pet advice 1

Summers in the Southwest can be especially brutal on our four-legged family members. We asked some experts for their best advice on keeping our animal companions healthy and safe.

Care, Not Cars

We know people like to take their fur babies out to run errands with them, but this is not a good idea if the pet can’t go indoors with you. The Animal Cruelty Taskforce of Southern Arizona’s website shows that at 9 a.m. when the outdoor temperature is 82 degrees, inside a vehicle can heat up to 109 degrees. Cracking open windows results in little to no relief, according to the site. Furthermore, Arizona has now made leaving animals in a vehicle during any time of the year a crime of animal cruelty, and is considered a class 1 misdemeanor. If convicted, violators face six months in jail, three years of probation, and a $2,500 fine.

Weight For It

Julie Johnston, DVM, at Ina Road Animal Hospital says feeding patterns for smaller domestic animals are especially critical during the summer.

“We know that about 80 percent of dogs and cats are obese, so weight is always a concern,” she says, noting that it’s harder to keep animals active when temperatures rise.

“Keeping pets at a healthy weight is important during the summer months,” she says. Unhealthy weight can lead to higher rates of arthritis issues, breathing issues, and bronchitis, which can be triggered by allergies, and more.

Overweight animals also are more prone to heat exhaustion. Johnston emphasizes that exercising in the early-morning hours and later in the evening is important. Also, any paved surface can burn a pet’s pads if it has been heated by the sun.

“Owners love to walk their dogs on the trails and in washes where there isn’t a lot of shade,” she says. “Dogs will just go, go, go and often you don’t know they’re overheated until they collapse. Providing lots of water, shade and frequent breaks reduces these risks,” she adds.

From the Horse’s Mouth

Southern Arizona is cowboy/cowgirl country, surrounded by a lot of horse properties, recreational riding, and ranching. Summer temperatures require special attention, especially for recreational horses that have become accustomed to owner care and treatment.

Heat is an overwhelming concern here in the desert, but large animals have adapted, says Karla Lombana, DVM, cVMA, and co-owner of Jackpot Veterinary Center. “Our large animals in the desert actually are pretty good at monitoring themselves in the heat, as long as they have a little bit of help, like shade, water and fans.”

Dr. Carla Lombena

Dr. Carla Lombena examines Pearl. Photography by Michael Sultzbach.

Lombana says sometimes owners forget to adjust the obvious things during the shorter, hotter season, like monitoring water troughs. “Metal water troughs get hot and stay hot,” she adds. “Be diligent about cleaning them regularly and getting rid of the algae. Contamination can occur from birds, rodents and other small animals looking for that cool, clean water falling in and drowning. This can cause everything from belly aches to botulism if you don’t clean them out.”

In this part of the country, she adds, horses will burn more energy trying to stay cool so it’s important to double up on their feed.

If dehydration is a concern, or owners want to add more electrolytes to their horse’s diet, Lombana says to stay away from liquid additives in the water. “Horses like cool, clean water, and if you add a flavored supplement that they don’t like, it could make them avoid water,” she says. “It’s easier to add it to the grain, and it has less sugar and other filler that way.”

Summer is an ideal time for fun treats for horses, she adds, such as frozen watermelon, and this is a good way to add electrolytes, as well.

Flies are a natural part of the larger animals’ environment, but this becomes even more important to control in summer months. “It’s tough to do for sure,” Lombana says, but managing manure can be as simple as spreading it around if you can’t remove it altogether. There also are biological methods of controlling fly populations, such as bringing in parasitic wasps.

“Flies can cause rashes, allergies, sores, and other problems,” she explains. “It’s all we can do to get ahead of it in Arizona.” Lombana adds that using topical fly sprays, fly masks and fly deterrents offer some relief.

Just as with your smaller animals, immunizations are important. Because the heat brings on challenges, it’s especially important to make sure you keep up on the spring shots and deworming schedules. This will help horses ward off the agents you’re vaccinating against.

Lombana says vets also will avoid doing other procedures such as castration out in the field in summer months because of the greater likelihood of infections caused by flies and other heat-related issues. Jackpot has the only full-service, large-animal surgical center between New Mexico and Gilbert in Arizona, so if there are surgical services needed they can do them at the center.

Venomous snakes are an additional concern for larger animals, Lombana says. In most cases, horses suffer “dry bites” because the snake is startled when a horse drinks from a trough it is laying near, for example. “Their faces will still swell but they don’t suffer any muscle tissue damage.” Horses should be treated with the antivenom within six to 12 hours of the encounter, she says.

Board … Not Bored!

Summertime also means vacation time! When travel prevents your fur babies from joining you, what do you do to ensure they’ll also have a vacation of their own? Or perhaps you want to offer your pet a day out of the house, but the temperatures are too hot outside.

