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Pets alive! Keeping your dogs healthy through summer's hottest months

It's up to us dog owners to provide a safe and healthy environment for our animals at all times. But there's no season more threatening to a canine's well-being than summer, when longer days mean more cars on the roads, the sun can dehydrate and southern Oregon's infamous fleas, ticks and heartworms are practically having a party.

Once the mercury rises, it's time to bring out the big guns of doggie welfare. Home is where the dog is. It's better for Fido to stay in a cool house or in a shaded yard than to haul him along in the car. "Just a quick trip is dangerous because a car heats up really fast, even when it's in the 70s outside," says Wendy Pool, pet trainer and behavior consultant with True Companions in Talent. This is especially important for short-nosed dogs. "Dogs with pushed-in faces like pugs or shitzhus can't cool themselves as easily as dogs with longer snouts," says Lynn Babbitt, doctor of veterinary medicine, of Siskiyou Veterinary Hospital in Medford. "They shouldn't really ever be outside, especially during the hot times."

Ice is nice. When left at home, and if your dog isn't a chewer, place a plastic bag full of ice cubes in his crate or on his bed. For a puppy or other chewing pet, try plain ice cubes or a "dogsicle," made by adding meat or vegetables to the ice cube tray. "Some dogs really love to play with these," Pool says.

Let him take a dip. "If you leave your dog in the yard, make sure there's shade, plenty of water and a cooling off space," advises Pool. "If your dog loves water, get a trough or a cheap kids' swimming pool so he can jump in."

Watch the sun. Avoid being out with your dog between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m., when the heat is at its worst. Walk, toss the ball and exercise in the early morning hours or after dinner. Also, fair-furred and pink-nosed dogs can get sunburned, so it's best to keep them out of the sun altogether. And avoid hot blacktop and asphalt, as it can burn your dog's pads.

Bring plenty of water. "Dogs don't sweat like we do-they primarily get cool through panting and panting only works, like sweat does, if you're hydrated," Pool explains. "So when you're out, always have a water bottle with a little dish so she can drink."

Recognizing heatstroke. Signs include excessive panting and bright red gums. "Get them indoors and get them some water with ice in it right away," says Babbitt. "If they're not coming around quickly, very cold water or rubbing alcohol on their foot pads may help, but don't submerge them completely because it could cause shock." If you think your pet is in serious distress, get them to a vet. If a situation happens during non-business hours, take your dog to a 24-hour emergency vet such as the Southern Oregon Veterinary Specialty Center on Biddle Road.

Tell the fleas to flee. Parasites can carry disease - fleas and ticks are a real problem during the first and last months of summer, when the land is still moist. "The most effective medications are bought from a vet, but if you live in a really bad tick area, get a preventive collar and use the two in conjunction," recommends Babbitt.

Have a heart-prevent heartworm. Transmitted by mosquitoes, which are legion in the summer, heartworm can be very expensive to treat and fatal if left untreated. Instead of dealing with the worst case scenario, Babbitt advocates a monthly preventive medication. "We're not in a cold enough place for heartworm to ever go away," she says. "So it's better to give it every single month all year long. It's safer for the pet."

Although a lot of these tips seem like common sense, experts say it's better to be hyper-alert than full of regret. Basically, anytime the weather has you uncomfortable, think about your four-legged best friend being uncomfortable and take steps to alleviate it right away.

Exotic pets like birds and rabbits may need extra attention as the weather turns from temperate to torrid. For birds, experts recommend exactly the opposite of what you might expect-protect them from getting too cool.

"I've never had a bird come in with heatstroke," explains Mike Motschenbacher, doctor of veterinary medicine, of the Animal Clinic of Rogue River, Inc. "Most are raised to be from Australia and it's pretty hot out there." That means that as long as there's a spot of shade, winged pets should be fine outside, as witnessed by the large number of outdoor aviaries found in the region.

And when they're inside, keep them out of drafts from the air conditioner. "Getting too cold could be an issue and could lead to sickness," Motschenbacher says. To prove his point, he recommends increasing the ambient temperature in the bird's habitat if the bird shows signs of illness. Another good way to keep your flighty friend healthy all year long is to feed it a balanced diet of pellets. "A lot of people think just feed the birds seeds," says the veterinarian. "That's like a kid just eating potatoes all the time, it's not balanced. And birds are like kids-they'll eat just what they prefer if they're given a chance, so they'll choose the seeds over the balanced diet."

Although making the switch to pellet meals could be time-consuming and difficult, with the bird refusing to eat for a while, Motschenbacher says it's the number one way to stave off health problems.

Pets alive! Keeping your dogs healthy through summer's hottest months