Living in the desert there are hazards our pets encounter that are less common in other areas of the country.  It goes without saying that fresh water should be available to pets at all times.  And most people remember not to leave pets in a parked car, even for a minute, as the ambient temperature can become deadly very quickly.  Here are a few other common ailments we encounter as the temperature rises, and what you should do if you encounter a problem.

1.  Rattlesnake bite

Arizona has more types of rattlesnakes than any other state in the country, about 13 different species.  Snakes can be found anywhere, commonly seen on hiking trails or in the desert, but may occasionally wander into the backyard of an unlucky victim.  Rattlesnakes prey on small mammals and birds.  Their venom is hemotoxic, and causes significant tissue damage, organ damage, and coagulopathy (inability to clot blood, resulting in hemorrhage).  Snake bites are treated as an emergency, and victims should be treated as soon as possible.  Most emergency facilities have antivenin on hand to treat victims of snake bite and the resulting tissue damage.  Some general practices also stock antivenin if they routinely treat snake bites (ie:  Fountain Hills).

Treatment of snake bite envenomation is very costly and often involves several days in hospital on intravenous fluids, antivenin and other medications.  Steps can be taken to try to prevent exposure including snake training, vaccination and avoidance.  There are specific trainers that take dogs through a training program to teach avoidance of rattlesnakes.  Dogs are curious by nature, and a nose to the ground near a snake can be fatal mistake.  Vaccination is also an option.  It does not eliminate the need for immediate medical treatment should a bite occur, but it will help to minimize the tissue damage that occurs and secondarily reduce treatment time and cost.  Our hospital does not stock the rattlesnake vaccine as we are in the middle of a city and see very few snakebites.  However, if you hike with your dog on a regular basis and are interested in the vaccine please let us know as we are happy to help arrange vaccination for your pet.  Vaccination consists of 2 initial vaccines, given 3 weeks apart, followed by an annual booster at the start of snake season (usually around the beginning of April).  If you routinely hike or visit the desert with your dog, it is wise to keep him/ her on a leash so that you can monitor where they are roaming and avoid potential contact with a snake.

2.  Drowning

Many people in Arizona have backyard pools.  Just like kids, dogs can wander too close to the edge and fall in.  Dogs are more likely to be unstable or blind as they age, so it is particularly important to watch geriatric dogs.  Many dogs like to swim and can be taught how to get out of the pool if swimming alone.  But some small breed dogs have a difficult time making it out of the water even if they can navigate to the edge.  If you have a dog who doesn’t know how to swim or is elderly, it may be beneficial to have a gate around the pool or another barrier to entry.  Also, there are companies that make life jackets for dogs, and devices that they wear on their collar that sounds an alarm if they should fall into the pool.  In the winter time, we see drowning deaths related to hypothermia though this is very unlikely in the summer.  A few precautions can make the pool a fun and safe environment for all of your furry family members.

3.  Foot pad injuries

We tend to see in increase in burns and abrasions to the pads on the bottoms of canine feet in the summertime.  Burns, obviously, occur when the temperature is high enough and contact to the hot surface long enough to cause the pad to blister and burn.  Often by the time the burn is recognized, the blister has ruptured and the pad has peeled away leaving raw, tender skin on the surface.  Abrasions generally occur when there is repeated friction against a rough surface such as concrete, gravel, or the “cool decking” used around pool areas.  Abrasions may appear as roughening of the skin surface, cuts in the pad, or peeling away of the pad.  With burns or abrasions it is important to protect the surface of the skin while it is healing and prevent licking.  “Shoes” can be purchased from pet stores to cover the feet or bandages can be placed on the feet if the wounds are severe enough.  Soaking the feet in warm water (with Epsom salts) and keeping the skin moist and protected may help prevent infection and speed recovery.  As with most abrasions or blisters, the skin will eventually grow back but it can take weeks and the feet are often tender in the process.

4.  Heatstroke

Heatstroke is severely elevated body temperature after exposure to elevated ambient temperatures.  This can occur when an animal is kept in a confined area (such as a vehicle), kept outdoors on a hot and sunny day without shelter, or if an animal has an impaired ability to dissipate heat.  Pets rely heavily on panting for heat loss, thus any medical condition affecting the ability to breathe can increase risk for heat stroke.  This includes dogs with brachycephalic conformation (think of dogs with flat faces such as bulldogs, boxers, etc.), laryngeal paralysis, tracheal collapse, obstructive airway disease, or obesity.

Symptoms of heatstroke initially include panting, dry mucous membranes, and elevated heart rate.  As it progresses pets may collapse, have vomiting and diarrhea, and eventually seizures, coma and possibly death.  The most important treatment is lowering the core body temperature by providing shade, fans, and soaking the coat with cool water.  It is recommended that pets be evaluated immediately even if cooling efforts are successful.  Heatstroke can compromise the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract and nervous system.  Complications may take 3-5 days to become apparent.

With hot weather quickly approaching, we would like to wish everyone a safe and happy summer!  Stay cool, drink plenty of water and make sure you move those walks to the early morning or late evening hours and avoid the hottest part of the day with your pets.