JOLIET – During a recent trip, Scott Keller’s vehicle broke a coolant line and spurted antifreeze everywhere.
While changing the part, Keller – the veterinary medical technology department chairman at Joliet Junior College – was careful not to spill chemicals on the ground. Ethylene glycol is sweet, he said, a lethal bee-to-honey magnet for wildlife, and just one of several warm-weather dangers that pet owners may not consider.
Most pet owners already know how to keep their dogs and cats safe in the summer heat: Keep car windows partly open, water bowls full and shady areas available, Keller said. They may not know that a trek through the woods is fraught with hazards, that antihistamines work poorly for pet allergies, or that performing the above task can kill your pet.
And it’s not because ethylene glycol is poisonous. It’s the jack-like crystals that the chemicals form inside the pet’s kidneys which cause the damage, Keller said.
“Those spiky crystals dig up the tissues and cause kidney failure,” Keller said.
The antidote, Keller said, is alcohol given intravenously, within 20 to 25 minutes of ingestion. Alcohol prevents the crystallization. Witnessing the animal lapping up the antifreeze and then immediately seeking medical care is the only way for the pet to survive the experience, Keller said.
“There is no chance once the kidneys are permanently damaged,” Keller said. “The damage leads to death.”
For pet owners who live near – or walk their pets through – wooded areas, Keller suggests staying alert for two possible threats to both humans and animals: leptospirosis and ticks. Last year’s winter vortex actually increased the possibility of the first, Keller said, and this is why.
Wildlife – beavers, squirrels, opossums – carry leptospirosis in their urine, Keller said. When extremely cold weather limits their activity, wildlife tend to leave their urine in more concentrated areas.
Now along comes the pet, which sniffs it, steps in it and then licks his paws and lips, Keller said. Once the pet ingests it, the leptospirosis travels to the kidneys, causing damage and death. It is treatable if caught early, Keller said.
“It literally poisons the pet from the inside out,” Keller said. “Humans can catch it from their dog’s urine. Say the dog has an accident in the house. If you have a scratch or abrasion on your hand when you wipe it up, the bacteria can enter there.”
Symptoms of renal failure include nausea, vomiting and reduced urine output, symptoms of other illnesses, too, Keller said. Blood and urine tests will reveal that the kidneys are not working well. The vet will then take a history and begin the detective work, Keller said. Blood and urine cultures will help diagnose it.
“For dogs, there is a vaccine against it,” Keller said. “I don’t recommend it for every dog, just those at high risk.”
Lyme disease is a real danger, but only if a tick bites a pet. Fortunately, a daily check for ticks of the dog from nose to tail and behind the ears can prevent it, Keller said. It’s also important to know that not every tick carries Lyme disease; and even if it does, if the tick is removed within 24 hours, the pet is safe.
“It has to latch on and feed for a day before it transmits disease,” Keller said.
To remove the tick, forget lighted matches and fingernail polish, Keller said. Do this instead: Wearing gloves, simply grasp the tick near the base and slowly pull it off. If the head accidentally remains, it will act as an irritant – much like an embedded sliver – but it is not dangerous, Keller said.
“Just make sure you cover yourself so you don’t get any bodily fluids on your hand,” Keller said.
Finally, dogs and cats – like humans – are susceptible to allergic reactions to both the environment and food. What’s different is that humans store histamine – the chemical responsible for known as an “allergic reaction” – in our sinus and lungs. Dogs and cats store them in their skin, Keller said.
So whether the dog or cat is allergic to ragweed or an ingredient in its pet food, the manifestation will be the same: irritated skin. Dogs might chew their paws, Keller said. Cats may rub, scratch and exhibit scars, he added.
Antihistamines are less effective in pets than they are in humans, Keller said, and corticosteroids have undesirable side effects, such as increased risk of diabetes, which makes treating pet allergies tricky.
A new and effective drug for inhaled allergies, Apoquel, came out in January, but demand has outpaced supply, Keller said. Only a few veterinarians have been able to obtain it.
“My colleagues have shared with me that the small amount they have been able to use has shown very good results with their canine patients,” Keller said.