By Lauren Scott, Arizona Farm Bureau Intern
For everyone with a beloved pet at home, keeping them healthy and happy should be a number one priority. There are many ways with which to make sure your pet stays healthy including taking them for regular veterinarian visits, keeping them on a balanced and nutritious diet and making sure they get enough exercise. We go to the doctor for check-ups and we eat healthy and exercise to stay healthy. If we love our pets, we should do a little bit of the same for them.
Depending on where you live, there may be some extra steps you have to take when caring for pets. Here in the Arizona heat, it is paramount that pets have access to lots of water and are kept out of the sun, especially when their owners are leaving for extended periods of time.
Today we will be discussing the dos and don’ts of pet health care with the help of Dr. Karin Burns and Dr. Billy Griswold of Priority Pet Hospital in Gilbert, Arizona.
Do Keep pets Hydrated
A good fresh bowl of cool water is usually enough, but the trouble with this time of year is that the water can get pretty hot. Not that hot water is dangerous, but it’s just less appealing. You can always put ice cubes in the water, there’s no real health risks to drinking ice water. You’ll find some reports on the Internet that say it’s dangerous but there’s really nothing to those reports. There is also a device you can get that screws on to the spigot where you would attach a hose that has a bar on it, and when your dog licks it or puts their nose on it, water will run out for them.
Don’t Let Pets Drink from a recently Shocked or Treated Pool with Algaecide; Do Allow if Well Maintained
A questions we get often: “Is it okay for my pet to drink pool water?” For a chlorine pool, as long as it’s maintained within the recommended ranges, it’s fine. Here in Chandler I used our pool testing kit to test our tap water and it came back with the same results as a well maintained pool. Tap water is what we’re putting in our dog and cat’s bowls. As long as it hasn’t recently been shocked or treated with algaecide or any other chemical, a well maintained pool is okay for them to drink from. It’s okay for them to drink from a pool with a salt system too. In a salt system the amount of salt is negligible. It would be like putting a pinch of salt in your glass of water. They can probably taste the salt, but it’s not enough to hurt them.
Don’t Walk Your Pets during Peak Heat Times of the Day
First, no one should be walking their pets between noon and 4 p.m. in the Arizona heat. It goes hand in hand with heat exhaustion and overheating because that middle of the day period when the sidewalk is very hot is also the time when they’re prone to overheating. Plus, walking on that hot of a pavement can burn the pads on the bottom of their feet. Holding something that is 100 to 150 degrees will burn a person’s hands and if you have to run across the street barefoot it hurts.
If you HAVE to walk your pet during that time, be conscious of your pace. Don’t stop at the mailbox and chat with your neighbor for 20 minutes. You’ll actually see your pet shifting from foot to foot if you do that, which is an indication that their feet hurt. Instead of keeping them on the pavement, you can shoot for walking them in the grass where you can walk next to them on the sidewalk. You can also restrict your activities to the early hours of the morning or later in the evening when the sun isn’t beating down on the sidewalk.
Do Provide Shade for Your Pet if they are Outdoor Pets
As long as they are hydrated, used to the heat, and the shade is reasonably deep, leaving pets out is okay. For example a Palo Verde tree would be okay, but a wispy little tree that just provides filtered shade is probably not enough.
If no shade is available, the next best thing you could do is leave a kiddie pool with water in it for your dog. Outdoor cats will find shade on their own, but dogs can’t leave the yard. Dogs don’t sweat like humans, they have evaporative cooling. The only place they have sweat glands is between their toes, and most of their cooling comes from their tongue when they pant.
If they get wet, their whole body becomes an evaporative surface which can help them cool off pretty well. During summer months in Arizona, if we are going to take our dogs on a walk we will throw something into the pool so they jump in and then take off for our walk while they are wet. As they dry off, that evaporation of the water will keep them cool while out and about.
Don’t consider a dog house as Shade
Dog houses provide shade but even if it’s shady it’s going to be hotter inside the dog house than outside. Something that would be better is creating a shade structure. You can take a four foot by eight foot sheet of plywood and create a lean-to which would be better than a dog house because it provides that deep shade as well as airflow.
