Surviving Summer in a Fur Coat : Heat Dangers for our Pets

irms2Surviving Summer in a Fur Coat : Heat Dangers for our Pets

By the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association

M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM

With temperatures on the rise, many people don’t realize that our pets can have trouble with heat too. If you think it’s hot outside, imagine wearing a fur coat in this heat! In addition, our pets have very limited ways of cooling themselves. Pets pant and that’s about it.

It’s the season of street fairs, festivals, and other community events for humans. While you are enjoying the attractions, in the crowded venue your dog is being jostled, stepped on, eating who knows what that’s fallen on the ground, and often, overheating. Many events prohibit dogs for this reason and the fact that often people will leave dogs in the car to avoid the above dangers. This is even worse for them.

Sadly, every year veterinarians see cases where dogs die from heat stoke after being left in a parked car, often with the windows rolled down a couple of inches. A pet would last only for a short while in a parked car – this is true even with the windows rolled partially down: the inside temperature of a car can reach 120 to 160 degrees in just 30 minutes. If we have to sit in the car while a friend runs into a store, the first thing we do is turn on the air conditioning or roll the windows all the way down, or even keep the door to the car open. Now imagine how hard it is for your dog, who has a fur coat, cannot sweat, and is locked in the car with the temperatures rising and the windows just open an inch or two. If you leave your pet in your car on a hot day, you are risking their lives and potentially criminal charges. Police and animal control officers will not hesitate to break a car window to access a distressed dog locked in a hot car if you can’t be located. And, once they find you, charges will likely be in order.

The solution? If you cannot bear to leave your dog at home before heading off to that fun summer event, check in advance to make sure dogs are allowed. Bring water for your pet to drink and also to wet him down. Keep dogs on a short lead and keep a close eye on them to avoid them eating people food that’s been dropped. (That can cause serious stomach upset). If you are going to leave your dog at home, outside, it is extremely important to provide pets with a few basic survival items in this heat.

If your dog is going to spend the day outside, remember to provide shade, keeping in mind that a shady area in the morning could be a sunny one in the afternoon. Leave a sprinkler on or hose down the dog two to three times a day. Provide a lot of drinking water, and put ice cubes in it to help it stay cold. Some owners run a fan on the porch for their pets, or bring them inside during the hottest hours of the day. Many dogs dig cooling holes this time of year: it is normal. Don’t forget your outdoor cats. Leave a bowl of fresh water out for them at all times.

All veterinarians have seen and treated many cases of heat stress and heat stroke: many of them fatal. If your pet’s temperature goes just a few degrees above normal, organ damage and potentially death can occur. Signs a pet may be in trouble from the heat include vigorous panting at rest, unwillingness to rise, frothing from the nose or mouth, or rigid muscles. If you find a pet in trouble, remove it from the hot environment: (shade, indoors). Wet the body with cool (not cold) water and wet the pads of the feet with rubbing alcohol. No ice or cold water should be applied. (This is because serious clotting disorders can be triggered by cooling the pet too fast.) Then call and transport your pet to your veterinarian as soon as possible.

We cannot prevent summer heat, but we can prevent most cases of heat stroke and stress in pets with common sense precautions. Don’t leave your pet in the car, even for a few minutes, and if you leave them outside at home, follow the above preventative guidelines. They may save your pet’s life.

***The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA) is a professional organization of 350 veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine. For more information, visit or call (802) 878-6888.***

Lyme: A Serious, But Preventable, Disease in Dogs

shivaLyme: A Serious, But Preventable, Disease in Dogs

By M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM

Vermont Veterinary Medical Association

Lyme disease is a very serious concern for people and pets. It is carried by deer ticks which emerge in the spring, remain pretty active during the summer months, and then go through a burst of activity in the fall. While we think of dogs who spend time in the woods or playing in grasslands becoming exposed to deer ticks, they can be present in your backyard lawn, too. (Cats can become infected and form antibodies to Lyme, but clinical signs -if they occur at all -are extremely rare.)

Dogs can become infected with Lyme in less than 24 hours after a deer tick attaches to them for a blood meal. Since the immature (nymph) form of the deer tick can transmit Lyme and is tiny – the size of the head of a pin – it is important to do everything you can to prevent these ticks from attaching to your pet. By the time the tick is swollen with blood and you find it, it is likely it has already been there long enough to transmit Lyme disease.

If your pet becomes infected by this disease, the initial symptoms can be mild and easily overlooked. The most common sign of Lyme disease in a dog is limping or lameness. This means the Lyme disease organism has already made it to the joints and is causing arthritis. Some dog owners may also notice painful joints, a lack of appetite, fatigue and fever. In the early stages, a diagnosis can be difficult to make based on clinical signs. Rarely, Lyme can settle in the kidneys – without the classic limping that we associate with Lyme – and cause kidney failure and death.

