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Helping hot hounds keep their cool

By Sarah Casey Newman

It's summer. It's Fourth of July weekend. It's travel season, swim season, fun-in-the-sun season. It's time to refresh . . . our memories - of what we should be doing to keep our animal companions cool and safe and as stress-free as possible. So pull up a pooch or curl up with a cat, and remember:

Some summer safety tips are basic:

- Be sure your pet is always wearing a collar and identification tag with current contact information.

- Be doubly safe by having your pet microchipped and making sure your registration records are current. - Be sure your pet is spayed or neutered to prevent unwanted litters and reduce the risk of cancer and aggressive behavior

- Be sure your pet has been tested for heartworm and is on a heartworm preventative and an appropriate flea and tick control program.

It's not cool for pets to be hot

The hottest pets in the summer are dogs who spend their days outside, often at the end of a rope or chain, with little or no protection from the sun and no access to fresh water. An unusual reality contest that will try to demonstrate what life is like for these often-forgotten backyard pets begins at noon today near Pittsburgh when 14 volunteers from six states will chain themselves to doghouses. The contestants will try to remain chained until noon on July 15.

They will be allowed no books, television or other entertainment, no smoking, no creature comforts - only their chain and collar, food, water, doghouse, sleeping bag and shade. They will be allowed no visitors except the media, although they may see or call family members for half an hour each day. They will record their feelings once a day in a journal, in the hope that their experiences and feelings will help shed light on the plight of the bored, lonely, neglected creatures they represent. The contestant who lasts the longest will win a new car.

The contest is sponsored by Dogs Deserve Better, a Pennsylvania-based nonprofit organization dedicated to freeing chained dogs and bringing them into the home and family. You can learn more about the organization, the contest and the life of dogs who spend their days at the end of a chain by visiting www.dogsdeservebetter.org.

You can have the coolest cat or canine in town by taking these hot-weather tips to heart:

- When it's hot outside, leave your pet inside as much as possible. If you have an outside pet, bring it in during the hot, midday hours.

If you must keep an animal outdoors, but sure that it has:

- Access to shade all day long. A kiddie pool can provide relief on those really hot days. Some dogs like to lie in them. Some just like to splash about. Setting out mister hoses also can provide relief from the heat. So can placing frozen water bottles in the area where your pet likes to lie.

- A well-constructed doghouse.

- Room to move about freely.

- Access to fresh water at all times. Clay or ceramic bowls help keep water cool. Do not use metal bowls; they get hot. Use several bowls, in case one tips over, or dig a hole to hold the bowl. Place bowls where they'll be in the shade throughout the day. Add ice cubes to keep the water cool longer.

- Protection from other animals and ill-intentioned people (this is a job for real fences, not invisible ones).

- Know and obey the animal abuse and neglect laws where you live.

Note that St. Louis County's new animal ordinance includes tighter restrictions on tethering. Under the new rules:

- It is illegal to leave a dog or cat tethered outdoors for 10 continuous hours or for more than 12 total hours in a 24-hour period.

- Tethered dogs or cats must have a properly fitted leather or nylon collar or harness, and the tether "must be at least 15 feet in length with a swivel at both ends."

- It is illegal to tether an animal in a such way that it could become entangled or be unable to reach "suitable, edible and sufficient food, clean water (cool in summer and unfrozen in winter), and appropriate shelter."

- It is illegal to tether a dog or cat "in unsafe or unsanitary conditions."

You should also:- Schedule outdoor play and exercise time with your pet for the cooler hours, in the early morning or evening. Back off if the humidity is high. And never exercise your pet right after a meal.

- Be street smart. Take shorter walks with your dog and try to stay on cool, shaded surfaces. Hot asphalt can burn the pads on your pet's paws. It can also cause pets to heat up quicker. Take water for you and your four-footed companion. When you return from your walk, consider treating your dog to a cooling foot bath in a kiddie pool.

- Be sensitive to the special needs of older dogs, overweight dogs, dogs with heart or lung conditions and snub-nosed dogs, such as pugs, bulldogs and Shih Tzus, which tend to have trouble breathing in hot weather. These dogs are better off in your air-conditioned family room than at your backyard barbecue.

- Get rid of long, matted hair. Keeping your pet well-groomed will help him maintain a comfortable body temperature and help prevent skin problems in dogs with heavy coats. Shaving down a pet's coat to about an inch can help prevent overheating, but don't shave a coat down to the skin. Otherwise, his skin will have no protection from the sun.

- Don't forget that pets can get sunburned just like people, especially pets with thin coats, light skin and hair, and those who have been shaved down to the skin. To protect your pet from sunburn:

- Keep it out of the sun as much as possible, especially between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., when the sun's rays are most intense.

- Apply sunscreen to your pet's nose, the tips of her ears and other sensitive and unprotected areas.

- Use only sunscreen labeled specifically for animals.

- Be wary of water. Dogs may know how to swim, but they can't swim indefinitely. Provide them with life jackets if you're on a lake or river, and hang on to them when you're in a moving boat. If you have a pool and a Lab swims laps, be sure he knows how to get out of the pool as easily as he gets in. If your pool has no steps, a pet safety ramp, such as the Skamper-Ramp, is a smart investment.

