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The dog days of summer

I can remember the first time I heard about “dog days.”

I must have been about 9 or 10 years old, when I was barefoot, catching “crawdads” in Greasy Creek in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Crayfish was one of my favorite and very effective fishing baits.

I stepped on a sharp rock and cut my foot deeply. The cut was about three-inches long. Despite the severity of my wound, I did not want to stop having fun long enough to attend to my injury.

Suddenly, my neighborhood friend and mentor, Mike, beckoned me, waving his arms wildly, to get out of the creek. Mike was the typical much older and wiser friend who all the neighborhood kids looked up to and followed around like a little puppy.

With all his wisdom, he informed me that it was “dog days,” and I should go to the doctor immediately to keep my foot from falling off.

I did get my foot taken care of, not by a doctor though. My mother was well versed in the old-timey ways of holistic medicine. I can’t remember specifically, but I am sure she used some iodine, sulfur and possibly turpentine.

Regardless, my foot did not fall off and actually healed quite well. My mother’s ability to treat our pets medically with old time remedies is the very reason I became a veterinarian.

By direction from my mother, I spent a lot of time and effort tending to our sick and injured pets.

However, for years to come, I had this notion that during dog days there was some kind of unexplainable change in the environment, like a dark cloud of evil spirits sweeping over the Earth causing everything to be more prone to absurd negativity.

I envisioned wild animals becoming sick for no reason and the stereotypical rabid dog roaming the earth reaping havoc on everything in its path.

As it turns out, the dog days of summer simply refers to the hottest, most sultry days of summer. Depending on where you live and the source of statistics, the traditional dog days was 40 days long beginning July 3 and ending Aug. 11.

In my opinion, this year in Clark County, the dog days are just beginning.

The term was used by the Greeks as well as the ancient Romans after the star Sirius, the dog star and the brightest star in the sky besides the sun.

It was believed the dog star added extra heat to the sun causing hot, sultry weather.

During the hottest time of summer, people became lazy and sluggish just like dogs wanting to lie around in the shade.

The ancient Romans would even sacrifice a brown dog at the beginning of the dog days to appease the rage of Sirius.

Nevertheless, the hottest days of summer are responsible for many problems directly related to the heat. Pets experience certain problems exacerbated by hot and humid weather.

Many breeds are more susceptible to overheating because they have trouble breathing.

Dogs cool themselves by panting since they don’t have sweat glands with the exception of a few on the pads of their paws. The breeds with really short noses, or brachycephalic breeds, such as boxers, English bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs struggle to breathe in hot weather and therefore, struggle to cool themselves. These breeds are more prone to heat stroke.

Any dog could suffer a heat stroke if the situation and environment is optimal.

Older dogs and any dog with pre-existing medical issues are at risk for heat stroke. Pre-existing conditions could worsen, causing overheating or dehydration.

If your dog becomes overheated, evident by heavy panting with severe lethargy and possibly salivation, see your veterinarian as soon as possible. Often, heat stroke will progress to life-threatening seizures.

Preventative measures are mostly commonsense but can elude us if we don’t consider the seriousness of hot, humid weather.

You should always provide plenty of fresh cold water as well as sufficient shade for your pets.

In some cases, it would be wise to wait until evening to take your dog for a walk or to play with them, especially the brachycephalic breeds. You should not play with your dog for extended periods of time and give them plenty of breaks to cool down.

Sick and older dogs should be given extra consideration when allowing them outside during hot weather.

If your dog shows any symptoms of overheating or heat stroke, see your veterinarian as soon as possible to ensure your pet lives a long, healthy and happy life.

Dr. Jeff Castle is a veterinarian at Clark County Veterinary Clinic.