Arizona Pet Hazards: Advice from Helen M. Evans, DVM

My wife and I had the pleasure of attending a small seminar held at the Mesa Library a couple of nights ago. The lecturer was Dr. Helen M. Evans, DVM who specializes in veterinary dentistry, and practices out of Family VetCare in Chandler, AZ. She grew up on a small farm in Western New York surrounded by animals, and Helen knew early on that she wanted to be a veterinarian. She received a bachelor’s in Animal Science at Cornell University in 2004, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Ross University in 2008. In my last article, I shared the information she presented about oral health care & proper hygiene. Today I’d like to share the second half of the seminar, which is specifically geared towards Arizona residents but could also apply to neighboring states with similar environments.

Things to watch out for in Arizona: Heat Stroke, Burnt Paw Pads, Cactuses & Thorny Plants, Poisonous Plants, and Wildlife.

Heat Stroke: Prevention is the best option. Keep pets in cool, shaded areas with plenty of water during the hottest hours of the day. “Smooshed-Face” and Long Haired Breeds are predisposed to heat stroke due to their physiology. We can dissipate heat much better than dogs because they cannot sweat like we do. The only way they have to get rid of body heat is by panting and through their feet. NEVER LEAVE A PET IN THE CAR! 

Heat Stroke Treatments: Cool water and a fan is best when actively cooling your dog. Rubbing alcohol on the paw pads helps to dissipate heat. DO NOT USE ICE! Cool the dog down to 103 degrees, and then stop active cooling. Once the dog is cooled down, take him to see a vet.

Burnt Paw Pads: They are very painful for the dog, but there is nothing a vet can do other than prescribe pain meds and apply skin ointment. It usually takes a couple of days, but the pads will heal on their own. The best way to prevent this is to check the temperature of the ground with your bare feet rather than your hands. The bottom of our feet is much more sensitive to the heat than our hands.

Cactuses and Thorns: Keep duct tape and tweezers in your hiking kit. Don’t let your dogs try to remove the thorns with their mouths. It can cause more damage. Any damage caused to the eyes warrants an emergency visit to your vet.

Poisonous Plants: Oleander is common in Arizona, and is poisonous if ingested by our dogs. Lantana is commonly used as decorative plants, but it is poisonous to the dog’s liver. Adult dogs usually know to stay away from these plants. It’s usually the puppies who want to eat everything that we must supervise. The Sago Palm is another native plant to Arizona that is toxic to the dog’s liver. The problem is that dog’s seem to like it! They will eat the pieces that fall off when trimming or moving the plants. The Sago Palm has a 50-70% fatality rate. For a complete list of poisonous plants, please visit the website.

Wildlife: Rattlesnakes are common in Arizona, and dogs that get bitten by them are as well. Some dogs are enticed by the rattling that is meant to ward them off. Mojave Rattlesnakes have additional venom in them, and are much more dangerous. Some dogs, like Jack Russell Terriers, will just keep going back to for more because “By God, I’m gonna get that darn snake!” So with certain breeds we must be keep a more watchful eye. Rattlesnake vaccines are not proven because it would be very difficult to test them with a control group. That is not to say they don’t work. Always call ahead to the vet clinic to ask if they have Anti-Venom on hand. Many clinics do not stock them. 

Bufo Toads, also known as Colorado River Toads, are toxic to dogs and the result of poisoning can be fatal. Symptoms of toad poisoning are excessive salivation or foaming at the mouth, head shaking, red or irritated gums, drunken gait, confusion, weakness or complete collapse, heart arrhythmia, vomiting, diarrhea, and pawing at the mouth. Seizures and death can occur in dogs within 30 minutes from a Sonoran Desert Toad poisoning. In order to prevent death, immediately RINSE RINSE RINSE! Run clean water, from a garden hose or other source of water, for at least 5-10 minutes to flush the poison out of the mouth. Then take them to the vet, but do not go to the vet before rinsing the mouth out thoroughly. The waiting time between poisoning and treatment could cause death if nothing is done in between.

Coyotes live here in the valley with us. They can kill or breed with our domesticated dogs, and that’s where CoyDogs come from. They usually kill the smaller breeds, like Pomeranians or Shih Tzus, and prefer mating with the larger breeds. They can be a source of infectious diseases, and can be very territorial. Be cautious when hiking in the mountains or trails.

Bugs: Arizona Bark Scorpions can be found all over the valley, and bites from them are common. It is very painful for our dogs, but unfortunately, it just takes time to heal. A vet can prescribe pain medication, but if your dog is able to tolerate the pain it should be fine after a few days. Black Widow bites cause severe pain! Dogs have been known to shriek and wail from the pain. The bite from this spider causes paralysis, vomiting, diarrhea, and death. If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a Black Widow, contact your vet immediately! Most vet clinics do not have the anti-venom on hand, and usually need to get it from a human hospital. Brown Recluse Spiders cause ulcerated, slow healing necrotic wounds. This means that the tissue surrounding the bite deteriorates and the exposed wound is open to further infections. Treating this sooner rather than later will help reduce the damage caused by the bite.

Other Wild Animals to Watch Out For: Javelina – similar to wild pigs – will attack if they feel threatened. They are native to Arizona and can be found in parts of the Valley. If you ever run into a Javelina while walking your dog, immediately turn and walk away from it. They usually don’t attack unless they feel threatened or if they are protecting their young. Gila Monsters are protected by the State, and we usually don’t see them out in the wild. Dog attacks by Gila Monsters are extremely rare, but keep your pets away from them if you ever do see one. Great Horned Owls are known to carry off small dogs right out of their back yards. Dogs that are 5 lbs or less are perfect targets for them. They are nocturnal hunters so the evening hours are the most likely times that your dogs will be at risk. If you have a small dog, keep a close watch over them when letting them out at night.

I was convinced that we had found Paradise we moved out here in January! Everyone told me to wait till Summer, and then Paradise will turn to Hell. However, even with the intense heat I’m still loving Arizona! It’s so beautiful here, and the mountain views are breathtaking! When I look at the palm trees and the beautiful sky, it’s easy to imagine that I’m on a beautiful island somewhere. Now that i’ve learned about some of the potential hazards here and how to handle them, I feel empowered and more at ease. I’m so grateful for Dr. Helen M Evans for taking the time to share all of this valuable information with us at the Mesa Library. I hope you enjoyed this article, and thank you for taking the time to visit our blog! Please comment & follow!

The following are links that Dr. Evans provided us at the end of the presentation: 

Family VetCare:

Chandler Location:

Emergency Animal Clinics:

VCA Animal Referral & Emergency Center of Arizona:

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