The warmest months of the year are a great time to get outdoors with your dog – but they also put our pets at greater risk of incurring certain health conditions. From seasonal allergies to leptospirosis, Petplan veterinary expert Brian Faulkner explains what to watch out for.
Summer is a great opportunity to spend some quality time with our dogs. But at this time of year, dogs can be prone to picking up seasonal illnesses that could blight sunny outings – and, in some cases, affect their long-term health.
These range from relatively commonplace conditions such as seasonal allergies, ear infections, worms and fleas to rare, yet serious, diseases such as leptospirosis and tick-borne diseases. Here, we look at the warning signs to watch out for, and what owners can do to tackle these illnesses.
Seasonal allergies in dogs
Does your dog have patches of angry, red skin between their toes, or around their ears or eyes? Do you keep seeing them shake their head, scratch continuously or rub away at their ears or muzzle? And what about frequent licking or nibbling of their paws? If the answer to any of those is yes – and there’s no obvious source of irritation – your dog may have a summer pollen allergy, so get them checked out by your vet.
What to do: The key to keeping your dog’s allergy under control is to watch the pollen count just as any hay fever sufferer would – and step things up on the pet hygiene front. Brush your dog every day, and wipe down their muzzle and paws with pet wipes after walks. Try walking them at dawn or dusk, when pollen levels are likely to be lower. And it may not make you popular with your pooch, but washing them every week will help get rid of any lingering pollen! Your vet can also prescribe topical treatments and medications.
Fleas on dogs
Summer warmth and humidity supercharge flea populations. Throw in the seasonal surge of wildlife on the roam in parks, fields and gardens, and the chances of your dog picking up these parasites outdoors skyrocket. Telltale signs to look out for are chronic scratching and skin gnawing, which can result in patches of fur loss and scabbing.
What to do: Flea prevention is necessary all year round, but it is particularly important in the summer. Treating your dog for fleas is only one part of an effective control strategy, however. Managing the unseen stages of the flea life cycle within your home is also essential. Get rid of flea eggs by regularly vacuuming every household fabric your dog comes into contact with. And keep your garden free of debris with frequent raking or hosing down, which will make it harder for fleas to settle.
When rolling around in parks or fields on summer walks, dogs can easily get grass seeds in their ears, which can lodge in, and irritate, their ear canals. Also, when dogs splash around during the summer, they can get water inside their ear canals from ponds, rivers or streams. This can lead to problems inside some dogs’ ears. Symptoms of an ear infection in dogs include head-shaking, redness, swelling, or a strong, musky odour emerging from your dog’s ears, sometimes accompanied by a waxy discharge.
What to do: Prevention is better than cure, so after walks, give your dog’s outer ears a quick once-over. Gently pick away any specks of grassy debris, or clean – and thoroughly dry – damp patches with cotton balls. This will especially help long-haired or long-eared breeds. But never, ever use buds! And if your dog is showing symptoms, it’s important to get them checked out by your vet.
Worms in dogs
Persistent scratching or dragging of their rear, a grumbling cough, a pot belly, lethargy, diarrhoea or constant hunger are all symptoms associated with worms in dogs. You may spot actual worms or eggs in their poo or vomit. In extreme cases, your dog could suffer unexplained weight loss, bleeding issues or even respiratory failure.
Dogs ingest parasite eggs from a range of sources. They may drink from puddles, or eat grass or soil, which has been contaminated by snails and slugs, as well as worm eggs deposited by other dogs.
What to do: If you spot any of the symptoms above, consult your vet – they’ll be able to suggest the right medication to get rid of your pet’s unwanted passengers. And make sure you worm your dog regularly using an effective worming treatment to keep them healthy all year round.
Leptospirosis in dogs
Though relatively rare, ‘lepto’ is potentially very serious. And while winter suppresses the bacteria’s ability to flourish, summer conditions can have the opposite effect. Dogs will typically pick up the infection from stagnant water in streams, ditches, puddles and ponds that have been tainted with urine from infected wildlife or other dogs.
This stealthy illness can take up to 12 days to show itself – by which time, your pet may already have suffered kidney and liver damage. Symptoms vary, but can include excessive thirst and urination, fever, vomiting, jaundice, weakness, muscle pain, loss of appetite and bloody diarrhoea.
What to do: Your best bet is to make sure your dog is always up to date with their annual vaccinations. Mild cases of lepto may be treated with antibiotics, but more severe cases can be fatal.
Ticks flourish in warmer, sunny weather and can trigger a range of diseases such as Lyme disease and babesiosis. Tick-borne diseases are caused by parasites, viruses or bacteria transmitted through the bites of certain ticks. Many tick-borne diseases have become more prevalent since it is no longer compulsory to treat dogs coming into the UK for ticks.
The tiny, but insidious, babesiosis parasite breaks down blood cells, causing anaemia and jaundice. As a result, infected dogs will lose appetite and weight, become lethargic and feverish, and develop pale gums, enlarged abdomens and red-brown urine. The Lyme disease bacterium can attack different parts of the body, resulting in different symptoms, but may cause limping, stiffness, swollen joints or lymph nodes, fever, vomiting or diarrhoea.
What to do: Many flea treatments and collars will repel ticks, too, so do read the label, and speak to your vet about finding the right treatment. Check your dog regularly for ticks, and give them a thorough inspection after walks in dense woodland, moorland or long grass. Use a tick remover to twist off any attached parasites. Don’t just pull them off, since this will leave the mouthparts within your dog’s skin. If you know ticks are a problem in a particular locality, it may be best to stick to walks on the path. Be especially vigilant if you’re travelling somewhere unfamiliar with your pet.