By Gary E. Barr
Special to the Rappahannock News
It’s Friday and you are preparing to leave for a weekend business trip. Your dog, Gus, seems lethargic and not quite himself. By the time you return on Sunday evening, Gus is inactive and refusing to eat.
A friend at the local pet store advises that the heat and some digestive ailments have combined to make Gus sick. Medicated food is suggested. By Wednesday, it’s been six days since the first symptoms appeared and Gus has only gotten worse. You know something is very wrong and rush him to the nearest vet.
After a quick examination, the veterinarian tells you that Gus’s kidneys are malfunctioning and it is too late to do anything for him. In all likelihood Gus has an advanced form of Lyme Disease guaranteed to be fatal.
Heartbroken, you are faced with the death of a beloved pet.
According to Dr. Michael Watts of Clevengers Corner Veterinary Care, this is a scenario that has occurred multiple times in recent years.
“Around day six in a dog that has Lyme Disease, the kidneys begin to fail. Some Northern Virginia vets won’t even see a dog with kidney failure because they know there is nothing they can do,” said Watts.
Summertime not only brings out Lyme Disease-carrying ticks but hot and humid temperatures. A pet’s best friend in summer heat and year-round can be a knowledgeable, caring owner.
“By following a few summer pet safety tips, we can keep our pets healthy during the hot summer months,” according to advice from Sarah Peyton at the Culpeper Animal Hospital.
Peyton, a third-year veterinary technology student with Cedar Valley College of Lancaster, Texas, is working at Culpeper Animal Hospital while completing a long-distance study program. She provided some helpful information that can prevent pets from “heat stress” during summer:
• Never leave pets in the car
• Offer fresh water at all times
• Avoid walks during peak heat [of the day]
• Watch pets carefully [in the heat]
• Monitor for signs of heatstroke
Perhaps the most media attention is directed at people who fail to recognize the dangers of leaving pets in cars during hot summer days. Temperatures can soar in a parked car to 120 degrees within a few minutes during summer. And opening the windows does not prevent heat from building inside autos, nor does parking in the shade if the sun shifts in succeeding hours.
Dogs and cats cool themselves by panting, and breathing hot air quickly only makes them hotter. With this in mind, doghouses exposed to the sun become “hotboxes” in summer and should be moved to areas with consistent shade during summer days. Cats and other companion animals must also have places where they can find shelter from the sun and access to cool water on a regular basis.
Pet owners often forget basic principles that apply to protecting humans during summer. Animals can both burn the bottoms of their feet standing on hot asphalt and suffer tick bites — just like humans.
Somewhere between 15 and 30 percent of dogs in the area contract Lyme Disease.
“We see quite a bit of Lyme Disease in dogs,” said Dr. Watts. “Dogs are up to 10 times more susceptible [to Lyme] than people. They can catch 14 different types of tick-born disease,” but Lyme Disease can be fatal. According to Watts, there has been a definite increase in this sickness over the past several years.
“Every dog fatality had the same history — sick three to five days, not eating and generally under-the-weather. As indicated, around day six, the kidneys began to fail,” said Watts. He added that most canine patients who become infected will never be completely cleared of the bacteria (Borellia burgdorferi) regardless of treatment even if they do survive.
Watts said: “The biggest mistake is to neglect using tick control products all year.” Many dogs get Lyme Disease during cooler months. It’s also important to get regular checkups and seek treatment from professionals.
“The safest, most effective tick control really does come from your veterinarian,” said Watts.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) emphasizes that pet owners need to understand that their pets suffer from many of the same maladies as humans during hot weather — overheating, dehydration, insect-born diseases, and even sunburn. Their top recommendation is to visit a veterinarian for a spring or early-summer checkup and a test for heart worm.
And stay vigilant.
Summertime pet reminders:
Is your pet experiencing heat stress? Signs include:
• Heavy panting
• Glazed eyes
• Rapid pulse
• Deep red or purple tongue
Preventing Lyme Disease in Dogs:
• Use a Recombinant-DNA vaccine (85 to 95 percent effective)
• Use a high-quality flea and tick control collar all year
• Watch for symptoms — loss of appetite, unusually inactive, generally under the weather and sick for two or more consecutive days
• Take your dog to a veterinarian soon after the dog begins showing signs of Lyme Disease