Thursday, December 29, 2016

Surviving summer with pets

dog frisbee water beach swim dog
A dog catches a frisbee in the water.

The festive season provides opportunities to spend time with friends, family and loved ones – including our non-human companions. But holidays can be hazardous, so we need to take precautions to keep companion animals healthy and happy.


Summer temperatures can make our lives uncomfortable. While we have the freedom to move into air conditioned comfort or relocate to the shade, some animals do not. Ensuring that all pets have access to a cool, comfortable area to rest is vital to prevent heat stroke. All animals should have access to fresh, cool water. Dogs should never be left in cars as the inside temperature can increase to potentially fatal levels in minutes on a hot day. Walk dogs early in the morning or late in the afternoon/early evening to avoid over-heating.


Paralysis ticks are responsible for the deaths of many dogs and cats on the East coast of Australia every year. There are a range of tick preventatives available which are very effective. Ensure your pet’s tick prevention is up-to-date. Daily tick-checking is recommended. This is much easier in pets with a shorter coat, so a summer crew cut can be helpful.


Dogs, in particular, are prone to overindulging during the festive season. Overfeeding leads to obesity, while eating the wrong foods can lead to severe illness. For example, fatty foods like sausages or the leftovers of the lamb roast are associated with pancreatitis in dogs. Chocolate is potentially fatal to pets. Artificial sweeteners in baked goods can cause hypoglycaemia and liver failure in dogs. Some dogs will eat sausages directly off the BBQ which can burn them; onions can cause toxicity when eaten in large amounts eg a plate of onions off the barbie, an onion bhaji. Even part of a corn cob thrown on the compost can cause a gastrointestinal obstruction. Ensure food and rubbish are kept well out of reach of pets and instruct guests not to feed pets.


Consider what festive decorations may look like from an animal’s point of view. If a tree covered in dangling items suddenly appears in the living room, its really asking for exploration. Fragile glass baubles may smash, causing lacerations or becoming embedded in pets’ feet. Ribbons, string and tinsel are readily swallowed by cats, and can become lodged in the gut, cutting through intestines. And food items should never be left under the tree. Animals can smell them through the gift wrap and won’t hesitate in opening these and ingesting the contents.


When you expect them, fireworks can be a visual delight. For pets who have no idea they’re coming, fireworks can be terrifying. Many pets injure themselves trying to escape. If your pet has a known noise phobia, talk to your veterinarian in advance. Medication may help. I’ve stitched up dogs that have run through solid fences and glass to escape the noise of fireworks – it’s best not to leave these animals alone on occasions like New Year’s Eve.


Many companion animals suffer from car-sickness. Your veterinarian can prescribe medication to reduce car sickness. If you are travelling with your pet, avoiding breakfast is recommended. Remember that when you stop for a nature break, your pet is in an unfamiliar environment. Ensure they are kept on a lead and avoid areas with dense foliage as these may contain snakes. Before you travel, ensure that your pet’s microchip details are up to date.


The festive season always seems to get busier than we anticipate. There are relatives and friends to catch up with, people visiting from interstate or abroad and parties to attend. Remember that in all of this companion animals may receive less, not more, of our attention. Their routines can be significantly disrupted. If you’re unable to get home to feed or walk pets, and you cannot take them with you, ask a neighbour to check on them – and offer to do this for your neighbours. Pets left alone for long periods of time may experience separation-associated distress or boredom.