Devon’s many dog-friendly beaches, walking trails, open fields and moors attract huge numbers of visitors every year. All these new places to explore bring much excitement to dogs and their owners alike. In the vast majority of cases, holidays are joyful and incident free for all the family, including its four-legged members. But unfamiliar environments can present different risks from those your dog faces back home.
We caught up with Will McMullan, a vet from South Moor Vets, based in Kingsbridge, Ivybridge and Modbury, to find out how to ensure your dog stays happy and healthy throughout your break.
Travelling with a dog in the car
Dogs are generally very happy to travel by car but some suffer from motion sickness. If your dog does, it’s best to speak to your vet about how to overcome this treatable problem. Just like humans, dogs benefit from comfort breaks to eat, drink, go to the toilet and/or stretch their legs every two to three hours while travelling.
Everyone has heard of dogs overheating in parked cars, but we have also seen a few cases of heat-stroke in dogs that have been travelling in cars with their owners. So on hot days remember that dogs can still get very hot while a car is moving.
The Highway Code states that dogs should be ‘suitably restrained’ while travelling in cars. This can be achieved using harnesses, cages or dog guards. If a dog were not suitably restrained and distracted the driver leading to an accident, this could be considered ‘driving without due care and attention’. We have also seen some very serious injuries such as broken necks in dogs that had not been restrained in cars that had accidents. So we would always advise using a restraint while travelling.
Can playing fetch can lead to sticky situations?
We regularly see very serious injuries in dogs that have been chasing sticks or running with sticks in their mouths. These occur when the stick hits the ground and the dog continues running, so that the stick is forced into the back of the dog’s mouth. We have removed lengths of stick over 30 cm in length from some dogs’ throats and treated many injuries to the organs of the throat and chest caused by sticks.
We even once saw a dog who managed to get a stick forced from his mouth through both his chest and abdomen. It was around 80cm long and required emergency surgery to remove it and deal with the damage.
Our advice is to NEVER throw sticks for dogs, and to use rubber balls or throwing toys instead.
Can kindness really kill?
With our vet hats on we would love to tell everyone not to give their dogs any human food. But we know that everyone loves to treat their furry friends and we even sometimes do it ourselves. Small amounts of human food are unlikely to lead to major problems, unless your dog has a very sensitive gut. There are exceptions though – chocolate and grapes are poisonous to dogs, sometimes even in very small quantities, and should be avoided totally. Some dogs are quite sensitive to dairy and things like ice cream could upset their digestive system.
Remember too that any change in diet can cause transient diarrhoea of a few days duration. Something we often see in the summer are dogs that have eaten wooden skewers at barbeques, which can cause serious damage to their intestines. Remember not to leave these lying around if barbecuing.
When your four-legged friend is feeling the heat
We do sometimes get very warm weather during the summer, and when this happens we just know we’re going to see some cases of heat stroke. The majority of these occur when dogs are left in hot cars, but it can also be seen in dogs that have been outside in hot sunshine for prolonged periods, or in dogs that have done a lot of exercise on a hot day.
Remember that dogs are more sensitive to heat than most humans, and on warm days (it doesn’t have to be a heatwave), don’t leave them in cars, conservatories, take them to the beach or for very long walks. Try to exercise them early or late in the day, and provide plenty of cool, fresh water. Ice cubes make a fantastic treat. If you think your dog may be suffering from heat stroke, cool them down with cold water, and get them to a vet immediately.
Taking moor care
If coming to the countryside from a town, there are certain hazards to be aware of that you may not encounter at home. Ticks are more prevalent by the coast and on Dartmoor, so before leaving ask your vet for some appropriate preventative treatment. If you notice ticks on your dog, they can be removed easily with a small plastic tool, or by a vet or veterinary nurse. If your dog will be swimming in rivers or lakes, ensure it is fully vaccinated as leptospirosis infection is a risk in areas with a lot of wildlife.
We occasionally see adder bites in dogs that have been playing in long grass or areas populated by adders such as sand dunes along the coast path. If you notice anything you suspect to be a snake bite or any unexplained swellings or wounds on your dog, get them checked by a vet immediately.
Another hazard holidaymakers sometimes do not appreciate fully is the danger posed by cliffs while walking along the coast path. We see dogs every year that have fallen off cliffs, often falling 50-100 ft, suffering life-threatening injuries or fatalities. If your dog is prone to not looking where they are going, keep them on a lead near cliffs.
We sometimes see dogs that have eaten a lot of seaweed, or even that have been eating sand, and both can cause serious intestinal problems, so keep an eye on what your dog is doing on the beach while you sunbathe!
Will’s final tips
It’s a good idea to look up the local veterinary surgery near where you will be holidaying and have their number to hand in case of emergencies. Humans on holiday often eat and drink a lot differently than they do at home. This doesn’t necessarily translate well to animals, so try to keep your pet’s routine as similar to home as you can, unless you don’t mind clearing up the mess afterwards!
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