Dog Days of Summer

Summer is the busiest time at a veterinary clinic, with increased visits mainly due to summertime maladies and emergencies. We don’t see many allergic reactions to insect stings in the winter, but they greatly increase in late summer, when yellow jackets are most active.

Not all dogs react to a hornet sting, but those that do come in with very swollen, painful muzzles. If your dog gets stung, immediately give them Benadryl (diphenhydramine). It should be dosed at one milligram per pound of body weight, so a 25-pound dog would get a single adult Benadryl tablet (25 milligrams) while a 75-pound dog would get three. If the swelling doesn’t improve within a couple hours or your dog is having difficulty swallowing or breathing, get them to a vet quickly. Some dogs have severe reactions and need steroids to get it under control.

Ticks love to sunbathe on the end of weeds and reach out their little legs to “hug” any dog (or person) that comes within reach. They’re small and often avoid detection. Ticks carry many nasty diseases, and each year new species move northward from southern states into Wisconsin. If you find a tick on your dog, use a tweezers to pull it straight out of the skin, then drown the tick in alcohol or flush it down the toilet. A tick bite looks red, a little swollen, feels a bit hard, and the center is often dark in color. People call saying the tick head is still in the skin, but don’t worry about it and don’t dig around for it. Almost always, the tick head comes out if you pull the tick straight out. If it doesn’t, it will die, and your dog’s body will push it out. The best course of action is to give your dog an effective tick and flea preventative monthly.

While you may not see a tick biting, you’ll likely notice another dog latched onto your dog. I love taking my dogs to the dog parks, but am always on the lookout for dogs that aren’t having fun. Most dog parks have a sign describing what to look for when two dogs meet. Unfortunately, some owners of reactive or aggressive dogs still take them to the dog park, putting their dogs into situations where they’ll bite other dogs that come near them or attack dogs they don’t like. Please call 911 for Dane County Animal Services if there’s an emergency in a dog park.

If you don’t notice a bite until you get home, get your dog to a vet to clean the wound, assess if it needs stitches, and start antibiotics and pain medication. If you can’t get to a vet immediately, gently wash the wound with warm water. If the wound’s bleeding, apply pressure using a clean cloth.

When I lived in North Carolina, summer meant contending with copperhead snake bites, which could be deadly. Wisconsin has two rattlesnake species, but they’re pretty rare to see. If your pet gets bitten, get them to a vet as soon as possible.

You’ve likely seen the hot summer car infographics. If it’s a pleasant 80 degrees Fahrenheit outside, within 10 minutes of being parked, a car’s temperature will reach 99 degrees Fahrenheit, and after 30 minutes, it’ll reach a sweltering 114 degrees Fahrenheit. This is even with open windows. Dogs’ sweat glands are on their paws, which isn’t much surface area to regulate heat. Panting also contributes to cooling. Short-nosed breeds, like pugs, Frenchies, and bulldogs, have smooshed noses, long soft palates, and narrow nostrils, which makes it much harder for them to breathe compared to long-nosed dogs. Heat exhaustion or heat stroke is an emergency; take your dog to a vet as soon as possible. Clinical signs include excessive panting (so don’t let your dog carry anything in its mouth after playing), red gums, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse. Cover your pet with cool, damp towels on the way to the vet—applying rubbing alcohol to their footpads can speed evaporation and provide a little cooling too.

Wisconsin State Law states that if you see a pet in danger in a car, you may enter the vehicle forcibly to remove them. But after first making sure the vehicle is locked, call 911, and use only as much force as needed to reach the dog. Remain with the vehicle until the police arrive.

If hot cars are bad, then cool lake waters should be the antidote, right? Retriever dogs, like Labradors, love the water. They’ll jump off docks, swim, chase tennis balls, and play all day. But if they aren’t used to all that activity, they could be very sore the next day. I see a handful of dogs each summer with swimmer’s tail. These poor dogs won’t wag their tail or want to lay down, and may even yelp when getting up. They’ve sprained the muscles in their tail from overuse. Rest is usually all that is needed, but your vet can prescribe medication to help the pain. Please don’t give any over-the-counter pain medications to your dog without checking with your vet.

Blue-green algae blooms are another worry for water-loving dogs. This cyanobacteria is most prevalent in the late summer, when the lake water is nice and warm. Green algae isn’t toxic and looks like long green hair in the water. Blue-green algae looks more like a layer of paint on the water, usually a deep blue-green color, but can also be red, with a bad odor. A good theory is that if the water looks scummy and you wouldn’t drink from it, then don’t let your dog drink from or play in it. It’s also best to wash your dog with fresh water (and shampoo, if possible) after being in the lake. Watch for signs of toxicity, such as vomiting, diarrhea, weakness, staggering, and collapse. If your dog isn’t feeling well after being in the lake, get them seen by a vet quickly!

Dogs are notorious for finding things to eat that shouldn’t be eaten. Dead fish or animals, leftovers from a picnic from five days ago, other dog’s poop, or a rock with a molecule of tastiness on it. If your dog vomits a few times, the best home care is to not feed him for 8 to 12 hours to let their GI system rest. I’m always surprised to hear people say they fed their dog right after vomiting and were surprised the dog threw up again. If you just vomited, do you want to eat right away? If vomiting continues, then see your vet. Dehydration is a concern, and there may be an obstruction in the stomach.

Diarrhea is common in dogs after they eat something they shouldn’t. Again, withholding food for half a day is unlikely to harm your dog and allows intestinal inflammation to subside. When you offer food again, feed a small amount of something bland: two parts boiled white rice mixed with one part boiled skinless chicken breasts. This isn’t nutritionally complete, so if the diarrhea isn’t improving in a day or two, contact your vet. Diarrhea can also be caused by giardia (drinking lake or standing water), intestinal worms, and an intestinal obstruction.

There are many dangers for our pets, but fortunately, they aren’t encountered too frequently. Apart from Benadryl for insect stings, there aren’t many situations easily managed at home. Please have your vet’s phone number handy so you can get their advice during a pet emergency.

Lori Scarlett, DVM, is the owner and veterinarian at Four Lakes Veterinary Clinic. For more information, visit fourlakesvet.com .

Photograph by Brenda Eckhardt