Boarding or doggie daycare are options, and there are many choices in Southern Arizona. Julie Grounds, owner of Central Pet in Tucson and Ajo, says there are things you should consider in choosing the right venue for your pets, beginning with a personal visit to several locations.

“The first thing I notice when I walk into a boarding business is the smell,” she notes.


Molly and Max enjoy playtime at Central Pet. Photography by Michael Sultzbach.

“There shouldn’t be one — or if there is, it shouldn’t smell like there are animals in the building. This can be a sign that the building isn’t clean, or isn’t cleaned often enough.”

Grounds also says to be sure you get a full tour of the facility so that you can see where the animals play, sleep, and mix with each other, inside and outside.

“This allows you to see if the animals are happy,” she says. “Are they playing with other animals? If there are a lot of animals cowering, it could be a sign that there is some aggression in the room that could cause a safety concern.”

Grounds reminds owners that vaccines must be up to date, including distemper/ parvo, Bordetella, and rabies. “These are mandatory for any boarding or daycare facility, and if they don’t require all three, it’s not a safe option for your pet.”

If your pet requires medication or special care, be sure to discuss how the staff handles dispensing medications, where they will be kept and if there is staff on hand at the facility 24 hours a day in case there are complications.

“The most important thing is to make sure you and your pet will have a positive experience so that they come back and play again,” Grounds says.

Take Your Best Shot

Johnston observes that it’s important to make sure your animals are up to date on vaccines, especially rabies vaccines and parvo for puppies. “We are in an endemic area for parvo,” she adds. “In the summertime, when a lot of litters are born, it is critical that owners get the two-part parvo vaccines.”

Despite Arizona laws that domestic animals must be vaccinated against rabies, there still are pets that are found with rabies. In 2019, the Arizona Department of Health Services reported 136 cases of rabies, including domestic animals being exposed to rabid animals, humans exposed to rabid animals, and domestic animals with rabies.

Johnston says the July Fourth holiday and summer monsoons are other times requiring special care for pets, especially those who suffer from anxiety.

“The noise can be traumatic for pets,” she says, noting that many animals run away from their homes if they are not properly contained. “There are lots of medications and aids [such as a Thundershirt Anxiety Jacket for dogs and cats] to help our pets through these events. Giving the meds one or two hours before fireworks or an oncoming storm can help them through it. Some folks also will turn up the television or music to drown out the sound.”

Sneeze the Day

Just as with people, animals who suffer from allergies will see issues arise with the desert in bloom. “Allergies can affect animals year-round in Arizona, but they become particularly troublesome in early spring and again in the fall. Signs include sneezing, red eyes, and licking and chewing at the legs and paws.

“The good news is we now have many more options than just using steroids for treating allergies in animals,” Johnston says. “We can treat with better prescriptions, allergy shots and other immunotherapies.”

Johnston notes that in most animal allergy testing they’ve done, mesquite trees often are the number one cause. “Allergies are an overreaction to the natural environment, and you can’t avoid mesquite trees in the desert.”

This Bites!

Two of the most common Southwestern critters that are dangerous for pets are rattlesnakes and the Colorado River Toad, also known as the Sonoran Desert Toad. Although encounters are rare, they can be lethal for your animals, and treating an encounter quickly will lead to better outcomes. Recently, veterinarians have been offering a snake bite vaccine, but explains Johnston, “The vaccine can interfere with necessary antivenom treatment, which creates a greater danger. The vaccine is best for animals that are too far away to get to a vet within the timeframe needed. Obviously, the longer it takes to get to the bite to treat it, the greater the risk to your pet.”

Johnston adds that the smaller the animal, the greater the risk. Also, severity can depend on where the bite occurs. For example, cats typically are bitten on their paws as they swat at the reptile. The most common bites in dogs are on their hind legs as they are running away from the snake. Bites on the snout are the least problematic as there is little tissue there, whereas bites to the chest can have the highest risk as that area is closest to the heart.

Calls for help after exposure to the Sonoran Desert Toad are less frequent because pets have to engage with the toad to get the poison into their systems. “Ingestion is the greatest concern. Rinsing your pet’s mouth out — with the water pushing the poison out of the side or the front of the mouth for at least 10 minutes — is the best way to reduce any risk. It’s always a good idea to get them to the vet for follow up as quickly as you can.”

Scorpions also can be a concern. The Arizona Bark Scorpion is the most common around the region. Signs of a scorpion sting to look out for include excessive salivation; inappropriate or trouble with urinating and defecating; difficulty breathing; vomiting; and/or excessive licking of one area. If you see the scorpion, try to catch it and take it with you to the vet. Oftentimes, Benadryl will help settle these symptoms, but it is a good idea to follow up with the vet to check if the stinger is still in place.

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