Summer hazards

 

Summer is a wonderful time of year in which the days are long, the weather is at its finest and many of us get to enjoy a bit of time off work to savour the great outdoors in all its glory.  However there are a number of hazards, medical concerns and risks associated with this time of year for the four pawed members of the family which could potentially take the gloss off those dreamy days so have a good read of the below – forewarned is forearmed!

Many of the hazards encountered in the Spring will invariably be present into the warmer summer months as well and it would be worth reading this section as well to ensure that you are fully aware of all the potential threats that you may just have to contend with.

Also don’t forget to download a copy of our First Aid presentation which contains a wide range of practical hints and tips to deal with many common seasonal illnesses and injuries.

Grass Seeds!

Three grass seeds removed from deep within the foot of a Springer Spaniel!

From late Spring onwards grasses start to produce seeds and these can cause all manner of problems for our pets.

Grass seeds have evolved to stick to everything and anything so that they have the greatest chance of being spread to new habitats. The arrow-like grass seeds and tiny burrs can lodge virtually anywhere and can migrate further or deeper if not removed.  Common areas of concern include:

Toes – Grass seeds will often first make contact with your dog’s feet and will frequently get stuck between their toes. If these are not located and removed they will often then begin to make their way through the skin, eventually disappearing inside completely.  This may cause a large swelling to appear between the toes and surgery may be needed to remove the seed.  However in some cases the seeds will continue to work its way up the leg causing extreme pain, swelling and infection.  Finding the seed in these situations can be very difficult and advanced imaging such CT scans may even be required.

Ears – Grass seeds can travel deep into the ear canal and even penetrate through the ear drum and into the middle ear causing neurological problems.  If you notice your dog yelps and suddenly starts shaking their head, scratching their ear or holding their head to one side when out on a walk then get to a vet.

Nose – Franting sneezing, pawing at its nose or a nasal discharge (clear or bloody) could be a sign of a grass seed caught up in the nasal passage.

Eyes –  Grass seeds commonly get lodged beneath eyelids causing intense inflammation and even ulcers. If your pet starts rubbing one its eyes after a walk which then becomes red and inflamed with a profuse watery yellow discharge then it may be that a grass seed is to blame so get a vet to have a look.

Lungs – potentially the most serious area for a grass seed to get stuck is in the chest.  If your dog starts coughing and salivating persistently after a walk then it may be that the seed is stuck in the airway and we may need to use our bronchoscope to visualize and remove it.  Left untreated these can lead to life-threatening chest abscesses and pneumonia.

Prickly grass awn stuck in the lungs of a patient

There are several preventative measures:

  • Avoid walking your dog in long grassy areas during high season. Walk your dog on the beach, short green grass or on pavements.
  • After each walk check your dog’s coat and especially in between the toes and inside the ears.
  • Brush your dog’s coat regularly. This will clear your dog of any seeds or burrs which might not otherwise be visible.
  • If your dog has very hairy feet then carefully trim the hair between the toes to reduce the chance of picking up seeds and prickles
  • Don’t allow your dog to chew grasses which have the seed heads on them.

 

Barbeques

Barbeques are rightly very popular when the weather permits but they do pose a number of unique and serious threats to our pets:

  • Burns – Barbeques are very hot and will cause severe burning to paws and mouths of inquisitive pets – remember that the yummy food you are cooking will be almost irresistible to them so watch them at all times!!
  • Lighter fluid or cubes contain hydrocarbons which some dogs find tasty but can be fatal if consumed so keep them out of reach
  • Bin the scraps!
    • Eating fatty, unfamiliar or even uncooked foods can result in severe vomiting and diarrhoea or even pancreatitis which can be fatal
    • Corn on the cobs, barbeque skewers, cooked bones and aluminium foil are all frequently eaten by pets and can cause serious internal blockages or penetrating injuries.
    • Onions – often cooked alongside meat to go in burgers, onions are extremely toxic to dogs and cats as they interfere with the ability of the red blood cells to carry oxygen

The core of a corn-on-the-cob removed surgically from the intestines (complete with roundworms!)

