As a licensed veterinarian, Dr. Tim Johnston is dedicated and committed to the medical needs of the homeless dogs and cats at Broward County Animal Care.
Dr. Johnston encourages all pet owners to be sure to take their pet for an annual physical each year at a local veterinary clinic and offers the following helpful tips to ensure your pet’s health and safety.
Heat + Humidity = A Lethal Combination
While we are all fortunate to enjoy the South Florida sunshine, that same sun can be deadly for your pet!
Heatstroke is a disease that can kill your beloved companion, even with emergency treatment. The good news is that heatstroke is totally preventable.
When humans overheat we perspire, and when the perspiration dries it takes excess heat with it. It’s different with pets.
Humidity interferes with your pet’s ability to rid himself of excess body heat. Our four-legged friends only perspire around their paws, which is not enough to cool the body. So to rid themselves of excess heat, animals pant. By panting air moves through their nose, which picks up excess heat from the body. As the air moves through your pet’s mouth, the extra heat leaves along with it. Although this is a very efficient way to control body heat, it becomes hard for dogs to pant when the humidity is high.
Several factors can make the situation even worse on hot, humid days:
- The shape of your pet’s nose. Brachiocephalic (pug-nosed) dogs are more prone to heatstroke because their nasal passages are smaller and it's more difficult for them to circulate sufficient air for cooling. Breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs and Boxers are at tremendous risk for heatstroke during times of extreme heat.
- Your pet’s weight. Overweight dogs are prone to overheating because their extra layers of fat act as insulation. This insulation, in turn, traps heat in their bodies and restricts their breathing capabilities.
- Age can also be a factor in an animal's tendency to overheat--very young animals may not have a fully developed temperature-regulating system, and older pets' organ systems may not be functioning at 100 percent, leaving them prone to heat-related damage.
- Long, thick, un-groomed coat. During the summer months, keep your pet’s coat short. A long coat only adds unnecessary insulation that can contribute to heatstroke.
Your Car and Your Yard are Danger Zones!
In South Florida your car is a basically an oven on wheels for your pet! Even during our winter months, the temperature inside your car can rise dangerously high. Never, ever leave your pet inside the car without the air conditioner on. If Fido can't come with you when you get out of the car, leave him at home.
Leaving animals outdoors without shelter is just as dangerous as leaving them inside a hot car. Be sure they are not left in a cage in the hot sun, on a chain in the backyard, or outdoors in a run without sufficient shade, plenty of fresh, cool water and air circulation. In addition, do not leave them in garages, sheds and other enclosed areas that have no air conditioning.
The Bottom Line
The answer to heatstroke is simple—keep your pets indoors! If you think it’s hot outside, your pet thinks it’s even hotter!
Even with emergency treatment, heatstroke can be fatal. The best cure is prevention, so protect your pet by keeping them from extreme heat so that both you and your furry friends can enjoy our South Florida weather.
If you suspect your pet has heatstroke, you must act quickly and calmly. Look for these symptoms:
- Anxious expression
- Refusal to obey commands
- Warm, dry skin
- High fever
- Rapid heartbeat
If you notice any of these symptoms, have someone call a veterinarian immediately. In the meantime, lower your pet’s body temperature by applying towels soaked in cool water to the hairless areas of the body. Another technique is to put the dog in a tub of cold water and add bags of ice. Be sure to keep his head above the water.
Once this is done, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately. Once your pet is in the veterinarian's care, treatment may include further cooling techniques, intravenous fluid therapy to counter shock, or medication to prevent brain damage.
Fleas and Ticks - Nasty Pests
I am often asked what is one of the best things a person can do to keep their pet healthy. While a good diet and exercise are certainly important, I believe that protecting your pet from fleas and ticks is key to their health and well being.
Unlike other parts of the country that experience four seasons, including a hard frost and snow each winter, our South Florida warmth means that fleas and ticks thrive all year long. Given the continual sunshine and heat, it does not take much for your pet to come in contact with one of these creatures. Left unchecked, you are putting your pet’s health, as well as your family’s health, at risk.
That is why it is important to check your pet’s coat on a regular basis for these pests. Even if your pet stays inside most of the time, they can enter your house after hitching a ride on people-- particularly children who tend to play in grassy areas-- and then eventually make a more permanent home on your pet.
A monthly, topical treatment is the best defense against fleas and ticks. Some of formulas will treat both fleas and ticks, others just fleas. A monthly dose placed in between the shoulder blades of your pet will effectively eliminate fleas and ticks from making a home of your pet and infesting your house.
Surprisingly, ticks are not insects, but actually belong to the arachnid family of pests, which includes mites, spiders and scorpions. Ticks thrive by attaching themselves to a “host” and feeding off of its blood. If left unchecked, they can cause problems for humans and pets. Florida is home to the brown tick and the American dog tick, both of which can cause paralysis.
If you do detect a tick, it should be removed immediately. Proper removal is important because you want to ensure you get the entire tick. The best way to do this is to use a fine-point pair of tweezers, grasp the tick close to the skin, gently pull it out and flush it down the toilet. Wash the site of the bite with a disinfectant and then wash your hands and the tweezers with soap and water. Never use petroleum jelly, nail polish or a lighted match to remove a tick.
In addition to treating your pet, make sure to check yourself and family members since ticks don’t mind making a home on human skin. Always be on the lookout for ticks on your children. I recommend wearing long sleeves and socks in heavily wooded or grassy areas. The proper use of insecticides is also helpful when outside. Some new products conveniently combine both sunscreen and bug repellant for easy use.
Left unchecked, fleas can easily take over not only your pet, but your entire house. Like ticks, they thrive by taking up home on a “host,” such as your pet, where they feed on blood by biting. This causes your pet to itch and leads to discomfort. An infestation of fleas can cause anemia. Young puppies and smaller breeds suffering from fleas can even die.
Fleas can multiply quickly in your home and can be particularly fond of carpet. Again, take the time to check your pet on a regular basis and take action right away if fleas are detected. If fleas do manage to invade your home, I recommend that you seek assistance from a professional pest exterminator.
In summary, we have to remember that the benefit of South Florida weather year round means that we have to be diligent and treat our pets every month with a quality topical flea/tick preventative. Take your dog or cat to your veterinarian for a checkup and then take his advice as to which brand and dosage to use.
Given the misery these pests can cause, it is well worth the small investment you make in these all-important monthly treatments. Your effort will help ensure the health and safety of your pet as well as you and your family!