Summer safety should be a pet priority

By: Tiffany Esshaki | C&G Newspapers | Published July 11, 2012

For Southfield resident Alex Citron, Fourth of July fireworks are a festive sign of the summer season. However, his dog, Sheba, doesn’t feel quite the same. While Citron enjoys sitting beneath the stars to take in the bright colors and thrilling noises, his 8-year-old Pointer beagle mix is usually trembling behind the sofa.

“They just drive her crazy — the loud popping noises. She cowers, her tail goes down, and she starts looking around for places to hide,” he said. “It’s like she has this look of worry, but she doesn’t know how to solve it.”

Summer, for many, is a time to enjoy — longer days, sunny weather, and plenty to do outside in the warm air. But for pets, the summer months can be especially dangerous. The stifling temperatures and celebratory activities can sometimes wreak havoc on animals, according to Dr. Vernon Harp, a veterinarian.

“Animals tend to be out more in the summer months than in the wintertime, so we see more animals with injuries in some fashion,” said Harp, who works with Macomb Veterinary Associates in Utica. “Cats get into fights more often, and cats and dogs get hit by cars more often.”

Harp said that each year, in addition to an increase in pet injuries, he sees a spike in gastrointestinal problems, ear disease, allergies and more. The link between all of the ailments, he said, is the fact that pet owners leave their pets outdoors for longer periods of time during the summer than they would in the winter. In turn, the animals have more time unattended to seek out trouble in the neighborhood. With a bit more supervision, he said, the problems are avoidable.

“It’s observation, in most cases,” said Harp, recommending that pet owners keep their animals confined to their yard or on a leash to decrease the chances of interaction with strangers, trash cans and even other animals.

“There’s not a lot of contagious diseases that aren’t protected though vaccinations. It’s most likely preventable diseases that we can do a better job of keeping them from getting.”

One such preventable illness is heat stroke, according to Kelley LaBonty, president of Detroit Animal Welfare Group. LaBonty founded the no-kill animal shelter in October, though she’s worked with pets for years as an animal advocate. She said many pet owners don’t realize how quickly their furry friend can be come susceptible to the sizzling summer temperatures.

“Their body surface is much smaller, and they only sweat through their paws. That’s why they pant, pant, pant, trying to release heat. They have a harder time, so it takes a much shorter time for them to have a heat stroke than a human.”

The key, she said, is to make sure your pet doesn’t spend too much time in direct sunlight and to see that it’s drinking plenty of water. Confined spaces like cars are also problematic for animals. Vehicles can heat to more than 100 degrees within minutes on warm days.

LaBonty, who has a doctorate in physiology, said dogs are especially vulnerable to high temperatures, and at times a shady tree isn’t enough to keep them from getting dehydrated. They should be in a dog house at the very least, though inside a home or building is the best option.

“I just wish people would please bring their dogs inside in the extreme of weather. It’s just so heartbreaking to see them tied up with nowhere to go and nowhere to escape the heat.”

But for Sheba, the walls of her house may be enough to find relief from the heat, but they do little to dull the loud noises of the fireworks that are shot off around the neighborhood. Linda Reider, director of animal welfare for the Michigan Humane Society, said it’s not uncommon for animals to run away from home in an attempt to escape the perceived threat that comes with the noise of fireworks.

“We experience them differently as humans. We enjoy the sound and the mood and the excitement. But many dogs, cats and small creatures may respond negatively to the loud, exploding sounds and sometimes the light. There’s usually a spike in escapes over the Fourth.”

Fenced yards, leashes and pet microchips can help reduce the risk of losing for good a pet that has run away from the sound of fireworks, said Reider, who says that the MHS microchips many animals, so they can be found in the event of escape.

While it’s not likely that pet owners can shelter their beloved animals from the scary sounds of seasonal fireworks, they can take steps to lessen the effects of the noise. When families gather together to head out to big fireworks shows, as tempting as it may be to bring their four-legged family member, animals should be left at home. Nerves are only heightened by the excitement of large crowds, according to Reider.

“Pets should be in the house during fireworks time. Close windows, curtains, and maybe play soft music,” she said. “Provide them with some space to hide — maybe a cupboard with the door open or a crate with a blanket over it.”

Reider added that it’s important pets don’t see you reacting to the sounds of fireworks, be it negative or positive.

“If you are home with them, don’t add to the fear. Don’t scold them, it only makes it worse. But also don’t coddle them. Basically, ignore the fear as much as possible, so you won’t feed into it.”

For more tips, visit www.Mich If you need help obtaining proper shelter for your animal, such as dog houses to provide shade from the sun, visit the Detroit Animal Welfare Group website at www.­