Summer First Aid for dogs

July 9th, 2008

Summer means fun, sun and long, lazy days for your pooch. But its also the time of year when you have to be on your guard for some common health problems associated with the heat. Sunny de Bruyn looks at the main conditions affecting dogs in summertime and what you can do to prevent them with summer first aid for dogs.

You’re not the only one feeling the heat at this time of year. If you think you’re hot, imagine how your dog is feeling.

Dogs don’t have the distribution of sweat glands we do and can rapidly decompensate in heat, so heat stress is a common problem when the temperature rises. And that’s not the only nasty to watch out for this summer tick paralysis, ear infections, allergic skin diseases, overindulgence and heat stress are all common to this time of year.

Common health problems

Dogs Life meets up with Dr Anne Fawcett, small animal veterinarian and veterinary consultant to ABC TV’s Creature Features program to find out the most common conditions at this time of year. In each of the below cases, it is essential to seek veterinary attention.

Heat stress

Heat stress is extremely serious and can lead to heart attack or even death, Fawcett tells Dogs Life. Common signs include excessive panting, depression, lethargy, weakness, laboured breathing, hypersalivation (excessive drooling), bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, muscle tremors and seizures.

The first thing you need to do is cool your dog down. Giving it water will help, as will a fan, a cool bath and cold towels but be careful as overcooling is just as dangerous. Always seek veterinary attention, as some symptoms may not appear for hours or days.

Tick paralysis

This is extremely common on the north-east coast of Australia, Fawcett says. If you see a tick, remove it with a tick remover or lever it off with tweezers, rocking it gently back and forth, but don’t squeeze the body of the tick. Take your dog to the vet straightaway, making sure you don’t give it any food or water until its been checked out.

Even after you remove the tick the toxin still circulates in the blood of the animal for 48 hours, so it will get much worse before it gets better. Its best to check with your vet whether the animal needs antitoxin.

Symptoms of tick paralysis include change in the pitch of the bark, ascending paralysis (starting from the hind limbs and progressing to the forelimbs), difficulty breathing and vomiting.

Flea-allergy dermatitis

We tend to see a lot of allergic skin diseases in summer, Fawcett says. Flea-allergy dermatitis can lead to intractable itchiness around the base of the tail, and affected dogs may lose hair and develop nasty skin infections that require antibiotic treatment. Your dog may also be allergic to some insect bites. If bitten, remove the stinger (if there is one) and apply cold packs to the area.

Dietary indiscretion

Barbecue season is here, but your dog shouldn’t be taking part. They will beg, steal and pull every trick in the book to get a tasty morsel from the barbie, but don’t give in dogs should never be fed cooked bones or barbeque treats.

Too much fat can lead to pancreatitis, while some foods, such as cooked bones, corn on the cob and skewers, can become lodged in the oesophagus, food pipe or intestines, requiring surgical removal. Other items that dogs can ingest that make them quite ill include onions, garlic, chocolate, macadamia nuts and fatty foods, Fawcett says.

If your dog vomits, has diarrhoea, seems depressed or gets a fever, give it lots of water and seek veterinary advice.

Ear infections

If your dog loves nothing better than taking a swim, it is more at risk of ear infections. If you notice your dog scratching its ear a lot or shaking its head, seek veterinary attention straightaway. In addition to being extremely painful, infections can progress to middle-ear infections if not treated early, Fawcett says.


With longer days and more opportunity to be outdoors, its not uncommon for dogs to have accidents, such as being hit by a car or suffering play-related accidents, Fawcett says.

If your dog is hit by a car, first make sure there is no further danger to you or your dog, then check its vital signs. Firm but gentle pressure can be applied to wounds and then dressed with an absorbent bandage. If you suspect a spinal injury don’t move him get a vet on the phone and let them advise you on what to do. Get it to the vet immediately.

Snake bites

Apply a pressure bandage over the wound, but never use a tourniquet and don’t suck or cut the wound. Minimal interference may be the best thing, so get your dog to the vet as soon as possible. If it is safe to do so, try to make note of any distinguishing markings on the snake to help identify it but don’t go near it.

Protecting your pal

Fawcett says you can do plenty of things to prevent your dog suffering over summer. Warm weather means getting out and about with your dog, so now is the time to ensure it is microchipped and that its vaccinations are up-to-date.

Ensure your dogs tick and flea prevention is appropriate and up-to-date. Always check you are using the correct dose of treatment for your dog’s body weight and read the instructions carefully. Your dog still needs to be checked for ticks daily, and if the skin looks red, raw or has puss, see your vet immediately.

Your dog needs access to plenty of water and shade whenever you are out. And remember, you should never leave your dog in the back of your car, even for a few minutes. Don’t over-exert your dog, especially if it has health conditions, such as heart disease, hyperthyroidism and obesity, which make it even more vulnerable to heat stress.

Some breeds are more affected by summer than others. The breeds worst affected by the summer heat are what we call the brachycephalic or short-nosed breeds, like pugs, Boston Terriers, Bulldogs and Boxers, Fawcett says. They have to work much harder to pant than other dogs do, which means they generate more heat in the process. If not attended to quickly, these dogs can rapidly deteriorate in the heat, she says.

It is best to walk them when it is coolest – early morning or in the evening. Similarly, dogs such as Golden Retrievers and Labradors are predisposed to a condition called laryngeal paralysis, which also compromises their ability to cope with heat stress, Fawcett continues.

If your dog is an outdoor pet, there are some important things you need to do to make sure it stays cool and happy:

  • Provide shade many owners forget that shade moves throughout the course of the day, so its important that there’s a shaded area all day.
  • Walk your dogs in the morning and at dusk, or even after dark when it is cooler.
  • Don’t over-exert your dog.
  • Remember that concrete and bitumen get very hot in the sun and can burn your dogs feet.
  • Provide plenty of water. Some dogs, such as diabetics, those with renal failure or those on cortisone tablets, drink a lot more than average, so you may need to provide several water bowls.

Tips for keeping Fido cool

  • Remove your dog from the direct source of heat move your dog into a shaded or indoor area.
  • Hose or spray your dog with cool water. You can also place wet towels over your dog, but remember that these warm up pretty quickly when placed on a hot dog, so will need to be replaced regularly. Dont submerge your dog in ice-cold water, as this can exacerbate shock.
  • You can use a light fan to help cool your dog down.

If in doubt, always seek veterinary attention.

Veterinarian Dr Anne Fawcett reminds dog owners that the signs of heat stress can be similar to other conditions, including tick paralysis, snake bites, even motor-vehicle trauma. If in doubt, its best to head to your vet.

First-aid tips

Every dog owner should have a well-stocked first-aid kit that includes dressings, gauze, bandages, Elastoplast, thermometer, scissors, syringe, soda crystals, saline solution, three per cent hydrogen peroxide, Betadine solution and ointment, activated charcoal and a muzzle.

The best way to recognise an emergency is to know your dog, so you can identify any abnormal behaviour, such as listlessness, lack of appetite or depression. Familiarise yourself with its normal breathing, eating patterns, heart rate, energy levels, behaviour, how and when it urinates and defecates, and general demeanour.

If in doubt, don’t do anything at all. Sometimes the things you think will help your dog may in fact do more harm than good. If you are unsure, contact your local vet or veterinary hospital immediately. Your vet should be able to give you advice over the phone as to what to do until you get your dog veterinary attention. In some cases, however, your vet will simply tell you to get your dog to the clinic or animal hospital as fast as possible.

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