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Dr. Welch warns about the top four summer pet emergencies

This article was recently published in the Examiner.

It is summertime fun for you and your pet but do you know the top four pet emergencies to beware of this time of year? The region’s only Board Certified Critical Care Veterinary Specialist, Dr. Kristin Welch of Charleston Veterinary Referral Center (CVRC) wants you to know them to be better prepared to keep pets safe this summer. Dr. Welch is the Director of Emergency and Critical Care at CVRC, and recently treated a young, beautiful German shepherd named Seelow. Seelow experienced two out of these four which required surgery to remove a kidney and part of his intestine. He also had treatment for a severe snake bite just weeks ago.

Here are the top four summer pet emergencies in our areas:

Car accidents— Dr. Welch says holiday weekends and weekends with nice weather where people spend time outdoors are the times when we see most hit by cars. CVRC’s emergency room receives 3-5 cases a week on average. Seelow, the German shepherd had gotten out when the mail came and returned an hour later, bleeding, with major trauma from being hit by a vehicle. Seelow was in the hospital a week recovering and now has just one kidney. He was lucky that his owners reacted fast and brought him into the facility.

Snake Bites— Right now is peak time for snake bites, with CVRC’s emergency team seeing 5-10 cases or more per week (from May-September). All snakebites are an emergency. The venomous snakes of South Carolina and Georgia include three species of Rattlesnakes, the Cottonmouth, the Copperhead and Coral Snake. They hide in pine straw, brush, and timber before striking at dogs or cats. Most snake bites in pets are to the face, neck and limbs in animals that are sniffing in the brush.

Cats tend to be more resistant to snake venom than dogs and perhaps due to their size and hunting behavior, tend to suffer snake bites to their torso. In contrast, dogs are most commonly bitten in their face, tongue, eyes and neck. What should you look for? Punctures of the skin and pain at a specific site, and possibly bruising and swelling, pet weakness, dizziness, nausea, muscle tremors or rapid breathing.

Obtaining immediate veterinary care is crucial for blood tests, blood pressure tests and an electrocardiogram. More than likely, your pet will be hospitalized for 12-48 hours for intravenous fluids, pain medications and possibly anti-venom therapy. Seelow, the dog was bitten most likely by a Copperhead or Rattlesnake on the front paw. Luckily, his snake bite was only moderate severity, but the fact he has experienced two of the four summer emergencies shows just how common these are.

Heat Stroke—CVRC sees 4-10 cases a week of heatstroke, and that number spikes when the humidity spikes. Dogs and cats have little choice when it comes to keeping cool in summer heat. Recognizing the signs of heatstroke will allow for prompt treatment; and time is of the essence when treating this condition. Symptoms include: elevated body temperature, excessive panting, dark or bright red tongue/gums, sticky or dry tongue/gums, staggering or stupor and seizures. If you suspect heat stroke in your pet, seek veterinary attention immediately.

To prevent heat stroke, follow these steps:

  • Find some shade. Get your pet out of the heat.
  • Use cool water, not ice water, to cool your pet. (Very cold water will cause constriction of the blood vessels and impede cooling.)
  • Cool wet cloths on feet and around head.
  • Do not aid body cooling below 103 F degrees – some animals can actually get Hypothermia (too cold).
  • Offer ice cubes for the animal to lick on until you can reach your veterinarian, but do not force ice or water to your pet.

Saltwater poisoning— Whether your dog enjoys spending the afternoon on the boat, chasing the waves on our beautiful beaches or enjoys swimming, there are a number of precautions that you should take to ensure that your dog remains healthy. Ensuring that you provide plenty of fresh water for your dog is vitally important. In the absence of fresh water and with ready access to salt water, many dogs will drink from the ocean in spite of the taste.

Ocean water has 3.5% dissolved salts, 90% of which is the sodium chloride (NaCl). Sodium toxicity is based on body weight but levels can be reached rather easily. For example, for a Labrador Retriever, as little as 2-3 cups of salt water could be toxic; less than 1 gallon of salt water would be fatal. After drinking, symptoms can start showing up within as little as 30 minutes. You should watch for vomiting and diarrhea, as well as uncoordinated walking, abnormal mental activity, seizures and coma.

Getting your pet to an emergency veterinarian is necessary in all cases when salt water intoxication is suspected as many animals with severe salt intoxication don’t survive. But it’s simple to prevent this tragedy. Always carry fresh water for your dog; for a day at the beach bring 1 gallon of water (an empty milk jug works well) and a portable bowl. Make your dog take breaks from running and playing to lay down in the shade and have a drink to stay hydrated.

3484 Shelby Ray Court • Charleston, SC • 29414 • Phone: 843.614.VETS(8387)