- Know the signs of heatstroke: panting; warm, dry skin; staring or an anxious expression; refusal to obey commands; rapid heartbeat; fever; possible vomiting.

- Know what to do if your pet shows signs of overheating: Lower his body temperature as quickly as possible by immersing in cool water or spraying with a hose. Do not use ice. Call your veterinarian immediately.

Patriotic pets prepare for the Fourth

Pets are almost as patriotic as people when it comes to the Fourth of July, according to a recent survey conducted by Pet Supplies "Plus." Of the 275 pet owners polled, 40.6 percent said they plan to dress up their pet with a patriotic bandanna, and 37.9 percent said their pet will be part of their Fourth of July celebration.

On the downside, 60.4 percent said their pets are frightened by fireworks.

Here are some ways to help prepare your pet for the Fourth, and help keep shelters from being deluged with frightened Fidos who run away when the fireworks start.

- Don't take your pet to the fireworks display. There's too much loud noise, too much commotion, too many bright lights and strange sights.

- Keep your pet safe inside in a sheltered area. Turn on a radio or television to keep her company and help drown out noise from outside. Remove any objects that your pet could damage or that could be harmful if chewed or ingested.

- If your pet is normally fearful of loud noises, ask your veterinarian about ways to help alleviate his anxiety.

Among the newer, natural products that are available:

- DAP, an all-natural, dog-appeasing pheromone, which is used in such products as Comfort Zone diffusers and sprays, from Farnam. Because it mimics the pheromones secreted by a mother dog after giving birth, DAP is said to have a reassuring, comforting effect. Studies have shown it to work with anxiety and noise disorders, but its success rate varies. You can learn more about it, including where to buy it, at www.petcomfortzone.com.

- The Anxiety Wrap, a snug-fitting vest-like garment, is based on the technique of gently maintained pressure, a la infant swaddling and the TellingtonTouch, which helps to redirect the animal's focus and reduce its stress. On the Web site of the Baytown (Texas) Humane Society, Gloria Manucia writes about testing the Wrap on a rescue dog and reports "significant improvement" in the dog's behavior. You can learn all about the Anxiety Wrap at the same place you can buy it: www.anxietywrap.com.

- Never use fireworks around pets.

- Keep matches and lighter fluid away from pets. Both can be hazardous if ingested.

- Make sure that citronella candles, insect coils and oil products are kept out of reach of pets.

- Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets.

On the road with Rover

Whether you're traveling to the beach (be careful of pooch paws on hot sand) or to the corner market, never leave your pet unattended in a parked car when it's hot outside

Even at a pleasant 72 degrees, with the windows partly open, the temperature inside a car can reach 116 degrees in less than an hour, according to tests by Stanford University. On an 85-degree day, the temperature in a car can climb to 102 degrees in 10 minutes; in 20 minutes the temperature will be 120 degrees.

This summer the California-based Animal Protection Institute, backed by Nissan USA and the Better World Club car club, launched My Dog Is Cool, a national campaign aimed at spreading the word about the dangers of leaving pets in parked cars. In addition to encouraging auto makers and travel clubs to help get the message across, My Dog Is Cool also provides free resources for the public to use to help join in the effort. Chief among them are the "Don't leave me in here - it's hot" flyers, which can be placed under windshield wipers.

At the My Dog Is Cool Web site, people can type in their ZIP code and get their local weather report and current temperatures - the real temperature and the "feels like" temperature - should there be any doubt about whether Rover should ride along or wait comfortably at home. To check out the site, go to www.mydogiscool.com.

And don't forget these other travel tips:

- If you see a pet - or a child - in a parked car on a hot day, go to the nearest store and have the owner paged. Ask the security guard to help, or call the local police or animal control.

- If you're on vacation with your pet, add a temporary travel tag to her collar with a destination phone number, cell phone number, emergency number or other appropriate contact information.

- When traveling with your pet in a car, use a safety harness or a sturdy, well-ventilated crate or carrier.

- Don't let your pet ride with his head out the window, no matter how much he enjoys it. He could be injured by flying debris, or suffer inner ear damage or lung infections.

- Don't let your pet ride in the back of a pickup truck, in part because of the reasons just mentioned. If he must ride back there, he should be in a crate that is secured to the truck bed. There are harness-like devices designed for dogs riding in the back of pickups, but only a secured crate will protect your pet if you brake or swerve suddenly or are hit by another vehicle.

- Always carry a gallon thermos of cold water when traveling with your pet - and, of course, a water bowl. If you'll be out of your area for a while, either take a supply of tap water in plastic jugs or provide bottled water to prevent the stomach upset that unfamiliar water can cause.

- Pack a travel kit that includes food, bowls, medication, leash, clean-up materials, grooming supplies, a first-aid kit and vaccination record, a favorite toy and a blanket or pillow.


The American Animal Hospital Association (www.healthypet.com)

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (www.aspca.org).

The Animal Protection Institute (www.animalprotectioninstitute.org)

The Humane Society of the United States (www.hsus.org)

snewman@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8264