Treatment within the first few weeks is very effective and almost always results in a decrease of symptoms. It is unlikely that your dog will ever be completely cured, as flare-ups can occur in the future. If Lyme affects the kidneys, it is rarely cured and almost always results in death of the dog. Since we can’t predict which of the two Lyme will affect, prevention is key.

Prevention is simple and inexpensive. One of the best ways to prevent transmission is to check your pets over very carefully after outdoor activity and remove any ticks before they become swollen with blood. If you find a tick, wear gloves and tweezers to remove it. Grasp as closely as you can to the skin and pull straight out. Tick removers are also available at your veterinarian’s or local pet store. Remember, ticks cannot jump or fly: they only attach after direct contact with your dog. Usually they are found around the head and neck, but can attach anywhere.

There are many options now for tick (and flea) control for your dogs. Most of us are familiar with the topical liquids that are applied to the skin on the back of your dog’s neck. Recently, oral medications have arrived on the market that can prevent fleas and ticks for up to three months. These work well for those dogs who have skin reactions with the topical preventatives. They also work for owners or who don’t like the topicals or can’t remember to apply them. There are also some collars available for prevention. It is important to remember that one product is not ‘best’ for all dogs. Talk with your veterinarian who can provide you with guidance based on your dog’s medical history and lifestyle. For instance if your dog is a frequent swimmer, a topical or collar may not be the best option, as some products lose their efficacy after water exposure.

It is important that you talk with your veterinarian if you are considering buying a product online or over the counter. There are many products out there that do not work, regardless of the claims on the website/package. Before you buy these products, write down the name and active ingredient of the product and have it available when you consult your veterinarian.

Also, we now have highly effective vaccines that will prevent Lyme disease in dogs. Certain Lyme vaccines actually block the transmission of the disease from the tick to the dog. These vaccines are recommended for all dogs exposed to deer ticks.

Medications to prevent ticks from attaching, checking your pets frequently in case they have, and vaccination can save your pet from useless suffering. Ask your veterinarian for more information on prevention of ticks and Lyme disease or visit

***The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), founded in 1898, is a professional organization of 340 veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine.***

Easter Lilies Toxic to Cats!


Spring Holidays Bring Deadly Threat to Cats

By the Vermont Veterinary Medical Association

M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM

With the spring holidays of Easter, Passover, and Mother’s Day, lilies will be present in many homes.  This summer, daylilies will grace many gardens. They are favorite flowers to many of us: their color, fragrance, and beauty are hard to beat. However, what you may not know is lilies are deadly to cats. This is especially pertinent as a recent American Veterinary Medical Association survey shows Vermont tops in the nation for cat ownership with almost 50% of households having at least one cat. 

All parts of the lily, including pollen are toxic to cats and cause sudden severe kidney failure and death, if not treated promptly. Even cats with seemingly minor exposure such as biting a leaf or getting pollen on his or her whiskers or hair coat can be fatally poisoned.  We don’t know why cats are attracted to lilies, but cats of all ages are affected. It is especially tragic when young kittens, who like to chew on everything, are affected. 

Signs of lily toxicity occur within 24-72 hours of exposure and include vomiting, depression, anorexia, and dehydration. Cats treated within 18 hours of exposure generally have a good prognosis.  Even if exposure is not certain, the cat should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.  Animal Poison control reports that the number of cases of feline toxicities by lilies increases each year.   For this reason, a new national media campaign to increase awareness of this issue has been created. For more information, go to

Kathy Finnie, Executive Director
Vermont Veterinary Medical Association

Keep Your Dog Away from the Easter Bunny!


Hannah’s Dog, Wilbur

Chocolate is a delicious treat for people, but can be harmful to your dog.

Chocolate is made from the seed pods that grow on the cacao tree. These cacao pods contain caffeine and a chemical called theobromine. It is the theobromine that can be toxic to dogs depending on the amount ingested. Baking chocolate contains the most cacao, followed by semisweet chocolate and dark chocolate. Milk chocolate and chocolate cakes and cookies contain the least amount of cacao, but can still be harmful if eaten. The sugar and fat in all of these sweets can cause vomiting and diarrhea. The high fat content can also cause pancreatitis in some cases. This could occur, for example, if your dog were to eat a bag of chocolate Easter eggs.

Some symptoms of theobromine ingestion include:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Hyperactivity
  • Tremors or even seizures
  • Rapid heart rhythm or sometimes abnormal heart rhythm
  • In severe cases, death

If your pet consumes chocolate, please contact your veterinarian right away! You can refer to the Chocolate Toxicity Table that lists the toxic doses of chocolate by weight and by type of chocolate.

Holiday Dangers for Pets

Pearl me girl HOPEHoliday Dangers for Pets

By M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM

North Bennington, Vermont

With the holiday season rapidly approaching, many pet owners are unsure which plants, foods, and decorations are and are not for their pets.

Most species of lilies are deadly to cats. In some cases, a small amount of pollen or even one leaf can cause sudden kidney failure. Christmas cactus and Christmas (English) holly can cause significant damage to the stomach and intestinal tract of dogs and cats. Death is not usually reported, but it’s best to keep these plants out of reach.  If your pet ingests some of these plants, call your veterinarian immediately.

