The Dog Days of Summer

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When I moved to the Northwest decades ago, a wise old vet whispered in my ear:  “Work all summer and then when everyone’s home in late August, go out and play.”  He was revealing to me this area’s worst-kept secret — late summer/early fall is the best weather in our corner of the country.  While others are getting their kids ready for school and stowing their recreational gear, those in the know are grabbing their dogs and heading out for the woods, the waves, the wind, and the warmth of the best time of year. 

If you’re one of those lured outdoors with a furry friend, use caution for the pitfalls that can be encountered . . .

. . . AT WATER’S EDGE:  If going boating on a lake or just playing near the swift undertow of the ocean surf, remember to keep an eye on Rover.  Even if he can swim, invest in a pet life vest.  If hiking along mountain streams, remember that even if they appear cool and clear they can potentially harbor parasites.  If carrying your own water is not feasible, carry a good filter and determine ahead of time where you can access safe, clean drinking water for you and your dog.

IMPORTANT NOTE:  Warmth and slow-moving water contribute to the growth of algae, some of which can be the deadly “blue-green” type.  Blue-green algae contain potent toxins that, if ingested, can affect the nervous system and liver and can be rapidly FATAL.  Symptoms include vomiting, weakness, seizures, and paralysis.  There is no antidote so the best treatment is prevention!  Do not let dogs swim in, play in, or drink standing water with algal blooms.  Avoid all stagnant water and any water with a “green film” on top.  Postings of known affected areas can be found by typing “Harmful Algae Blooms Oregon” into your search engine.

. . . FORAGING IN THE FOREST:  Close encounters with both poisonous plants and dangerous wildlife are a possibility when trekking in the deep, dark woods.  Dogs, like people, can have nasty skin reactions to poison ivy, poison oak, or stinging nettles.  Be on the lookout for these plants, and if your pet has brushed up against some malicious underbrush, remove the plant oils from his/her coat with a degreasing soap such as Dawn dishwashing detergent along with plenty of water.

WOLVES AND COUGARS AND BEARS, OH MY!  While chances are slim for your pet to encounter these dangerous animals, they are likely to engage a more bloodthirsty (albeit smaller) creature:  the tick.  Every year, thousands of dogs are infected with dangerous tick–transmitted diseases such as ehrlichia and Lyme disease, and diagnoses are increasing annually.  To prevent these pests from spreading their “poison,” apply a flea and tick repellent recommended by your veterinarian, and reapply if your dog is immersed in water.

. . . WALKING IN FIELDS OF GOLD:  Hiking in the grasslands and canyons of the eastern part of our state offers a visual pleasure different from our local emerald scenery — along with different hazards.  When in high desert areas with rocky outcroppings, keep your animals close.  Keeping pets on leash isn’t binding a free spirit; it’s an act of concern that could save your pet’s life.  If hiking through “snake country” is a favorite activity, snake avoidance/aversion training can be worthy insurance in protecting your buddy from snake bite. 

OTHER ENCOUNTERS FAR A FIELD TO AVOID — also of the prickly kind — include porcupines (pulling quills from a furry face is painful and no fun), and foxtails (arrow-shaped grass seeds aka “awns”) can find their way in between toes, into eyes or ears, and can even embed anywhere along a dog’s soft body.  After walking through tall, dry grass, examine your dog closely and remove grass awns with tweezers. 

. . . OR JUST TRAIPSING DOWN YOUR GARDEN PATH:  Even the well-worn spaces in your own corner of the world can pose hazards to your hound.  Leaves and other yard debris build up, retain moisture, and with warm Indian Summer days, provide perfect conditions for mushrooms and mold toxins.  Dogs are delighted to find decaying material . . . but can come away severely ill with vomiting and tremors.  Toxic and non-toxic mushrooms can grow side-by-side; approximately 50-100 of the thousands of species that grow in the United States are toxic.  Signs of mushroom toxicity can range from mild vomiting and diarrhea to abdominal pain and, in severe cases, fatal liver failure.  The best way to avoid grief in the garden is to keep your yard free of “toadstools,” and remove leaves and dying plant material before they pile up.

Go forth into the glory that is fall in Pacific Northwest . . . and take care with your canine to avoid the fleas, fungus and other dangers still among us.

“. . . methinks the changeful glories,
The sport, the harvest cheer,
Make the autumnal season
The brightest of the year. “