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Red Cross Issues Steps to Help Keep Your Family Pet Safe and Healthy


April is Pet First Aid Awareness Month™ and the American Red Cross reminds you to keep your family pet safe and healthy as we head into spring and summer.

As the weather gets warmer, certain dangers for pets become more prevalent.

The first step is to know what is normal for your pet – their gum color, heart/pulse rate, body temperature and breathing rate - so you can recognize when something is wrong.

Heat stroke is a common problem for pets in the warmer weather, according to Dr. Deborah Mandell, VMD, DACVECC, pet care advisor for the Red Cross. She explained that heat stroke is more common in the spring and early summer because pets are not yet acclimated to the warm weather. Dogs with short noses or snouts, like the boxer or bulldog, are prone to heat stroke. This is also true for any obese pet, a pet with an extremely thick fur coat or any pet with upper respiratory problems such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea.

“Animals love to play and may not stop playing, even if they are becoming overheated,” said Dr. Mandell, who is affiliated with the Matthew J. Ryan Veterinary Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Some signs your pet may be developing heat stroke include heavy panting, and being unable to calm down, even when lying down. Their gum color may be brick red, their pulse rate may be fast, or they may not be able to get up. If you suspect your pet has heat stroke, take their temperature rectally. If the temperature is above 105 degrees cool the animal down. The easiest way to do this is by using the water hose. Stop cooling the animal when the temperature reaches 103 degrees. Bring your pet to the veterinarian as soon as possible as heat stroke can lead to severe organ dysfunction and damage.

As the weather gets nicer, many pet owners take their pets in the car with them. Dr. Mandell issued a reminder not to leave your pet in the car, even for a few minutes. “The inside temperature of the car can quickly reach 120 degrees,” she said. “It’s not a good idea to leave the pet in the car, even with the windows cracked open.”

Pet owners also need to be aware that animals may try to get out a window or door, which are more likely to be open as the weather warms. And spring planting can be hazardous to animals – do not use plants which are poisonous to animals. For instance, many lilies are very poisonous to cats. Visit the ASPCA Poison Control web site to find out which plants and flowers are poisonous to animals.

Your pet is part of the family. And just like any other family member, pets deserve to be cared for and protected. Follow these important steps to help keep your pet at their best:

  • Give your pet plenty of exercise. Regular exercise will help your pet feel better and live longer.
  • Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh, cool water.
  • Get to know a veterinarian and make sure your pet has yearly checkups.
  • Make sure your pet is up to date on vaccines, especially rabies.
  • Get your pet spayed or neutered.
  • Keep dogs on leashes outside – another animal may be too much temptation.
  • Know how to perform CPR and provide basic first aid until veterinary care is available.

Animals can’t tell you when they aren’t feeling well. Many hide signs of illness until a problem is very advanced. Knowing what is normal for your pet and being able to recognize changes early, can make a huge difference in treatment success.

Don’t forget to include your pets in emergency action plans as well:

  • Emergency action plans for your family should include all of your animals.
  • Plan to take your pets with you in an evacuation. If it is not safe for you to stay, it is not safe for them either.
  • Most Red Cross shelters cannot accept pets because of health and safety concerns and other considerations. Know which friends, relatives, hotels, boarding facilities accept pets in an emergency.
  • Assemble a portable kit with emergency supplies for your pets:
    • Leashes, harnesses and/or carriers
    • Food, drinking water, bowls, manual can opener
    • Medications and copies of medical records
    • Current photos of your pets and of you with your pets

Additional tips are located on our Pets and Disaster Safety Checklist. Pet First Aid courses are offered at many Red Cross chapters throughout the country. The Red Cross has also developed Dog First Aid and Cat First Aid, comprehensive guides with DVDs to help your keep pets healthy and safe. From basic responsibilities, like spaying/neutering and giving medications, to performing CPR and preparing for disasters, these guides offer information pet owners can trust. Contact your local chapter to see when classes are available or to purchase guide books or visit the Red Cross Store to see and purchase products.