there’s more time, light and inspiration for outdoor adventure. That, and the longer-than-average wait for my vet appointment last week, got me wondering about summer from a veterinarian’s point of view. So I asked Bark columnist Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, a few questions about keeping our dogs healthy and safe during the hazy, lazy, crazy days of summer.
The Bark: My vet’s office was swamped last time I visited, and a tech told me summer is always busier? Is that true? Why?
Sophia Yin: Probably because owners are home more and have more time and notice more issues with their pets. In other words, it’s not due to more problems with the pets. We see the same array of issues during the summer.
Bark: What do you think is an underappreciated health hazard for dogs in the summer months? How can we be smarter about it?
Yin: Heat stroke. Dogs can’t tolerate heat as well as humans because their primary way to dissipate heat is by panting, whereas humans can sweat. So they have a small surface area for dissipating heat. Plus, some dogs are not very smart about knowing how much they can tolerate. They may keep playing fetch even though they are nearly ready to faint from the heat. Other dogs are smarter and take that ball you’ve just tossed for them and lie down in the shade.
If your dog does give indicators of fatigue in the heat, listen to what they have to say. Let them rest if they want to lie down. If you’re walking or running them, if they slow down in the heat, don’t try to coax them faster. Owners should take dogs out during cooler times of day if the dog has problems tolerating the heat. They should also watch how the dogs pant. If they are panting with the commissures (sides) of the mouth wide open, they need a rest. If their panting doesn’t go down in five minutes, they are too hot. You can also use a garden sprayer and fill it with water and mist your dog with water if they are outside in warm weather with you.
Bark: Friends in California have made several trips to the vet due to foxtails in fur already this year. Why are these so dangerous? Is there anyway to prevent them?
Yin: Foxtails are dangerous because these sticky grass awns burrow into fur and skin, and then don’t come out. Wherever they stick, due to their architecture, they only travel one way. They frequently get into the ear canal, where they cause pain and lead to infections and can potentially work their way into the middle ear. Dogs frequently inhale them and then sneeze violently for a day. Once they get past the portion of the nasal cavity, the dog no longer sneezes but the foxtail and continue moving up. It can work its way to the junction where nasal cavity and oral cavity come together and then be swallowed and from there may puncture the gastrointestinal tract or may just be pooped out.
When they get stuck in the fur, they work their way through the fur and burrow into the skin. If stuck in the feet, they can work their way into the feet and make tunnels going up the leg. When stuck in other places, they can work their way through the skin into the abdominal or thoracic cavity. At some point, they can get walled off by a wall of cells—the body’s defense—or they may first travel through the body causing more damage, such as infections. I remember one in vet school that was found in a female dogs vaginal tract!
The best way to prevent is to steer clear. If your dogs run around or near them, groom your dog after every walk and pick them out or be prepared to take them to a vet to have them removed. Incidentally, they are very painful so expect that your dog will need to be anesthetized to have the foxtail removed if it’s embedded in a tract, in the skin, in the ear canal, or in the nose.
Bark: I’ve always thought of swimming as a pretty injury-free form of exercise. But the other day I saw my first case of swimmer’s tail? Why does that happen and are there any other swimming-related issues—other than drowning—to be alert to?
Yin: Swimmer’s tail is inflammation of the tail muscles and can be related to swimming. It’s most common in pointing dogs and other dogs that swim a lot, although my Australian Cattledog (now deceased) once got it after a fun day of swimming. His tail, which normally waved high like a flag, just drooped like a wet noodle. Radiographs revealed no fractures. A neurologic exam revealed slight pain near the base of the tail, and that he did have sensation in the tail. The tail was back to normal after a day of no swimming. When I see swimmer’s tail, I describe it to people as “he pulled his tail muscle.”
The other swim-related issue is to keep them clear of water containing algae. Some algae are highly toxic and can cause quick death after ingesting just a little. Also for dogs that are using swimming as therapy, be careful about how they get in and out of the water as they can easily injure themselves by slipping.
Sophia Yin, DVM, MS, (recently deceased) was a veterinarian and an applied animal behaviorist. A long-time Bark contributing editor, she was also the author of two behavior books, Low Stress Handling, Restraint, and Behavior Modification of Dogs & Cats and How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves.