Dr. Roger Gfeller has seen a lot of hot dogs on the Fourth of July. He has also set a lot of broken bones and stitched up a great many nasty lacerations.
The veterinarian has been working the urgent-care beat for more than 20 years, the last five as a board-certified expert in one of the newest veterinary specialities, emergency and critical care. Gfeller, a consultant to the Veterinary Information Network online service and chief of staff at Veterinary Emergency Service Inc., of Fresno, Calif., is one of only 52 veterinarians nationwide who've earned the special accreditation.
Independence Day is one of the busiest of the year for emergency-care veterinarians such as Gfeller, who says that many of the problems he'll see on the holiday could have been prevented.
To protect your pets over the long holiday weekend, Gfeller offers some precautions:
-- FIREWORKS. "Bring your pets indoors and turn on the stereo," he said. "Give them some white noise, something to distract them from the booming outside.
"'Denning' is another good idea, in a flight kennel or crate. Give them the comfort of their den, if that's what they're used to."
Gfeller says the decision to tranquilize a pet should be considered carefully by its owner and discussed with a veterinarian. "Tranquilizing a pet is not something I'd prefer," he said, "but we all recognize that some animals need it."
People should consider their past holiday experiences, he said, as well as a pet's everyday temperament when considering if a tranquilizer is appropriate.
-- HEAT STROKE. "Shade, lots of shade, and water, lots of water," said Gfeller, who added quickly that it is really better to bring pets inside on the hottest days of summer.
Knowing the signs of heat stress, he said, can save your pet's life. "Hot dogs pant, of course, but with a dog in trouble the panting is very aggressive. Cats will pant, too, but it's unusual.
"Look for the pet with lips pulled back, foamy at the corner of their mouths. These are animals who are working hard to move air."
Hot pets need to be cooled down, but not too severely. The optimum is to soak them in 90-degree water, and to use a fan to cool them off. Water from a hose is usually fine, said Gfeller, but not if you draw from a deep well where the water is ice-cold. Forget ice, too, he said. Think cool, not cold. And call a veterinarian.
"If it's too cold, you turn the outer layer of flesh into a layer of insulation," he said, thereby keeping the cool from getting to where the real problem is, the vital organs."
-- ACCIDENTS. The Fourth of July brings two kinds of fireworks-related accidents, both caused by fear. Some dogs jump through windows and sliding-glass doors and are cut up in the process, while others run away in a panic and are hit crossing streets.
Keeping pets secure inside is the key to preventing accidents, said the veterinarian, who also stressed that even lost dogs who aren't injured often end up at his hospital because no one knows who their owners are.
Gfeller is an advocate of embedded microchips, and says that many emergency clinics "scan" lost pets for the ID device in hopes of a happy reunion.
"I really think people need to spend the day with their pets. Stay home, or take your dog with you," he said. "It's like having a child. If your child was with you, got scared and started crying from the fireworks, you'd go home.
"I'm probably showing my bias, but I think our pets deserve the same kind of care."
CYBERLINKS: When the weather gets hot, think of water. Cool, relaxing water. If you can't pop for a swimming pool, how about an aquarium? Sure, you can't swim in it, but studies have shown it's plenty relaxing. Just watch the fish. If you don't know where to begin, check out the Aquaria Page O' Links (http://www.kkreate.com/aqlinks.htm), with connections to every imaginable fishy spot on the Internet. If setting up an aquarium and caring for fish is too much effort, visit WWW Cameraquarium (www.sccs.swarthmore.edu/(tilde)jim/fish.html), a page linked to various "fishcams," constantly refreshed pictures of a variety of fish tanks.
Gina Spadafori, the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or e-mail to Giori(at)aol.com.
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