Wooden kebab skewer protruding through belly of a dog after being swallowed

 

Heat/sun stroke

DON’T leave your pets in your car on hot or sunny days, even for a short while. Cars heat up rapidly, even with a window open, creating extreme oven-like temperatures which can be fatal for any animal.  Remember that conservatories, greenhouses and caravans can also heat up quickly.  Pets are not able to reduce their body temperature as efficiently as people as they do not sweat and their coats act as a heavy layer of insulation which means that they can overheat in minutes.

Your pets should also be provided with plenty of shade if they are left outside for any length of time – remember that the sun changes position too.  Provide a paddling pool for them to lie in periodically and Ensure your pet always has access to plenty of fresh drinking water.

Help to keep your dogs cool by walking them early in the morning or late in the evening when it is cooler and if you take them out during the day make sure you take some water for them.  In hot weather consider making frozen treats for your pet such as ‘Kongs’ or similar stuffed with mincemeat or tinned dog food and then frozen to make a meaty ice lolly!

A paddling pool is a great way to keep your pet cool on a hot summer’s day

If your pet gets too hot and starts to pant rapidly or collapses, put your pet in a cool area and gently spray with cool water or wet towels.  If you suspect that your pet may be suffering from heat stroke or heat stress then contact your vet immediately.

 

Hot surfaces

Tarmac can get extremely hot during the summer as the asphalt surface absorbs and retains heat from the sun meaning that the temperature can rise dangerously high even if the air temperature doesn’t feel particularly warm. If dogs are walked on tarmac pavements, footpaths or promenades on sunny days they may be at risk of developing severe burns after only a few minutes resulting in blistering and sloughing of the skin off the footpads.  If in doubt check the surface with your hand and avoid walking on these surfaces during the middle of the day if the sun is out.

 

 

Sunburn

Like us humans, our pets can also be affected by sunburn.  Pets with pale pink skin with little fur covering (such as on the nose or ears) are most risk, as are those with a white coat.  Cats with white ears are particularly prone to skin cancer.  Therefore if you think your pet is at risk then ensure to apply a sun cream that is safe for pets.

The edge of the ear of this cat has been badly damaged by skin cancer

 

 

Poisonous Plants and Flowers

Many garden plants will be at their greenest and most colourful at this time of year as they thrive and grow in the warmer summer conditions.

However many trees, bushes, plants and flowers can be toxic to our pets, even if they just chew a small part of the plant including the bulb, branches/stem, flowers or leaves.

Pollen from certain flowers (e.g. Lilies) can be very toxic and may be inadvertently ingested as it will stick to your pets’ fur when they brush past and then be swallowed when they lick it off.

See the list below for just a few examples of common toxic plants:

  • Daffodils (especially the bulbs)
  • Laurel (common hedging plant)
  • Laburnum
  • Lilies / Lily of the Valley (especially toxic to cats)
  • Giant Hogweed – causes severe skin burns
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Rhododendron and Azalea
  • Laurel – very common hedging plant
  • Foxgloves
  • Deadly nightshade – very common garden week, member of the tomato family
  • Mistletoe
  • Ivy (some species)
  • Rhubarb
  • Yew 

Cherry laurel – one of many common yet poisonous plants found in our gardens and parks

Symptoms of poisoning:

  • Mouth or skin irritation – pawing at mouth, bleeding gums, skin rashes and hives
  • Upset stomach – vomiting and/or diarrhoea
  • Weakness – wobbly on legs and difficulty standing/walking
  • Rapid breathing – panting at rest without exposure to heat or exercise
  • Fever – may run a very high temperature
  • Drooling – continuous drooling and smacking lips
  • Depression/lethargy – may be unusually quiet and non responsive
  • Excitability – some toxins may cause pets to be jumpy and overreact to noises or light
  • Tremors/twitches/seizures – muscle twitching which may lead to full seizures
  • Increased thirst
  • Dilated pupils
  • Dizziness + loss of balance
  • Disorientation – may appear confused, blind or not recognise
  • Collapse, stupor, coma – may seem drunk and even lose consciousness

 

Adder Bites

The only venomous snake native to this country is the Adder. They can be found in woodland areas, moors, heathland, meadows and dunes, mostly in the warmer months between March and October. They can be identified by the dark V or X shape on the back of the head and a zig-zag pattern along their back. Adders are timid creatures and don’t usually bite unless they feel threatened but dogs can often be victims of adder bites due to their adventurous nature whilst running through and exploring undergrowth, disturbing any snakes that may be basking. When an Adder bites it typically injects around 1ml of venom and two small puncture wounds may be visible.  Within 20 minutes the bitten area starts to swell and the pain is usually very severe. The peak effects are usually seen around six hours after the bite.

