Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

DOG DAYS OF SUMMER

DO YOU KNOW THE STORY BEHIND THIS INTERESTING EXPRESSION? HERE'S HOW IT CAME INTO BEING

By Audrey Pavia

The dog days of summer. We've all heard this expression used to describe the hottest time of the year. But what most people don't know when they use this term to complain about the heat is that the phrase is as old as Western culture itself.

"The dog days of summer" was first uttered way back in ancient Rome. In Latin, the expression reads "caniculares dies," or "days of the dogs." The Romans dubbed this the time period that spanned from the first week of July to the second week of August.

In order to understand why the Romans associated summer heat with canines, you have to know a bit about astronomy. Romans, like their Greek cousins, were masters of the night sky and knew a lot about the heavens.

The brightest star visible in the Western hemisphere is Sirius, also known as the Dog Star. Sirius is a star in the constellation Canis Major, one of the hunting dogs of the constellation Orion, the Hunter. In the winter sky, Orion and Canis Major shine brightly, poised for the hunt. But in the summertime, Sirius is not visible. Ancient astronomers knew that stars that weren't visible at night didn't disappear completely. They were instead present in the daytime sky, even though they couldn't be seen. So even though the glow of Sirius was overwhelmed by the sun, the Romans knew it was there. They believed the Dog Star was contributing heat to the summer days by shining brightly alongside the sun.

In reality, Sirius is 8.6 light-years from us and way too far away to contribute heat to the Earth. But the Romans were so convinced of Sirius' ability to throw heat that they persisted in using the expression long enough for it to become part of the vernacular of Western civilization.

Even though Sirius doesn't actually contribute to the heat of summer, this part of the season is the hottest and, consequently, the most dangerous for your dog. To keep your dog safe on days when the temperature is high, keep him indoors in the air conditioning, and always make sure he has shade available when he's outside. Hydration is important too, so ensuring your dog always has access to clean, fresh water is essential.

Of course, never leave your dog in the car during the summertime, even with the windows rolled down. The temperature inside a car can rise rapidly to dangerous heights, and result in heatstroke and death.

When your dog is playing or hiking in the summertime, keep an eye on him to make sure he's not suffering from the heat. Signs of heatstroke in dogs include restlessness, heavy panting, a brightly colored tongue and mucous membranes, thick saliva, vomiting and diarrhea.

Should your dog show signs of heatstroke, get him indoors into an air-conditioned building. Take his temperature using a rectal thermometer, and if it's higher than 104 F, submerge him in a bathtub of cool water. Take his temperature every 10 minutes until it gets down to 100 F to 102 F, which is the normal temperature range for a dog. Take him to a veterinarian as soon as you can for an examination to make sure the heat did not cause damage to his internal organs.

Even though you need to take precautions to keep your dog happy and healthy in the summertime, don't forget to have fun. Good outdoor activities for canines during the dog days of summer include swimming in a pool, in a lake or at the beach; playing in the spray of a garden hose or hiking in high elevations where the air is cool and clean.

Guest columnist Audrey Pavia is a freelance writer specializing in animal subjects. A member of the Dog Writers Association of America, she is the author of seven dog books, including "The Labrador Retriever Handbook" (Barron's). She shares her home in Norco, California, with two dogs, Annabelle and Olivia.

Q&A

Declawing cats should

be a last resort

Q: When I was growing up, we always had our cats declawed and I didn't think anything about it. I took our new kitten in to the vet to have her declawed, and he didn't want to do it. Why would he hesitate? I thought it was a normal procedure for cats. -- via email

A: Surgical declawing, or onychectomy, used to be common, but we now know so much more about cat behavior and needs that we've come to have a different view of it. Scratching is a normal behavior for cats. It's one of the ways they mark territory and stretch, and it conditions their claws by removing the husks. Declawing isn't medically necessary, and it takes away the cat's ability to perform these normal and necessary actions.

Declawing surgery isn't a minor procedure. It involves amputating all or part of the end bones of the cat's toes. Potential risks and complications include hemorrhage, infection and pain.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Cat Fanciers Association and the Humane Society of the United States are just a few of the organizations that recommend against declawing, and it is illegal in many European countries. The American Veterinary Medical Association's position is that declawing should be considered only after attempts have been made to prevent the cat from using claws destructively or when clawing presents an above-normal health risk to the owner.

Better options are to provide your kitten with plenty of options for exercising his need to scratch. A tall scratching post (at least three feet high), cardboard door hangers or boxes, or even a real log can all provide your cat with opportunities to scratch without harming your furniture or carpet. Be sure that scratching posts or other scratching implements are firmly anchored so they stay in place and offer good resistance as the cat scratches away at them. You should also trim the claws every week or two. If you start when he is young, trim when he's relaxed and reward him with treats and praise, your cat won't mind having his nails trimmed at all. -- Dr. Marty Becker

PET BUZZ

Parasite in raw

salmon can kill dogs

-- If you take your dog salmon fishing with you, don't let him eat any of your catch unless it's cooked. Salmon and related types of fish can be infected with a parasite that is toxic to dogs, but not to cats, raccoons or bears. Salmon poisoning is most common west of the Cascade Mountain range, says veterinary parasitologist Bill Foreyt at Washington State University's College of Veterinary Medicine. Symptoms include vomiting, lack of appetite, fever, diarrhea, weakness, swollen lymph nodes and dehydration. Dogs can die within two weeks of eating the fish if they go untreated with antibiotics and a dewormer.

-- Vending machines in Istanbul, Turkey, encourage recycling and help to save pets. Feed plastic bottles into them and they dispense food for local stray dogs and cats, which are said to number more than 150,000 in the city. Turkish company Pugedon makes the smart recycling boxes available at no cost to the city, and the recycled bottles cover the cost of the food.

-- Tara, the cat who chased away a dog after he attacked her family's son, was honored on Aug. 2 at a fundraiser for the Mayor's Alliance for New York's Animals. The event, held at the famous Algonquin Hotel, was sponsored by Cat Fancy magazine. Also making appearances were feline Broadway star and former shelter cat Vito Vincent, Matilda, the Algonquin Hotel's resident cat, and cats available for adoption who hoped to find their own starring roles as people's pets. Cat Fancy editor Susan Logan said, "Money raised at events such as this makes a difference in getting us closer to a day when every pet has a loving home and kill-shelters are a thing of the past." -- Kim Campbell Thornton

ABOUT PET CONNECTION

Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.

CAPTIONS AND CREDITS

Caption 01: Playing in the sprinklers is a fun way for dogs to keep cool in summer heat. Position: Main Story

Caption 02: Hero cat Tara rests after her adoring fans visited her, a few at a time, in the Algonquin Hotel. Position: Pet Buzz/Item 3