Do Teach Your Pooch to Swim
Cats normally don’t like or go near the water, but most dogs, like humans, are capable of learning how to swim. (Some breeds may not have the capability to swim or to learn how to swim). By and large most dogs can swim, but some are naturals and others aren’t. I think the mistake people make is that they think every dog knows how to swim.
Just like people, if a dog can’t swim and they fall in the pool they panic and their first response is to try and climb out. Usually they can’t pull themselves out and if nobody’s there to pull them out they’ll work and work until they get exhausted and sink.
What I recommend is to first teach them to not be fearful of the water. Have them get on the steps first before you try to toss them in the pool. It’s handy if someone can wade out into the shallow end and coax them off the steps or even carry them out into the shallow end and let them go in the direction of the steps with someone there calling them.
The best thing to do is teach your dog not to panic and to swim around the side of the pool until they find the steps. With a harness that has a handle or even a doggie life vest you can set them in the pool and have them follow you around the edge while you have a treat in hand. Something else I suggest to folks is to give them a landmark. When they are in the pool they don’t look down so they can’t see where the steps are. They have to keep their nose up so they can breathe. If you give them a landmark like a patio chair or a parking cone near the steps that they can focus on it can be very helpful.
Don’t Keep Your Pets in Cars
During Arizona’s hottest months I simply say don’t take your pets with you in the car. It’s not worth the risk and it’s not worth the people that yell at you when you come back to your car. We’ve been yelled at before, years ago, when we left our dog in the car with the air conditioning running and the doors locked when it wasn’t even the hottest time of year. We came back and a lady was there waiting to yell at us. We didn’t mention to her that we were veterinarians and had things under control; but it’s true that anything can happen. They can lock themselves in the car accidentally among other things. I think that’s what gets people in trouble. They think, “I’m just going to go around the corner to the drive-in teller at the bank, I’ll take the dog with me” and then they have a brain fart on the way home and they forget the dog in the car.
And, leaving windows open doesn’t help. In parking lots, if you leave your car windows down you either run the risk of leaving them down so much your pet can jump out, or the windows not being open enough to the point where there’s no airflow. Unless you’ve got a person who can sit with them in the car with the air conditioning on and the car idling while you’re running errands, it’s just not a good idea to take them with you this time of year.
Don’t Forget Dogs have a Different Cooling Anatomy
We see a lot of our heat-related injuries in dogs happen during the late spring and when the weather is beautiful at only 85 or 90 degrees. That range is great for people and as a result they will take their dogs out in the middle of the day thinking that it’s not that hot out. The dogs, though, have the sun beating down on them and they’re not sweating so they can easily overheat at 85 degrees with exercise. We on the other hand won’t overheat because we sweat. The other time we see a peak in dogs overheating is when the monsoons roll in. Dogs that are accustomed to the heat run into trouble because their evaporative cooling from their tongue doesn’t work as well in the humidity.
Don’t Expose Your Pets to too Much Sun
Pets can get sunburns and also tumors, basically skin cancer, from getting too much exposure to the sun, just like people. Sometimes people completely shave their pets’ fur down, but that fur is what protects them from the heat and sun, just like it protects them from the cold. If you have a pet with a decent-sized coat and all of a sudden shave it down and they mainly reside outdoors, they are more susceptible to sunburn. To protect your pets from the sun you can have them wear a shirt, or even use baby sunblock. The only problem with most sunblock is that it contains zinc and dogs can get zinc toxicity if they eat a lot of it, so look for sunblock that doesn’t contain zinc.
Pets are precious to us, another member of our family. Keeping them safe and happy can take a lot, but as pet parents we have to be up to the challenges. More steps to maintain our pets’ health exist, but these do’s and don’ts serve as key points to keeping our furry friends happy in our Arizona climate.
Arizona Farm Bureau members, remember we have a pet benefit. To find out about how Arizona Farm Bureau helps pet owners maintain their pets’ health check out our member benefit called USAPetMeds.