The adder’s zig-zag markings are very distinctive though they are shy and rarely seen close up

If you suspect that a snake has bitten your dog, you should seek immediate veterinary attention. The reaction seen seems to vary from one animal to another and doesn’t always correlate with size.  Administering an anti-histamine tablet in the immediate aftermath of the bite may help before you can get to a vet but further treatment with steroids, antibiotics, fluid therapy and sometimes anti-venom will almost certainly be needed to prevent a crisis.

 

Bee/Wasp stings

The warmer weather draws out more insects such as wasps and bees. Due to their curious nature, pets can often end up being stung by these creatures, causing localised pain and a slight swelling at the site of the sting. Applying a cold compress along with a solution to neutralise the toxin released by the sting can help reduce the swelling and relieve the pain and itch.

Bee stings – after carefully removing the sting, apply a weak alkaline solution such as baking soda, calamine lotion, toothpaste or sea water.

Wasp stings – apply a weak acid solution such as vinegar.

Though the majority of reactions are not life-threatening, here are some cases where the reactions could be much more severe, particularly if they are stung around the face or neck area.  Therefore monitor them closely after a suspected sting and seek advice from us at the surgery if concerned.

 

Hot spots!

Common during warm spells throughout the spring, summer and autumn, these localised skin infections can come on very quickly and cause a huge amount of irritation.  They appear as extremely itchy red patches on the skin that quickly become infected and start to spread resulting in pain and discomfort.  The infection results in ulceration of the skin surface and a bloody/pussy discharge soon develops.

Typical appearance of a ‘hot spot’ once clipped and cleaned. Hot spots can start from a very small scratch and quickly spread over a large area.

They seem more common in certain thick skinned or densely coated breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Rottweilers but any dog can be affected.  It is usually caused by a small scratch or small area of eczema that gets infected and is worsened by scratching – hence the medical term ‘pyotraumatic dermatitis’.  It seems that warm, humid climatic conditions contribute to the development of the infection.

Clipping the hair away and cleaning with antiseptic handwash (e.g. Carex), applying creams (aloe vera, sudocrem, arnica or savlon are suitable) and giving anti-histamines to ease the itching may help but veterinary attention is usually needed to prevent the spread of infection which is often very deep seated.

 

Stagnant water

Ponds, lakes, bogs, large puddles and other areas of still water accumulate dead organic matter over time which is heated up by the sun and encourages the growth of a wide range of bacteria and algae.  These can produce a number of potentially dangerous toxins if ingested.  Symptoms may present similarly to those described for plant toxins above.  The toxins produced by blue-green algae (actually a bacteria called ‘cyanobacteria – see here) has attracted much attention in the press in recent years and it is worth keeping an eye out in the local press for reports of affected ponds or lakes.

Beware ponds and lakes with a greeny blue tinge to the water as this may indicate the presence of toxic cyanobacteria

Where possible you should encourage your pet to drink from running water such as streams and rivers or from fresh water sources – remember to always take water and a portable drinking bowl with you during hot weather so that you can always provide your pet with a clean source of drinking water if needed.

 

Spider bites!

An increasing problem locally in recent years has been the population explosion of the ‘False-Widow‘ spider.  Though nowhere near as poisonous as it’s cousin the Black Widow, it will bite when threatened and can still cause quite a nasty reaction in both people and animals.  At Natterjacks we have had dealt with a number of nasty skin reactions that biopsy results suggested were caused by bites from this spider.  Affected areas are develop large purple-red swellings and blisters which spread over several centimeters.

A ‘false black widow’ spider with characteristic pattern on the abdomen which some have likened to a skull.

