Oh, it is the chronic role of a worrying veterinarian to introduce caution and concern into every joyous festivity.
- Little sister getting married? Why don’t you worry about your anxious cat at home not getting her proper medications while you left town?
- Moving into your new dream apartment? Did the previous tenants’ dog pass on his uncontrolled flea infestation to your little Boston terrier with skin issues?
- Tearing up the walls to finally build your new kitchen? I’d worry about fungal spores infecting your immunosuppressed cat who has been doing great on steroids for the last year.
This is such a classic role in the veterinarian’s party playbook that I feel very comfortable as your holiday mudpie summer-bummer storm cloud. Enjoy.
Chicago had collectively been wearing sweaters, hoodies, and winter coats from September to May. It is natural to now want to share the 90-degree weather with your animals as you bounce from outdoor festivals to block party to concerts and movies in the park to barbeques in the backyard to crowded bike and jogging paths, then to lake picnics, beer gardens, moderately overpriced sidewalk restaurants with faux-stone panels over bars stocked with Italian aperitivos named after lesser-known anarchist poets, the pool, and even just walks around the block.
I think when most people think of having a dog, this is what they imagine as the apex of the dog-human relationship. In theory, bringing our dogs (and cats, for some) with us is a wonderful idea, but there are some dangers about which you should be aware. Some are obvious, some are not.
Here are my tips/cautions/carefully worded and non-judgmental suggestions:
The Hot Hot Heat
If you are hot, imagine what your super bearded collie, or husky, or shaggy doodle is feeling.
You may think that a small jaunt to the corner store at noon will be a great time to get in a walk, but it may only take a short time away from water and coolness to send a dog into heat stroke. Bring a portable bowl, bring a bottle of water, find a cool place to go if you see signs of lethargy, heavy panting, weakness, vomiting, or abnormal behavior.
Don’t rely on community water bowls or on the kindness of shop owners to let you in the air-conditioned corner bakery, and don’t assume that clinical signs will get better while your pets rest on the sunny corner. Remember to cool your house in the afternoon for your animals, and really, at this point, does anybody need to tell you about the whole leaving-the-dog-in-the-car thing?
Even the friendliest, most extroverted dogs may not like the sounds of marching bands, fireworks, the push of a crowd in their space, the smells of fire, and so on. Know your dogs’ fears and insecurities. Loud music, crowds, being cramped under a table, other dogs running around with and without leashes, strangers coming up to pet your dog … these scenarios can provoke unexpected responses, which can range from temporary to permanent trauma, lashing out and biting, anxiety-induced illnesses (colitis/diarrhea/vomiting), and, in some cases, really change your dog.
If you are the type who says things like, “I want to get my dog over his fear of air shows so I’m going to take him every year until he learns it’s a good thing,” then I’d like you to invite someone to force your greatest fears on you in an annual fashion. (Mine involve squids and Doritos and I do not want to talk about it.) If your dog does not seem right (too quiet, too scared, too excited), just take your Instagram photo to prove you were there and leave. Your dog will love you for it.
The exact place you thought of taking your super well-behaved dog is probably the same place that everyone else in the world thought of taking theirs too. Five individually well-behaved dogs does not necessarily make a well-behaved group of dogs.
Keep your dog away from others unless you receive a verbal cue from The Human that it is okay to have them mix, and even then, be careful. If you see signs of anxiety—some hackles raised, teeth bared under the smile—move on. Dog-fight wounds are one of the most common reasons we see animals on emergency.
Some establishments and public places do not want you to bring your dog with you, either for legal reasons or because they want to respect the non-dog people of earth. In places where dogs are allowed, there are plenty of kids and adults who see a dog and veer away. Don’t allow your dog to wander, even if on leash, and make others feel uncomfortable.
Leftover Food and Drinks
The aroma of hours-curdled cheese fries, vomit behind a beer stand, milkshake cups with cigarette butts, as well as the hot dog with onions in your hand, glasses of wine and beer laid to rest on the curbside graves of bar front, a Popeye’s chicken wrapper, a plate of brownies that may or may not also contain other substances in them, the wilted chocolate bar that melted on the picnic table, ETCETERA ETCETERA.
It doesn’t take much for your 10-pound dog to need therapy after ingesting some summertime waste and developing diarrhea, vomiting, and possibly pancreatitis. Just because you know what your dog ate doesn’t negate the need for therapy. If this happens, the sooner we treat, the easier it is to get through.
People steal dogs. Dogs get freaked out and run away. Just don’t leave them alone. Don’t go to stores that don’t allow dogs in them. Don’t go to a restaurant with your dog alone if you know you will need to go to the bathroom. I’m bored with this one.
Hotbeds of Disease
We all depend on the dog community to vaccinate their dogs to avoid transmitting disease and infections. Some vaccinations, such as rabies, are legally mandated, and others help provide herd immunity for dogs in Chicago.
We’ve had breakouts of leptospirosis, giardia, heartworm, canine influenza virus, and many other infectious diseases over the past few years despite these diseases being cheap and easy to vaccinate and protect against. If you think you are going to take your dog outside in the summer world, both respect the rest of the dog community by vaccinating and protecting your pet against fleas and ticks, and also respect your own dog, who is vulnerable. Most of these medications do not need a doctor’s exam by us to get as long as the pet has been seen in the last year.
The 4th of July
Most dogs hate fireworks. Help them through it. Anti-anxiety medications are effective, super cheap, relatively safe, and there is no reason to not help your pet through the storm of unexplainable and inconceivably frightening smashes of terror that, depending on the neighborhood, start in June and last for weeks after the Fourth.
If you are the type who thinks that anti-anxiety medications are for bad owners who can’t train their dogs’ fears away, or for cats who don’t feel safe in their home, we invite you to call and talk it over. It is not uncommon to have a slew of dogs and cats come in during early July with problems relating to their gastrointestinal system, urinary system, skin, eyes, etc., just due to the onslaught of subtle or obvious fear and anxiety.
Don’t bring your dogs out to see the fireworks. Give them a safe space at home that is muffled from the noise. You can see the AVMA’s tip guide here https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Pages/July-4-Safety.aspx
That is it. Avoid heat stroke. Read Spinoza.
Brett Grossman, DVM
Medical District Veterinary Clinic