Veterinarians warn that pets can suffer in desert heat

Pet owners don’t have to be reminded that summer in Las Vegas is a delicate time for their beloved animal — be it dog, cat, pot-bellied pig or bird. While it’s fine to let Fido run around all day in October, it’s an entirely different environment when Fido goes outside in July.

Veterinarian Michael Knehr of Sun City Animal Hospital said all animals are at risk to overheating and heat stroke.

“Some animals are more predisposed to heat stroke than others because of how they’re designed,” he said. “Dogs relieve their body heat by heat exchange that comes off their tongues. That’s why you see them panting so heavily when they get hot. Bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers are several that are notorious for overheating, and caution should be taken with them.”

According to Knehr, the time to really start watching your pet is when the temperature crawls above 95.

“If your dog is kept outdoors, make sure there is a constant source of shade and water,” he advised. “Dogs can survive in the backyard once they have become acclimated to their surroundings. But I must emphasize the importance of shade and water. I know some people who get a small wading pool and fill it with water so their pets can cool off their feet while getting a drink.”

Veterinarian Stewart Vanderlinden concurs, saying animals know how to adjust to their environment.

“Any breed of dog, regardless of hair type, will adjust to the local temperature,” he said. “We see a heavy-coated dog and think it’s like a fur coat on them, but they use that coat as insulation because they have circulatory capabilities. Birds and reptiles are even better at regulating their temperature. During the heat of the day, snakes seek shade under a rock and then go out at night to warm themselves.”

Vanderlinden, who practices at Cheyenne Tonopah Animal Hospital, said common sense dictates how to care for a pet.

“Don’t go out in middle of day to take your pet for a walk,” he said. “If you have a light-colored or white animal or a short-haired pet, they can sunburn. But know that animals will find a cool spot to stay regulated unless the animal has some incapacitating sickness or disease that prevents them from getting up and out of the sun.”

Diets should remain normal during summer months and there is no need to worry if your pets eat less. Just like humans who eat lighter meals when the temperature rises, pets may also cut back on their dining habits depending on their daily activity.

Knehr makes a point to educate his clients about backyard swimming pools and dog parks.

“Many dogs are not aware of how to properly use a pool,” he said. “They fall in and don’t know where steps are and immediately go to the side of the pool. Because they can’t pull themselves up, they paddle in one place until they’re exhausted. They need to know where steps are. A great way to exercise is to play with them in the water and show them where the steps or exits are. Be careful with older dogs that might have arthritis or cataracts.”

Vanderlinden sees many foot problems with dogs during the summer.

“When I say foot issues I mean blisters,” he said. “Dogs get in pools or run through sprinklers and get the bottom of their paws wet. They then run around on hot pavement rubbing their paws raw. This causes blisters. We also see pets that are accidentally left outside and brought in dehydrated and overheated.”

During summer, dog parks, busy in the early morning and late evening, can become a dangerous place.

“I see many cases of infectious diseases and intestinal parasites because dogs are playing with each other and drinking from one common water source,” Knehr said. “Your dog may be healthy, but you really don’t know about someone else’s pet.”

And what about cats?

Well, they’re just smarter when it comes to heat. Because they are more nocturnal, they hide during the day and prowl around at night.