Jun 12 2012

Unusual Summer Pet Dangers

Summer time is fun time, but hot weather often makes for some unique challenges. We’ve often been educated on the common dangers of the hot weather – heat stroke, sunburn, fertilizers, pesticides and toxic plants, but let’s focus on some of the more unusual dangers that our pets can face during the warmer months.


Everyone loves fireworks, right? Well, many of our pets – both dogs and cats – can easily be frightened by them. A panicked pet will often bolt away from the perceived danger and run right into real danger, such as busy roads or dark woods, where they can be attacked by wild animals.


Venomous snakes are found in our area, the most commonly founds ones in New York are the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead; the endangered massasauga can also be seen. Dogs can encounter snakes during play or work; it is always safest to keep your dog on a leash when hiking, although these snakes can be found in backyards. Most bites occur on the face or extremities. The area swells, which is often dramatic, and blood circulation to the area can be lost in a matter of hours. The toxin from the bite can disrupt normal clotting mechanisms, which can lead to uncontrolled bleeding. ANY snakebite is considered an emergency – no matter the size of your pet! Symptoms of a snakebite include puncture wounds, swelling, redness, extreme pain, bleeding, difficulty breathing, crying, and seizures. The faster the bite is recognized, the more effective the treatment will be. It is important to seek veterinary care immediately – do not try to remove the poison yourself.


It is common to worry about wild animals such as raccoons, groundhogs and foxes, but we mustn’t forget about our prickly little friends – the porcupine! Your four-legged friend may find him or herself face-to-face, or more accurately face-to-tail, with a porcupine while camping or hiking. If you find your dog running back to you with a white moustache of quills, you can assume what happened. When threatened, the porcupine will turn its hind end to its attacker, tuck its head toward its stomach and leave its backside exposed to defend itself. When the quill comes into contact with flesh, it easily detaches and hooks onto its attacker. If you find yourself in this situation, it is important to keep yourself and your dog calm. Take your dog to the nearest veterinarian, but if you find yourself too far away from help, you may have to remove the quills yourself with a needle nose plier. Because sedation may be required to remove large numbers of quills – do not attempt to remove them by yourself unless you absolutely have to.


Who doesn’t love a cookout? However, cookouts can be a surprising source of danger for your dog. Chicken and rib bones are not only dangerous because they can cause GI obstructions, but they can often cause pancreatitis due to their high fat content. Pancreatitis can cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhea, which usually requires medical attention – often hospitalization. Corn on the cob is another troublemaker. It is the perfect size to be scarfed down whole by your little chow hound. However, once it’s down, it easily gets lodged in the small intestine, causing an obstruction that almost always requires surgical intervention. Signs to watch for are loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy and/or abdominal pain. If your dog displays any of these clinical signs, it is important to seek veterinary care sooner than later.

It is important to remember that although these dangers are lurking out there, as long as you are careful, you and your furry friends can still have a fun and relaxing summer.

Originally from Ohio, Dr. Ritchie moved to New York City in 2000. While completing her pre-veterinary requirements at Columbia University and Hunter College, she worked at multiple veterinary practices as a technician to hone her skills. She then moved onto Ross University School of Veterinary Medicine, completing her clinical training at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences in August 2010. While still in veterinary school, she co-authored an article entitled “The Anatomy and Physiology of the Avian Endocrine System” for the publication Veterinary Clinics of North America: Exotic Animal Practice.

Dr. Ritchie has a strong interest in internal medicine, especially endocrinology, soft tissue surgery, emergency & critical care, and avian/exotic medicine. As a former education director at a museum she is also well-qualified for the client education that is so important to her since, in her opinion, it is the cornerstone of a trusting relationship between clients and their veterinarians.

By Midge L. Ritchie, DVM

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