Pet owners should begin now to prepare their animals for summer before the hot weather arrives.
Steve Thompson, veterinarian and director of the Pet Wellness Clinic at Purdue University's College of Veterinary Medicine, says now is the time to think about parasite control, heat stroke, noise phobia from storms and fireworks, and travel arrangements for cats and dogs.
"In April, May and June there is more of a tick problem, primarily in dogs," Thompson says. "People are outside more and they see more ticks on dogs. There's also a new awareness of dogs as sentinels, particularly with Lyme disease. When testing for heartworms, a test for exposure to the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, Borrelia, also can be done. If dogs are going into an area where there are ticks that means people in the dog's family risk exposure to Lyme disease from these same ticks."
Flea prevention could be easier for both cats and dogs, Thompson says. Fleas can transmit tapeworms to dogs and cats, as well as bartonella – cat scratch fever – to cats.
"A new product, an oral tablet, can kill ticks and fleas in dogs for at least one month," Thompson says. "There's also been a big improvement in products like collars for flea prevention. Collars, in general, used to be poor for controlling fleas and a bit better for ticks, but technology has improved. One new collar lasts many months, so even if you have a dog that swims a lot or is outside all the time, the collar or oral tablet can still be effective for one to six months."
Other issues for pet owners to consider:
* Heartworm prevention. Dogs and cats are both susceptible to heartworm, which can be prevented with medication that kills the worm under the skin after a mosquito bite, Thompson says. No products for pets or people have long-term protection to eliminate mosquito bites.
"Sometimes cat owners believe if their cat is inside all the time there is no exposure to insects, but they can still encounter mosquitoes that come through the doors after us or other insects that get into the house," Thompson says. "Many of the parasites that affect cats, including fleas, can be controlled by the same heartworm products."
* Heat. "The morning is better to exercise dogs during hot and humid weather, but not everyone is a morning person. If you walk your dog in the evening, it should be after dark," Thompson says. "Dogs don't dissipate heat well by sweating like we can, so they must pant to cool off.
"Short-faced and darker-colored dogs are at higher risk for heat stroke. Short-nosed and snub-nosed dogs have more trouble panting, particularly in high heat and humidity, and darker-colored dogs absorb heat more quickly and have more difficulty getting rid of it."
Thompson reminds owners not to leave pets waiting in cars and to make sure that if a pet is left outside during warm weather it has access to shade and water.
* Travel. Pet owners considering travel need to think ahead and plan, Thompson says.
"If you're thinking about traveling over the July 4th weekend, some boarding kennels already may be close to being completely booked," he says. "And dogs that are boarded in a kennel typically require one or two additional vaccines – bordetella and influenza. Pet owners need to do those vaccines in the spring or early summer because it takes a week to 10 days before they become fully effective. Don't wait until the last minute and try to get your dog vaccinated on the Friday afternoon before you're leaving town."
Kennels may not always the best choice for some pets.
"There are more home pet and dog sitting services available now, and for dogs with separation anxiety, it may be better for them to stay in a home environment than to board them in a kennel," Thompson says. "Other dogs, however, can benefit from the extra company of dogs and people at a boarding facility."
* Noise phobias. Summer can be a stressful time for dogs that have anxieties about loud noises, including thunderstorms and fireworks. Thompson says some dogs may try to escape, injuring themselves by breaking teeth or nails during a panic attack.
"It's difficult to do desensitization training during the summer because storms are more frequent, so we often use anti-panic drugs," Thompson says. "There also are some non-medication methods. Snug-fitting shirts and wraps can make the dog feel safe and like a human is holding them. There also are relaxing collars that contain a dog-appeasing pheromone chemical. They make some dogs with mild anxiety feel happy and content. The collars help with low-level anxiety, so it's important to put the collar on the dog before a storm hits or before they get into a full panic.
"To keep your pet safe, monitor the weather forecast for both you and your pet. High temperatures and storms may necessitate keeping your dog indoors while you are gone."