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Summer Brings Dangers for Pets

Michelle Deininger

Hot Utah summers hold particular risks for pets  along with all the good times. Just as humans have to adjust to living and exercising at elevation, pets also need care and caution exercised on their behalf to keep them safe in summer heat.

Most people know not to leave dogs unattended in hot cars with the windows up. But vets say don’t leave pets in the car in summer at all, under any circumstances, whether windows are cracked or all the way down. Windows that are open a few inches won’t cool car interiors nearly enough. And fully open windows present other risks such as property or pet theft and an increased risk of pets jumping out.

Newcomers take note, Park City has a one-minute limit on idling in order to safeguard air quality. So unless you have an electric car with an AC mode, leaving cars running is not an option either.

Outdoor life on Utah trails is wonderful, but also carries risks. Chief among those is potential for burning paws and heatstroke.

Travis Eaglin, a vet technician at the White Pine Veterinary Clinic, explained what to watch for that would signal heatstroke in pets:

"They start really slowing behind, they're wobbly, seeming disoriented, they're panting really heavily and then you can start seeing their eyes get really red. Those are signs that  their body level's getting too hot, you need to get immediate attention. Once their internal body limits are sitting above 104 degrees, that's when you start seeing damage to the organs."

If a pet exhibits any of those signs during an expedition, pick it up and carry it the rest of the way. Get it water, and if symptoms don’t go away, seek medical attention immediately.

Avoiding heatstroke in pets is easy: Don’t take them on strenuous treks in the hottest part of the day. Remember that shorter-legged animals can’t go as far as long-legged breeds. Always carry a collapsible water container and sufficient water for both you and your pets – a couple of sips from your water bottle won’t cut it.

And know that packed dirt trails, not just asphalt, can get too hot for paws. To test whether surfaces are safe for your pet, put your hand flat on the ground. If it’s uncomfortable for your hand, your pet shouldn’t walk on it.

Finally, outdoor-loving dogs need to be checked for ticks, which are becoming increasingly common in the west. Though Lyme disease is not yet a concern in Utah, some ticks here carry Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, which can be deadly for humans and dogs if not treated with antibiotics.

After five years with no cases of Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever anywhere in the area, Eaglin said White Pine has seen two cases this year, and other clinics likely have as well.

"Some of that could be the warmer temperatures is what we've kind of heard, and they're just migrating up into this area. All it takes is a brush-up when you're on a trail, they will go to take a blood meal and then they latch on and they'll stay on until they're done and then they'll fall off. They're on brush, they're on trees, they tend to be on a lot of the trails and you're just walking you know along with your pets and you just brush up against it and then it's on you. It can get on your clothing your backpack, and in your shoes."

Eaglin said if pet owners find ticks embedded in animals’ skin, the safest move is to bring them in to have the tick removed by a professional. People can do it themselves at home, but it is tricky and oftentimes ticks’ heads stay stuck in pets’ skin when owners remove them with tweezers. If a tick’s head remains in a pet’s body, that can cause infection and diseases can still be transmitted.

If ticks are not embedded into pets’ skin, but just walking around on them, owners can easily remove them. Eaglin said White Pine would like clients to photograph ticks they find and email them to the office so they are aware of what ticks are in the area.

A safe way to do that is to put the tick into a clear plastic bag to photograph it before disposing of it. People are not being asked to bring ticks in to health officials or vet offices.

Owners need to be vigilant about checking pets, and for pets with longer coats, using fingers to thoroughly comb through pet fur daily.

But don’t panic: Many ticks do not carry dangerous diseases and their bites won’t harm pets. Ticks can’t transmit disease until they have been embedded into animals’ skin and drawing blood from them for about 12 hours.  And even the most serious tick-borne diseases are fully treatable with antibiotics.

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever symptoms in pets include decreased appetite, swelling in face or legs, pain and extreme sensitivity – for example a dog overreacting to any physical activity or contact. Dogs might also vomit, have diarrhea, or be very wobbly when moving around.

Pets are vulnerable, so it’s safe to err on the side of caution and call your vet with any concerns.