Summer is a great time to be a pet. The days are long and most kids are out of school. That leaves plenty of time for lots of attention and some serious fun.
But summer can also be dangerous. Playing or exercising a dog in the heat can bring on a lethal case of heat stroke. Burrs, foxtails and awns from parched grasses can cause painful infections, and the chemicals we use to keep our beautiful summer yards green and control pests can poison our pets.
Prevention is the best way to protect your pet, of course. Always keep an eye out for potential hazards, and do your best to minimize or remove them. Keep pets cool and calm in the hottest part of the day, and check frequently for plants and insect problems -- ticks are nasty in the summer. Finally, use household chemicals sparingly and according to label instructions, and store them properly and securely.
If your best intentions aren't enough, though, you may be taking an emergency trip to your veterinarian.
It's often hard to decide what's worth worrying about and what can wait until you can get your pet in during regular -- and less expensive -- hospital hours. I've spent enough time in emergency clinics to know that sometimes people waste their money through lack of knowledge, bringing pets in for such things as worms. (One time while working at an emergency clinic, I met an extremely upset woman who was convinced the tapeworm fragment coming out of her cat was the pet's intestines coming out.)
Other folks take too lightly such things as vomiting, which can be a sign of something deadly serious.
Anything is worth a call to the veterinarian if you're not sure, but some things definitely require urgent attention, no matter the day or hour. Among them:
-- Seizure, fainting or collapse;
-- Eye injury, no matter how mild;
-- Vomiting or diarrhea, anything more than two or three times within an hour or so;
-- Allergic reaction, such as swelling around the face or hives;
-- Any suspected poisoning, including antifreeze, snail or rodent bait, or human medication;
-- Thermal stress, a pet that has been too cold or too hot;
-- Any wound that's open and bleeding, or any animal bite;
-- Traumatic injury, such as being hit by a car;
-- Breathing problems, including chronic coughing or near drowning;
-- Straining to urinate or defecate.
Sometimes an animal may seem fine, such as a dog after being hit by a car or a cat shaken by an attacking dog with no puncture wounds. But the story inside may be quite different, with internal injuries that need immediate veterinary attention. Any delay can cost your pet his life.
Most everything else can wait until morning, or even Monday if it's the weekend, but here I must add a plea on your pet's behalf: Just because something (BEGIN ITAL)can(END ITAL) wait, doesn't mean it (BEGIN ITAL)should(END ITAL) wait. If your pet's in pain, take him in. You know he'd do the same for you. Some of the signs of an animal in pain include panting, labored breathing, lethargy, restlessness, loss of appetite, aggression, hiding or crying out.
When in doubt on your pet's illness, call a veterinarian, no matter the time of day or night.
A final note on veterinary emergencies: Do you know where to go if you have one? Check with your veterinarian to see if the hospital is open 24 hours a day, or if staff is always on call in case of an emergency.
If your veterinarian does not offer after-hours care, the hospital usually works with one that does. Learn the location of the nearest emergency-care center, and put the phone number in a place where you can find it. Make sure you know how to get there, too.
The last thing you need to be doing with a sick pet at 2 a.m. is trying to find the phone book and asking for directions.
Although the beaks of parrots are constantly growing at a rate of 1-to-3 inches per year, depending on the species, a healthy pet does not need to have his beak trimmed. Your bird should keep his beak at the proper length through his normal chewing activities.
Contrary to what some bird books still preach, don't accept "beak trims" as a routine health-care measure -- they're not. Overgrowth of the beak is frequently a sign of illness. If you have any concerns about your bird's beak, check in with a veterinarian who specializes in bird care.
PETS ON THE WEB
The hip literary magazine The Bark, which offers the best writing on dogs within its pages, began life as a newsletter promoting off-leash recreation areas. They've come a long way from those humble beginnings, and their smart and savvy Web site(www.thebark.com) is almost as wonderful The Bark in print. Right now on the site is a collection of reader-submitted pictures of smiling dogs that will be sure to brighten any pet lover's day. You'll also find some of The Bark's best articles, lists of dog parks and services and a community section for sharing thoughts with other literate dog lovers.
Don't forget to stop at the shop for The Bark's distinctive "Dog Is My Co-Pilot" logo items. People comment on my T-shirt every time I wear it! One more necessary transaction: Subscribe to The Bark ($15 per year for five issues). It's more than my favorite pet magazine -- it's one of my very favorite publications, of any kind.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: We have a huge snail invasion in our yard. They're shredding my bedding plants, and I have to do something. I know snail bait is deadly to pets, but what's the alternative? The snails must go! -- T.R., via e-mail
A: Like most gardeners, "hate" isn't all that strong a word to use when it comes to how I feel about snails. But I never, ever use snail bait, because it's deadly not just to snails and slugs but also to dogs, cats and birds.
Instead, when snail numbers become a problem, I conduct "snail safaris" at night with a flashlight, picking up snails by the shell and putting them in a bag that I then place in the garbage bin. Another alternative to traditional snail bait is iron phosphate, which is marketed under the brand name Sluggo.
If you suspect your pet has gotten into snail bait -- symptoms include frothing at the mouth, vomiting and convulsions -- see your veterinarian immediately. Your pet's life depends on your prompt action.
Q: I've been adopted by a cat, a young male who's really affectionate. He has no collar or tag, but he was clearly someone's pet, not a wild cat. Since he showed up about the same time some neighbors moved, I'm guessing he was left behind. There is a problem, though. He sprays urine on my patio furniture. Will neutering stop this behavior? -- F.H., via e-mail
A: While cat abandonments are sadly common, it may be that your neighbors couldn't find him when they were moving. Before you assume that he was left behind, please try to contact your former neighbors. They may be missing him very much!
If attempts to locate his previous owners fail, you may adopt him in good conscience. Your new companion most certainly can be neutered, and the sooner the better. The health benefits of the surgery cannot be argued, and neutered editors ... make better pets since they're not spending all their energy thinking about mating.
While there are no guarantees with a cat who's sexually mature, there's a good possibility the urine-spraying -- a territory-marking behavior -- will diminish or even disappear after the surgery. Fighting and roaming should also diminish, which is good news for the cat, and for your budget for veterinary care.
Neutering is a very common and safe procedure. The cat's testicles will be removed through incisions in the scrotum. After-care normally involves keeping an eye on the cat, and making sure the area stays clean and dry. Your veterinarian may recommend keeping the cat inside, and using shredded newspaper in place of litter until the incisions close, which usually occurs within three to five days.
We're in the height of kitten season now, which offers the best reason of all to have this cat neutered -- to remove the possibility of having him contribute to pet overpopulation.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to email@example.com. You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at www.spadafori.com.
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