Summer sun a danger to family pets

By Joel Hall


While the longer, warmer days of summer are often a source of enjoyment for humans, they can be deadly for household pets, animal rescue workers say.

As the mercury rises, cars, for example, can become death traps for animals, who do not perspire in the same way humans do.

"Any kind of vehicle can become an incinerator in a matter of minutes," said Robin Rawls, vice president of the board of directors of the Clayton County Humane Society. "Even when the windows are cracked, they can become like ovens."

According to county laws, it is illegal from April 1 to Sept. 1 to keep any animal inside of an idle vehicle, said Clayton County Animal Control Officer Tiffany Phillips.

"We have had to bust windows before and take animals out that were in distress," she said. "We try to contact the owner," but "sometimes people will get arrested in the parking lot for animal cruelty. We did have a case where we found an animal dead and it had gnawed at the handle of the car [in an attempt] to get out."

Even with the windows open, the temperature of a parked car can rise to 160 degrees F within 10 minutes, warns the Atlanta Humane Society. Parking in the shade offers little protection because the position of the sun changes during the day.

However, hot cars are not the only dangers animals may encounter in the summer. Animals left in their owner's yard, allowed to roam the neighborhood, and made to exercise excessively are susceptible to heatstroke, heart worms, and poisoning from summer lawn care chemicals.

"The county ordinance reads that a dog contained outside must have access to fresh water and adequate shelter at all times," said Phillips. "That shelter must consist of three walls, a floor, and a roof."

Phillips said animals kept outside are often denied fresh water and that water left standing for more than three days can become a nesting ground for mosquitoes, which thrive in the summer. Those mosquitoes carry parasites which enter an animal's blood stream and develop into heart worms, which can eventually cause death.

She said that any small pools, water bowls, and standing buckets of water should be emptied or replaced every three days to prevent mosquitoes.

Rawls suggested building dog houses that are raised from the ground and with materials that are well-ventilated.

"Sometimes people buy those big plastic igloo doghouses," she said. "Something that they can get into isn't necessarily safer if it will heat up as well."

Another danger to animals in the summer is excessive exercise. Instead of sweating, animals like dogs and cats must move air in and out of their lungs to get rid of excess heat. This presents a problem for snub-nosed dog breeds such as bulldogs, Lhasa Apsos and Shih Tzus.

Those breeds of animals "are going to have a harder time breathing in this kind of weather," said Rawls. "It's like having a stuffy nose ... all the time."

Animals can also burn their paws on hot asphalt. Rawls said that outside exercise should be limited to grassy areas and to shorter lengths of time, and that animals should be kept indoors as much as possible.

She also said that animal poisonings go up during the summer because of the chemicals and pesticides used on lawns. Hot, parked cars can leak antifreeze, which contains ethylene glycol, a chemical which attracts animals with a sweet taste, but causes kidney failure.

"It's not just an upset stomach, it's deadly," Rawls said.

Rawls encourages pet owners to keep their animals from roaming into other people's yards as much as possible.

Phillips said that in the summer, people will often see a dog that is panting and salivating excessively and will think that it is rabid.

"They are usually just thirsty," she said. She encourages pet owners to carry disposable water dishes or specially designed bottles with a canal for pets to lap up the water.

She also said that people should keep their pet shaving to a minimum.

"A lot of people shave down long-haired dogs in the summer, thinking that it will help keep the dog cool, when it actually hurts them," and puts them at risk of sunburn, Phillips said. "That hair actually insulates them against the warm weather."