By: Dr. Megan Mackalonis, VMD, Emergency Clinician, Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center, www.VSECVET.com
As the weather gets warmer, there is nothing nicer than spending some outdoor time with our canine companions. Long days snuggled under the blankets are replaced by strolls in the sun and romps in the park. As crazy as it may seem, at this time of year veterinary emergency rooms tend to see an influx of cases of dogs that have gotten sick or injured after embarking on just such an adventure. Now, there is no need to fear and certainly no reason to keep Fido tucked away inside. However, there are some things to be aware of and tips you can follow to help keep your furry friends safe as they enjoy their fun in the sun!
There are many scenarios in which a dog might be at risk for a bite. Dog bites can occur in the dog park, on a walk, or in the home and no matter the situation are scary to see. The best medicine in these cases is to exercise preventative measures to the greatest extent possible--if you take your pup to the dog park, try to be mindful of the body language and behavior of both your own dog and others and try to remove your pup from the park before the situation escalates to a bite. Dog park behavior is a topic unto itself that we could discuss for some time, but we will leave that for a later date. While on a walk, for safety purposes, it is really the best policy to keep on walking or even cross the street rather than letting dogs sniff one another. Your dog may be super friendly, but it's just not worth the possible risk. Your dog will not have any less of an awesome day having not gotten to say "hi" to Rover. In fact, they will probably get even more delight out of getting to walk a little bit ahead and leave a pee-mail message for him on the next fire hydrant. Finally, from a safety perspective, it is best to never allow your dog to sniff another dog through a fence. What begins as an innocent sniff can often escalate to a chomp to the snout and a trip to the ER that is just no fun for anyone!
That being said, sometimes despite all of our best safety efforts these situations cannot be avoided--you may be minding your own business, responsibly walking your dog on a leash, when another dog dashes out of its front door or hops over its fence. If you find yourself in a dog fight situation under any circumstances, as difficult as it will be during this scary time, try to remain calm and safe. Do NOT try to break up the dogs with your own hands near their mouths. Rather, try to make a loud noise (you can consider carrying a tiny air horn on your walks as this is quite effective) or grab a nearby hose to distract the biting dog while shouting for help. Once the dogs are apart, seek veterinary attention promptly. Wounds may range from superficial ones that need a little cleanup and some medicine, to something more severe requiring surgery. It is best to have your pet evaluated no matter what the extent of the wounds appears to be at first glance. In addition to treating your pup's wounds, your veterinarian will potentially need to booster his rabies vaccine and, depending upon the law in your area and both dogs' vaccination status, a quarantine could be legally required. It is super helpful (and will save you a big headache) if you are able to provide documentation that both your dog and the biting dog are up to date on their rabies vaccines.
Hit By Car:
Having your dog get hit by a car is a pet owner's worst nightmare. From a safety perspective, the biggest piece of advice here is to always, always have your dog on a leash while outside…even right in your own front yard. The very best behaved dog can get distracted and it only takes one second to make a world of difference. Sometimes accidents happen, however--a very exciting squirrel calls your dog across the street, yanking his leash out of your hands or perhaps you have a Houdini on your hands who managed to find his way out of the yard. No matter the circumstances, it is best, again, to have your pup checked out right away. Even if everything appears to be okay, it is better to be safe than sorry and it is better not to wait. In many cases our pups are bouncier than we might suspect and they get pretty darn lucky, getting away with just a few bumps and bruises, but there are also many scenarios that result in life-threatening injuries. When a dog undergoes a traumatic injury of this sort your veterinarian is going to want to check out every body system, as all could potentially be affected, including those that you cannot readily see from the outside. Naturally, we worry about broken bones and open wounds, but we also need to be concerned about wallops to the head that can cause neurologic signs (signs associated with brain swelling), injuries to the organs in the belly, and even injuries to the chest/lungs (including lung bruising, air accumulation or bleeding). Your veterinary team will talk to you about investigating for all of these possibilities to make sure that your friend is okay and will discuss the treatment that they feel is necessary based upon findings. Ideally, even if your pup appears unscathed, monitoring for at least 24 hours is recommended to be sure everything remains okay. One thing to be aware of regarding trauma is that sometimes when a patient looks entirely normal initially, they can show sudden signs of distress even days after the actual event. This can be due to sudden development of a blood clot or late-onset signs from bruising, bleeding or air accumulation within the lungs. This is not meant to be a scary thing, but something to be aware of. Should you find that your pup is suddenly not acting himself at home soon after a traumatic event, it is always best to get right back to the hospital to make sure everything is okay.
Another big concern for pets as the weather gets warmer is development of heat stroke. This is something that can occur after being outside in the heat for a prolonged period of time and results in potentially life-threatening consequences. Pets who are showing signs of heat stroke often begin by panting heavily and appearing wiped out from the day's activities. This often progresses, however, to collapse, vomiting and profuse diarrhea that can become quite bloody and result in sloughing of the lining of the intestines. The body can also be so overheated that body-wide shock and inflammation take place, resulting in abnormal blood clotting and body-wide infection. Finally, when the body gets excessively hot, the brain itself can fail to function properly. If you feel that your dog is not acting himself after playing outside on a hot day, it is best to have him evaluated right away. Treatment can often result in a successful outcome with the prognosis and degree to which your veterinarian will need to be aggressive with treatment determined by the nature of your pet's signs.
In order to try to prevent such a scary situation, some safety tips include being sure to stay inside at the peak of the heat--try to get out early or wait until a little later in the evening when it is a bit cooler outside. When you are out, bring plenty of water for your pup and try to take lots of breaks in the shade. If it is a true scorcher, don't stay outside for a prolonged period of time and be aware of your dog's limits. Some pets that are at particular risk and with whom you should take extra caution are the very young and the elderly, the heavy-set, any pup that has been diagnosed with a heart or breathing disorder (for instance, laryngeal paralysis), and pups with flattened faces (brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs).
Dog bites, vehicular injuries, and heat stroke are some of the biggest concerns that we see as veterinarians as the weather warms up. This has been just a brief overview to help you and your dog march safely into the spring and summer months, confidently knowing how to have fun while remaining as safe as can be. Should a scary event arise, know that there is always a veterinarian available to help you, so you should never feel stuck if it is night time or a weekend--if your primary care veterinarian is not available, a nearby emergency facility will be able to help 24/7. So go out there and have fun, be safe, and know that we're here if you need us!
Dr. Megan Mackalonis is an Emergency Clinician at the Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center. The Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Center operates state-of-the-art emergency and specialty veterinary hospitals that are open 24/7/365 in both Levittown PA and Philadelphia PA. For more information about our world-class emergency and specialty care, please visit VSEC on the web at www.VSECVET.com.