A BIG BACKYARD
One night when I was at an emergency veterinary clinic with one of my dogs, a puppy was brought in with Bufo toad poisoning. Despite frantic efforts to save him, the puppy died and the owners were grief stricken. I was so moved by what I witnessed that I resolved to learn as much as I could about this subject, and to pass it on to other dog owners. Over time I expanded the scope to include other outside risks to dogs in the state I now call home. To my surprise, many of these risks are in my own yard. I had assumed that, because my yard is fenced in, my dogs could safely spend time in it unattended. Not true, as I learned.
Florida has a large population of Bufo toads, and many dogs die of Bufo toad poisoning every year. These toads are slow moving and easy to catch. When a Bufo toad feels threatened (such as when a dog mouths or bites it), it defends itself by secreting a milky substance from glands located on the back of the head. This substance is rapidly absorbed across the mucus membranes of the dog’s mouth, especially the gums. The most obvious sign of Bufo toad poisoning is brick red gums. Other symptoms include drooling, rapid side-to-side eye movement, foaming at the mouth, vomiting, headshaking, pawing the mouth, tightly clamped jaws, and twitching. As the poisoning progresses, your dog may exhibit stiff legs, lack of coordination, stumbling, inability to stand, shallow breathing, seizures, or convulsions.
If your dog is poisoned by a Bufo toad, you need to act at once – in less than a minute if possible. The longer you wait, the greater the danger. Gently scrub the dog’s gum area with a wet cloth, for five to 10 minutes. You may see or feel the substance; it is pasty looking and feels sticky. Scrubbing the dog’s gums removes the toxic substance and prevents further absorption. What you should not do is hose out your dog’s mouth. Hosing can wash the toxin down his throat and it can flood his lungs with water, another serious problem that can be fatal.
If you have a puppy or a small dog, go immediately to your vet or emergency clinic as soon as you finish scrubbing the toxin off his gums. For an older, larger dog, observe him after scrubbing his gums and go to your vet or emergency clinic if the symptoms get worse, or if they persist after 30 minutes. Before leaving, call to alert them that you are bringing in a dog with Bufo toad poisoning. To minimize the risk of Bufo toad poisoning, it isn’t enough to avoid leaving your dog unattended in your yard from April through October (the most active months for Bufo toads). You also need to keep your dog on a leash (even in your yard) between dusk and dawn, and any time of the day when the ground is moist from humidity or rain during these months. Also, don’t leave dog food outside as it attracts Bufo toads.
Theft is one of those “it-won’t-happen-to-me” risks. Unfortunately, dogs do get stolen. Reasons include: someone wants your dog (best case scenario); someone makes money by selling dogs to research labs; or, worst-case scenario, someone is mentally ill and likes to hurt/kill animals. I personally know of three dogs recently stolen from their yards in gated communities in Boca Raton
Dogs can also escape from seemingly secure yards; by digging under the fence, squeezing through an opening, or squeezing under a portion of the fence or gate. Last week I received emails about two dogs that escaped from their yards in the Ft. Lauderdale area.
If your dog goes missing from your yard, you probably won’t know if she was stolen or escaped. Some things you can do to try to find her are: make up posters that include a color photo, description, date missing, and your contact information. If she has a medical condition, include that information. Put the posters up throughout your neighborhood and at vets, shelters, and pet stores. Post online at www.petfinder.com in the lost pets section. Spread the word via online sites for pet lovers. Place a classified ad in your local newspaper. Call animal control. Be persistent!
There are often news stories about young children drowning in swimming pools in their own yards. What doesn’t make the news, but unfortunately happens all too often, is that the same thing happens to dogs. Dogs drown in pools because they fall in and either don’t know how to swim or don’t know how to exit the pool. To protect your dog from drowning, you can try to insure that the pool is inaccessible, but mistakes happen. You can install an alarm that sounds when a person or dog enters the pool without the alarm being deactivated. Best of all, make sure that your dog knows how to swim (all dogs are not natural-born swimmers) and teach your dog where the pool exit is.
If you have fire ants, you will see above-ground mounds. If your dog is attacked by fire ants, immediate treatment is needed. They attack en-masse, clamping down with their jaws, and stinging over and over again. The venom they release causes intense pain. Although it seems contrary to logic, do not try to hose them off your dog or put him in water. Water causes fire ants to clamp down harder and continue stinging. Instead, brush the ants off your dog. Then give an antihistamine, such as Benadryl (check with your vet for proper dosage).
Bee and wasp stings are painful for dogs, just as they are for humans. Multiple stings of bees or wasps can be dangerous, and your dog may need help in getting away from an attacking swarm. A bee leaves a stinger. First remove the stinger. Bee stings are acid, so apply a paste made from baking soda and water. A wasp does not leave a stinger. Wasp stings are alkaline, so wipe the area off with lemon juice or vinegar. For both bee and wasp stings, put an ice pack on the site to relieve pain and swelling; take the ice pack on and off so it doesn’t feel too cold. Watch for allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing or swelling around the mouth or neck. Severe symptoms like these require an immediate trip to the vet. First call the vet and ask if you should give Benadryl before bringing her in, and if so, what dosage.
In our mild weather, garden fertilization treatment usually is done periodically between mid-March and the end of October, and pesticide treatment as needed year-round. Dogs can be poisoned by eating these products, or by walking on them and then licking their paws. This can result in vomiting, diarrhea, internal bleeding, convulsions, and unconsciousness. After fertilizers or pesticides have been applied, try to keep your dog away from them for 24 hours. If she walks in a treated area within 24 hours of application, clean her paws right away.
When it’s hot outside, your dog is vulnerable to dehydration, heatstroke, and/or sunburn. Mild cases of dehydration can be treated by giving her cool water to drink; more severe cases require a trip to the vet for IV fluids. Dehydration can lead to heatstroke, a condition that can cause organ damage and even death. Sunburn causes discomfort to dogs, just as it does to humans. Also like humans, dogs can get skin cancer from excessive exposure to the sun.
Holidays such as New Year’s, July 4th, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas are times when there are special risks to dogs in their yards. Escape is more likely as more people typically enter and leave during holiday periods; each time the gate is opened your dog has the opportunity to get out. Also, he may be so frightened by New Year’s Eve fireworks and noisemakers, July 4th fireworks, or noisy kids wearing scary Halloween costumes that he digs his way out. Frightened dogs on the loose are at greater risk of being hit by cars. Halloween is a time when some feel it is acceptable to pull pranks, so your dog may end up being taunted or worse – even in his own yard.
Outdoor holiday decorations pose another threat. Your dog may decide to chew on electrical cords used for lighting; to sniff decorations containing lit candles; to eat seasonal plants that are toxic to dogs, such as poinsettias, Jerusalem cherry berries, and mistletoe berries or to eat Halloween candy or even candy wrappers.
I love my dogs and enjoy indulging them, but if they want to go out to explore the yard or lie in the sun when no one’s available to be with them, this is one indulgence I choose to deny – my first responsibility is to keep them safe.
Carla Genender is the author of DogSense: 99 Relationship Tips from Your Canine Companion. You can visit her at her website. www.dogsensebooks.com