Typical reaction following a bite from a false black widow spider

Originally from the Canary Islands, the spiders were introduced to the UK in 2012 and the increasingly warm winters have allowed them to become established on the south coast.  The spiders breed during the warm summer months and can be found throughout the house and garden in trees, garages, sheds, walls, fences etc.  Towards the end of the summer they will often make their way indoors, attracted by the warmth and shelter as the nights start to get cooler.

There are no specific precautions and most houses are not badly affected but there are some instances where an unusually large number of spiders have taken residence and required eradication – read this article.  Suspected bites should be treated with anti-histamine cream (such as Anthisan) or hydrocortisone cream from the chemist but if the area is very swollen or seems to be spreading then veterinary assistance may be needed.

 

Allergies

Following on from the tree pollens of spring, the great outdoors doesn’t relent on it’s ability to cause discomfort and irritation for our pets.  Many animals are allergic to the pollen of grasses and weeds which are in abundance from early summer into Autumn and can cause severe irritation to the chest, belly, ears, feet and face resulting in inflammation and frequently secondary infection.  They can also cause asthma and breathing difficulities in some animals.

See our first aid advice section for advice on how to manage any acute flare-ups but if your pet has recurrent problems or you suspect they are suffering from an infection then seek the advice of a vet.  The management of allergies can be complex and require a multi-pronged approach but there have been some significant advances in recent years with a number of excellent treatments now available.  We also offer allergy testing which can help identify what your pet is allergic to and we may even be able to offer desensitising ‘immunotherapy’ injections to make your pet less allergic to

Clearly avoidance is a key part of management in sensitive animals but fortified Omega 3 supplements (e.g. Nutramega) and antihistamines can be a useful initial measure to to take the edge off any symptoms prior to more targeted therapies.

Typical allergic reaction following exposure to grasses in a sensitive dog

 

Fleas and Ticks

Fleas

A warm summer usually results in a population explosion of our pets’ number one adversary – the flea!  Warm weather speeds up the flea life cycle so that their numbers increase exponentially.  Flea bites can provoke a severe allergic reaction resulting in deep skin infections and marked hair loss.  The can also spread certain parasites.  Perhaps most unpleasant of all is the fact that they will soon establish themselves indoors and may remain undetected until the central heating is turned on in the autumn which leads to a second population boom, leaving both pets and owners alike hopping and scratching for cover!

A sure sign of a flea infestation at home!

The problem with fleas is that they have become increasingly resistant to many of the products used to eliminate them over the years and most shop bought sprays, bombs, collars and spot-ons are completely useless now.  Every year we have to re-consider our flea advice to keep up with the development of resistance.  Fortunately there is a steady stream of excellent new products being developed and though a little more expensive than some of the older products they are well worth the extra being both safer and vastly more effective – and still cheaper than having your house fumigated, an increasing industry in the UK!

It is not always clear that you pet has fleas as many will show very mild symptoms initially so make sure you pick up a special flea comb from the vets or pet shop and use it weekly to check your pet’s coat – the bottom of the spine around the tail base is often a good place to check for evidence of fleas.  This is a very fine comb (similar to nit comb) which will pick up both fleas and the characteristic flea ‘dirt’ (faeces) which will turn a red-brown colour when applied to a wet piece of white tissue – if this is seen you must act fast to rid both your pet and the house of this unwanted guest before it is too late!

‘Flea dirt’ (flea faeces/excrement) in the coat – a sure sign of fleas even if no lvie ones are found

The flea dirt dissolves on white tissue paper and leaves a characteristic red-brown stain (from dried blood!)

 

Ticks

Ticks thrive in the warm summer months and are particularly numerous in areas where there may be deer, sheep or cattle nearby.  Ticks can carry Lymes disease which is a threat to people as well as pets. The changing UK climate has seen a large increase in numbers and has also enabled continental species of ticks to survive in the UK which means that new diseases such as the blood parasite Babesia are likely to be seen with increasing frequency. Ask us about the latest tick preventatives and make sure you have a twisting tick hook in your pet first aid kit – don’t be tempted to pull or prise them off as the head can break off and remain embedded in the skin causing a nasty infection.  See here for more information on the disease risk posed by these unpleasant blood sucking parasites.

 

 

 

 



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