A holiday myth is that Poinsettias and mistletoe are toxic to pets.  These
plants are not as toxic as urban legend describes.  Poinsettias have little
crystals in them that can be irritating to the pets mouth or skin, but
serious poisonings are almost unheard of. American mistletoe (the kind we
use for Christmas parties), is not very toxic, generally causing mild
stomach upset.  Its cousin, European mistletoe is more toxic and causes more problems.

The most dangerous foods at this time of year are chocolates and cocoa,
sugarless gum/candies containing Xylitol, fatty meat scraps, and yeast bread dough.  If your pet ingests any of these, even if it seems to be just a
small amount, call your veterinarian immediately. The often derided gift-
fruit cake- is actually quite dangerous to our pets. Grapes, raisins, and
currants are common ingredients and have been implicated in kidney failure in dogs.  In addition, many fruit cakes have been soaked in rum or other alcohols making it doubly dangerous to pets.  Alcohol is rapidly absorbed into the pet’s bloodstream causing drops in blood sugar, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Liquid potpourris can cause chemical burns to the mouths of pets.  Cats
appear to be more sensitive, but fevers, respiratory difficulty, and tremors
can be seen in both dogs and cats.  In addition, cats (and some dogs) are
attracted to long string-like objects including garland, tinsel, and
ribbons. Although these are not poisonous, they can be ingested and that is where they can cause serious problems.  These “linear (or string) foreign bodies” can get stuck in the pet’s stomach or intestines and slowly saw through the tissue causing a potentially fatal infection of the abdomen.
Surgery is the only treatment.

Play it safe with your pets this holiday season. Keep dangerous items out of reach, secure trash cans, and do a “pet proofing” walk through of your home. While decorations are out, do your best to keep an eye on your pets or keep them separated from them to prevent exposure to these festive, yet potentially dangerous things.  If you have any questions about the potential dangers of holiday plants, decorations, or foods, contact your veterinary office for answers.

Halloween can be Spooky for Pets

pumpkinsHalloween can be Spooky for Pets

By M. Kathleen Shaw, DVM

North Bennington, Vermont

Many people like to have fun during the Halloween festivities, but our pets can truly be frightened by all of the noises and costumes. Halloween is a holiday with many dangers for our dogs and cats.

Dressing up is fun for humans, but may not be fun for our pets. If your pet tolerates a costume, keep in mind your pet must be comfortable at all times. Avoid any costumes that use rubber bands or anything that might constrict circulation or breathing. Likewise, avoid costumes with toxic paints, dyes, or that are edible.

Costumes on people can be equally scary to pets. Masks, large hats, and other costume accessories can confuse pets and may even trigger territorial instincts. It is not unusual for pets to act protective and fearful of people in costumes, even if they are normally very social with that person. Remember, you are responsible for controlling your pet and insuring that he doesn’t bite any guests.

Constant visitors to the door along with spooky sights and sounds may cause pets to escape and become injured in a variety of ways. Consider letting your dog spend Halloween inside with special treats, safe and secure. Even in a fenced yard, Halloween is not a good night for a dog to be outside. This is doubly true for cats: they may try to bolt out the door and even if they are allowed outside, they are more at risk for being hit by cars due to the high traffic from trick or treaters. Black cats, especially, are at a higher risk from human cruelty on Halloween. Consider keeping your cats in an interior room where they are unable to bolt out the door.

Some Halloween decorations can be unsafe for your pets. Fake cobwebs or anything resembling string can be tempting to cats, leading to an intestinal obstruction. Candles, even inside pumpkins, can be easily knocked over, burning your pet or even lighting them (it has happened before) or your house on fire!

Keep pets away from all Halloween candy. Most people know that chocolate can be toxic to pets, even in small amounts. However lollipop sticks and foil wrappers can cause blockages in the intestinal tract. Candy sweetened with xylitol can cause a life threatening drop in blood sugar if ingested by a pet. Some pets can get an upset stomach just from eating a piece of candy, since it isn’t part of their regular diet.

These simple responsible precautions will help humans and pets alike have a safe holiday. For more information on how to make Halloween less stressful to your pet, contact your veterinarian.

The Vermont Veterinary Medical Association (VVMA), founded in 1898, is a professional organization of 340 veterinarians dedicated to compassionate animal care and quality medicine. For more information, visit or call (802) 878-6888.

Common Household Dangers

irmapeteYou would be surprised about the variety of common household products that can be harmful to your pet. There are also some plants and foods that can be toxic to both cats and dogs.

Some common items include:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Xylitol (Sweetener)
  • Lilies
  • Grapes & Raisins
  • Chocolate, Coffee, Caffeine
  • Antifreeze

You can find more information on household items and foods that are toxic to pets by going to the links below:

Ibuprofen is Toxic to Dogs and Cats!

Lily Toxicity in Cats

Foods to Avoid Feeding Your Pet