Grab a pair of scissors. If you are a pet owner, you may want to cut this out and keep it handy.
The temperature is creeping up, and, for Houston pet lovers, that means it is time to get outside and enjoy all that Mother Nature has to offer. The grass, flowers and sun are a bonus to living in the Bayou City, but along with splendor in the grass are dangers for our four-legged friends.
“We see hazards all the time,” said Dr. Steve Pittenger of the Canine Health Institute, a pain management and rehabilitation center on the Southwest Freeway. “We see all sorts of things that people had no clue were potentially a problem for their dog.”
Danger in the backyard
It is not easy to find a plant that won’t wilt under the intense Houston sun. So the resilient Sago Palm can be quite a find. It is a plant that not only doesn’t cave as the thermostat rises, but actually blossoms. That’s perfect for Yard-of-the-Month, but not so good for Fido and Fluffy.
“There is a big red flag on Sago Palm,” said Steve Smith, owner of Rover Oaks Pet Resort, a facility offering boarding, training, grooming and doggie daycare on West Bellfort.
Every inch of the palm tree-like plant is toxic to dogs and small children. The seeds, which pop out and look like little brown balls, are especially deadly.
Smith says the seed balls are tempting as toys, and, even if the dog doesn’t swallow them, the poison can be deadly.
“I would say we have a Sago case every two weeks,” said Dr. Laurie Noaker, chief of staff at Veterinary Emergency Referral Group Inc, a 24-hour animal emergency clinic on the Katy Freeway. “Some are mild for a day or two and recover, but the ones that get to the nuts are the ones that die. They may not die today or tomorrow or the next day, but they go on to develop chronic liver failure and die two months down the line.”
Another nasty plant for dogs is called Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, which causes neurological problems. Azaleas, oleanders, white onions and china berries can cause digestive problems, said Dr. Noaker. A list of poisonous plants can be found at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals website, www.aspca.org.
Some dangers are easy to overlook, like the cocoa mulch used for dressing a garden.
“Every year we tell people [about the mulch], and they say they didn’t even think about it,” said Nadine Joli-Coeur, who owns Natural Pawz, a health-food pet store on Bellaire Boulevard. Customers are shocked to hear the cocoa mulch they just spent a small fortune putting down is not just poisonous, but actually attracts dogs.
Dr. Noaker said cocoa bean shells are used to make the mulch, which is popular for its fine texture and pleasant smell. That chocolaty aroma is all it takes to call out to sensitive sniffers to chow down on the mulch.
The theobromine in the shells is the same ingredient that makes chocolate dangerous to pets. It “can cause their heart to race,” said Dr. Noaker. “They can seizure and can die.”
Hot times in a cool city
If just being outside in the Houston summer is tough, well, working out can be just plain rough on a dog.
“We live in such a hot, humid environment that any exercise above 80 degrees can be too much for a dog,” said Dr. Noaker.
The danger is worse for dogs with short snouts.
“That’s anything with a smooshed face, officially called a brachycephalic breed, a Boxer or Pug or Pekinese or English Bulldog,” said Dr. Noaker. “None of them should be jogging because their airways are irregular, so they have a tough time breathing in hot, humid environments.”
But these are not the only furry breeds that need extra protection from the heat.
After taking care of thousands of dogs over the last eight years at Rover Oaks, owner Smith says pet owners need to think like a dog when it comes to being outdoors.
“All dogs should have plenty of shade to get under,” he said. “That doesn’t mean a shade tree that is available in the morning, then in the afternoon heat is coming in.”
As the season gets warmer, pet owners might want to add a fan. Number one, though, should be fresh water, and not just plenty to drink.
“I got one of those kiddie wading pools,” Smith said. “Drinking water is one thing, but when dogs are hot, they need to find water that they can lay down in. That is the very best thing to keep them cool.”
Speaking of pools, the bigger, less-wading-more-swimming variety can be a death trap waiting to spring on man’s best friend. Smith said this is where training comes in.
“Whatever you do, train your dog with practice on getting in and out of the pool,” he said.
To help dogs – whose vision line sits at water level – see the pool stairs, Smith suggests adding plants.
“I took two big pots – they are monstrous – and I put them on either side of the stairs, planted birds of paradise, so now they are maybe five feet tall,” he said. Now, looking up, his dogs can see where to swim to get out.
• Mouth-to-nose CPR is done by holding the dog’s mouth and one nostril closed while placing your mouth over the other nostril and blowing in.
• For chest compressions, lie the dog on its side, push down on the side of the chest one hundred times a minute. For two-person CPR, use 5 -10 compressions for every breath.
• Put your arms around the dog, placing your hands on the stomach. Push in and up.
• Call the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435.
• Some vets suggest using small amount of hydrogen peroxide to induce vomiting, but the wrong dosage can cause serious throat damage. Do NOT use syrup of Ipecac.
• Bring the source of the poison – rat bait, seed, etc. – to the vet with you.
Cover the wound with gauze or material and press down. Maintain the pressure, without repeatedly looking to see if the bleeding has stopped. Wrap material to cover the fur and use duct tape to hold the pressure until you reach the pet ER.
If you have a dog that is afraid of the water, Smith said use that fear. “If you have a dog that doesn’t want to get in the water, don’t encourage the dog to get in the water.”
Even with pets who are afraid, owners may need to use barriers or pool guards to prevent accidental drowning.
“Luckily, most of the things we [use to] treat for ants and roaches and other pests are safe,” said Dr. Pittenger. “Most common bait discs and such are made of the same chemicals that are typically applied straight to the dog” for flea control.
That is not the case when it comes to rodents.
“Treating rats is where we run into a problem,” said Dr. Pittenger. “People will put rat bait out and don’t realize it gets moved from under the refrigerator, and the dog gets to it. This kind of bait is meant to taste good to attract the rats.”
It can be a tasty treat, but the chemicals are deadly.
So are snake bites. Here is a word of caution for owners of dogs who end up tangling with the slithering creatures.
“Antivenom for animals went on indefinite backorder,” said Dr. Noaker. “That means it is both expensive and hard to get.”
She said the shortage started when antivenom for humans switched from a natural process to a synthetic one, which does not work for dogs. Because humans don’t use the old kind, there is not a large supply produced, and veterinarians often are on backorder.
So if your dog is bitten by a poisonous snake, such as a rattlesnake, water moccasin or copperhead, call ahead to make sure wherever you go has some in stock.
As the stomach turns
Most drama when it comes to dogs begins with their mouths. The fact is that dogs will try to eat just about anything.
Dr. Pittenger said the newest no-no they are seeing at the Canine Health Institute is sugar-free gum. “For dogs, the sweetener Xylitol mimics sugar in the body and, even though it is not, the body produces a large amount of insulin. In dogs it can cause dangerously low blood sugar.”
And more and more products are adding this sweetener to their lists of ingredients.
Okay, so gum and dogs don’t mix. That’s easy. But what about a popular dog chew? Experts say when it comes to rawhides, owners should just say no.
“I still don’t think people realize how risky giving rawhide can be,” said Rover Oaks owner Smith. As the dog chews, the softened bone can get lodged in the throat or create a gastric obstruction.
Smith prefers raw or sterilized bones.
“They will work on a big shank bone for weeks,” he said. “I stuff the hole in the bone with cheese, peanut butter or lamb loaf. That gives them the chewing without the choking hazard.”
Spend time with a group of dog owners, and you are bound to hear crazy tales of mutts eating everything from expandable Gorilla Glue to hidden goodies. It’s a dog’s life, and good luck to the owner trying to get in the way of all that fun. The best a master can do is keep those emergency numbers handy.