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Heat, humidity and water can be dangerous for pets

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Whenever Flipper, my (Dr. Perry Jameson) 4-year-old hound-mix adopted from the Charleston Animal Society, sees me grab my running shoes, he heads for the door. He loves our five-mile early morning runs.

However, Tuesday was the first time this spring that he could not go with me. I knew immediately when I stepped out the door that the combination of heat and humidity finally had reached the point of being unsafe for him.

Each season of the year brings certain dangers for our pets. Most of the time just using common sense can help to avoid a dangerous situation.

Dogs do not cool off as efficiently as humans. Covered in fur, dogs depend upon panting to cool off. As moisture evaporates from their tongues, it has a cooling effect.

When air temperature is close to body temperature and the humidity is high, cooling by panting is not an efficient process. This means that during our warm late spring, summer and early fall our pets have the potential to overheat quickly. Exercising during this time of the year can be dangerous even for a fit dog. They will try to keep up even as they overheat.

It’s also important to never leave your pet inside a car when it is sunny outside. The enclosed car is like a greenhouse trapping heat inside. Within 5-10 minutes, the temperature can reach dangerous levels, sometimes greater than 120 degrees.

Signs of heat stroke are a temperature of more than 104 degrees, excessive panting, thick saliva, staggering, seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomiting. Heat stroke is a life-threatening event and must be treated immediately.

Get your pet out of the sun and into a shaded area. Spray with cool (but not ice water). Place cool water-soaked clothes on the feet and head. If alert enough, offer ice cubes to lick.

Once the body temperature reaches 103 degrees, stop the cooling process. Many pets suffering from heat stroke will lose the ability to regulate their body temperatures and if cooling is continued, they will actually become hypothermic.

If you suspect your pet has suffered from heat stroke, seek veterinary attention immediately. The elevated temperature can quickly damage the kidneys, liver and brain and there are treatments your veterinarian can institute that can decrease this damage.

A great summertime activity/exercise for dogs is to take them swimming. Many breeds such as Labradors and golden retrievers love the water and are natural-born swimmers. Some other breeds, however, must be taught how to swim. Just like with children, you should always remain vigilant if your pet is in the water.

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Flipper is not a natural-born swimmer and even at the dog park, he rarely ventures into water greater than six inches deep. As a puppy, he fell off of a dock and into Bohicket Creek.

The current quickly swept him away. He was able to keep his head above water but unable to fight the current and swim back to us. Eventually, I had to jump in and swim with him back to the dock. In his panic, he unintentionally gave me several good scratches. Eventually, we both got over the scare and now he is an excellent swimmer.

Living around water, it is important that dogs feel safe in it. Whether you live near a pool or dock, it is important to provide a easily accessible area for them to exit the water on their own and to teach them where it is and how to use it.

For my older dog, Ariel, I have dog life jacket. This allows her to still enjoy the water without the danger of exhausting herself and drowning. Most of these pet life jackets have handles on the back, making it easy to assist your dog in getting out of the pool or creek. This is especially important in older dogs with arthritis.

If you suspect your pet has inhaled water, the most important treatment is to get the water out of his airway. For small animals, you can hold them upside down and use gravity to assist you. Gently coupaging along the ribs may assist in allowing the water to drain or be coughed up.

Dogs too large to lift can be placed on their side (with head lower than pelvis if possible) and rapid pressure can be applied 3-4 times just behind the ribs.

If spontaneous breathing does not immediately begin, artificial breaths must be given. Do this by closing their snout and placing your mouth completely over both of the nasal openings and exhaling into their nose.

If you suspect your pet has inhaled water, even if they look normal, have them evaluated by a veterinarian. The inhaled water may injure the lungs resulting in pneumonia or pulmonary edema, both of which can be life threatening.

With the proper precautions, summer can be a fun and safe time for even the four-legged family members.

Dr. Henri Bianucci and Dr. Perry Jameson are with Veterinary Specialty Care LLC. Send questions to

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