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Hot Dogs and Cats

tips for keeping your best friend safe year round

Hailey Melander, photos by Brianna Meicher

We all love Wisconsin, right? Right? After last winter we may have lost a few Midwesterners to sunnier climes, but most of us have stayed on and are stepping into summer with vigor, and always at our sides for both summer and winter activities are our dogs. They’re happy to catch snowflakes and chase rabbits while we shovel snow – who hasn’t paused from that task, stretched an aching back, and wished they were clever enough to invent a canine-powered snow removal device? We can’t begrudge the dogs their fun, however, because in the summer they’ll always join us for crazy, water- and sweat-soaked adventures, then collapse with broad grins. ¶ Conversely, cats will have their own agendas, and I don’t think we really want to know the details. However, we do love their mad mousing skills that keep our garden sheds free of rodent invasion, and there’s nothing nicer than a purring ball of fur in your lap when it’s 20 below outside. ¶ So, in the interest of our pets’ well being, whether in July or January, a few local vets have shared some common problems and preventative measures that should keep your furry pals kicking up their heels – or snoozing. Whichever they prefer, because it is a dog’s – or cat’s – life, after all.

Feeling the Heat

Heat exhaustion and heatstroke top the list of warm-weather issues, particularly for dogs.

“When you reach temps in the high 80s or 90s with high humidity, that’s when we start to see issues,” said Dr. Duane Vollendorf at Westgate Animal Hospital in Eau Claire.

Indicators of heat exhaustion include dizziness and constant, heavy panting. Heatstroke is more severe, and can cause loss of consciousness, hemorrhage, and, potentially, death. All dogs are vulnerable to heat exhaustion when they don’t have access to shade or cool water, but athletic dogs – like humans – can be particularly vulnerable, because they don’t realize that they can be overdoing it. “Smooshed-face” dogs, like pugs or bulldogs, are also highly susceptible to heat exhaustion, said Dr. Erin Wise at Eau Claire Animal Hospital. Dogs don’t sweat like humans and must cool themselves by panting, but short-faced breeds can’t breathe or pant efficiently, and often have trouble cooling themselves down.

If your dog displays symptoms of heat exhaustion, wetting their coat, providing cool water, shade, and setting them beside a gentle fan may relieve the condition, said Dr. Charlie Arntson of Kindness Animal Hospital.

Dr. Wise added that other common summertime issues include lacerations, sprains, and strains, all a result of increased activity. Ear and skin infections are also common.

“It’s important to examine your dog’s skin often,” Wise said. “Dry them off thoroughly after swimming, and clean their ears regularly.”

Every vet emphasized the importance of providing dogs and cats with a constant supply of cool water and shade during the steamy months. Keep strenuous activity to the cool morning and evening hours, and both you and your pet will be happier.

Just Chillin'

“Dogs and cats generally do quite well in cold temperatures, until it gets below 0,” said Dr. Vollendorf. That’s when, after you’ve discovered icicles on your nose, you want to check your pet’s extremities as well. Noses, feet, ears, and tails are all susceptible to frostbite. Cats in particular are susceptible to losing ear or tail tips; in dogs the problem often lies with breeds that have either very floppy or noticeably upright ears.

“Athletic dogs generally don’t have as many issues with frostbite,” said Dr. Arntson, “because they have a good blood flow.”

Another potential issue to watch for is paw irritation caused by salt or de-icing chemicals. Some vets recommend dog boots for those with sensitive feet, which may be accepted with varying degrees of tolerance. No matter the animal, said Dr. Wise, it’s important that they have shelter out of the cold and snow. Water should be available at all times.