Warm Weather Safety for Pets
We’ve all heard it: don’t leave your pet locked in a car on a hot day. But would you be surprised to know that the danger can begin when the temperature outside is as low as 70 degrees?
Temperatures inside a car can easily climb 20 degrees on a sunny day; it takes roughly 10 minutes for a car to go from 85 to 102 degrees, and after 30 minutes it can reach 120. This is compounded greatly if your pet happens to be in a carrier inside the car. And keeping a window partially open makes no difference. So don’t think “she’ll be okay, I’m just running in for five minutes.”
It isn’t safe, and at the very least you might find that someone has broken your window out of concern for your pet. And they would be within their legal rights to do so; many states and cities have laws preventing endangering pets by leaving them locked in cars.
So, when temperatures climb in earnest, you need to be aware of the three major dangers, dehydration, heat stroke, and sunburn. And you might be surprised to learn that the cliche, “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” is true for pets as well. Animals pant to cool off, but if the humidity is too high, it inhibits the evaporation process and makes it more difficult to stay regulated.
Cool water is vital to keeping your pet safe, especially when they are outside. When it is a relentlessly bright, hot day/heat wave, put ice cubes in their water, and put out at least two bowls in case one gets knocked over. It is best to keep your pet indoors or let them in for at least the hottest part of the day, but if your dog or cat lives outside, you need to replenish their water every few hours. Some pets really appreciate ice cubes with treats inside of them, and dogs can enjoy licking a Kong filled with frozen sweet potato or other healthy snacks for quite a while. If you and your friend will be away from home for a few hours, take a bottle of water and a bowl (there are collapsible ones) to keep them hydrated.
If drinking water and frozen treats are not enough to keep your pet’s body temperature normal, an inflatable pool filled with cool water can be therapeutic and a really good time for both you and your best (dog, not cat) friend. However, do NOT leave your dog unsupervised near a pool - it is a drowning danger. If your pet has to be out in the heat or sun for a while, you can get some extra insurance for their health by using one of the three types of cooling vests: evaporation, which needs to be soaked in water; one using an ice sheet insert, which needs to be prepared in the freezer; and a reflective coat. Or, you can use pressure-activated cooling gel pads as a soothing bed.
Shade is also vital to keeping your pet cool. Shade from trees and bushes provides cover as well as allows breezes and air flow; tarps also provide a well-ventilated cover. A doghouse is the exact opposite; it actually has some of the same qualities as being in a locked car, as it is enclosed, and increases the heat and humidity inside it. If you rely on foliage for shade, remember that as the sun moves during the day, shade can also move.
Limiting exercise during the worst heat of the day can help prevent overheating and dehydration. Take your walks and runs or do your exploring in the early morning or evening when it is cooler.
Avoid hot surfaces. You know how painful it is to walk barefoot on streets, sidewalks, sand, docks, and rocks in the heat? Even though your pet’s paw pads are tougher than
your feet, they are not immune to the searing heat and can burn. When you go for walks, walk on the grass, and don’t take your best friend out all day in a place with little shade and no green space. Your pup loves to be with you, but they will be miserable. The caring thing to do is leave them home with the AC on.
Don’t shave your pet. This one surprises most of us. We think getting rid of the thick coat will be cooling, but it actually puts them at risk for sunburn and, for some breeds, can remove the second layer of their coat that actually provides cooling insulation. If you want to prepare your dog to best survive a hot summer, groomers suggest trimming the hair on their paws, legs, and stomach and brushing to reduce mats and the fur that has been shed.
If your pet seems like they are in distress, check for these signs of dehydration and heat stroke.
Some animals have a higher risk of heat stroke. Breeds of dogs and cats with small muzzles (smushed noses) will have a harder time breathing and staying cool in extreme heat. Also, pets who are very old, young, overweight, out of shape, or have heart or respiratory disease will be more susceptible.
Dogs: Early signs include heavy panting, loss of energy causing frequent breaks while walking, excessive drooling, dry and sticky gums, and loss of appetite. More severe symptoms can be a sudden rise in body temperature, vomiting, diarrhea, and an irregular or fast heartbeat.
Cats: Signs are heavy panting and drooling, excessive grooming in an attempt to cool off, loss of appetite and energy, and dry and sticky gums. More severe symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, increased body temperature, and restlessness.
Treatment: For dehydration, get your pet to a cool place out of the sun, preferably inside, with light AC. (Dogs and cats do not respond as well to fans as humans.) Give them plenty of water with NO ICE because going from one extreme to the other can also cause harm. If they do not seem to be responding well after a while, it might be necessary to take them to a full-service veterinarian who can give them subcutaneous (under the skin) fluids with electrolytes.
Heat exhaustion and stroke occur when excessive heat and dehydration make the pet unable to cool themselves and their temperature becomes abnormally high.
Dogs: Signs include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, and if very serious, seizure and unconsciousness.
Cats: Vomiting, diarrhea, anxiety or restlessness, lethargy, dizziness and/or disorientation, dark red gums and tongue, rapid heartbeat, sweaty paws, drooling with thick saliva due to dehydration, and in severe cases, tremors or seizures.
Dogs: Move your dog into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to their head, neck, and chest, or run cool (not cold) water over them. Let them drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take them directly to a veterinarian.
Cats: If your cat is alert, offer cool water to drink but do not force it. Many cats resist drinking water when they are overheated. Use cool/tepid water to soak a towel and place your cat onto it. Do not wrap your cat in the towel as this may trap heat. Change the towel out when it becomes warm from your cat’s body heat, and then gently apply cool/tepid water directly on your cat’s coat; turn on a fan if possible, and go to the vet immediately.
While the effects of overexposure to heat and sun are frightening, if you follow the precautions listed above, along with some consideration for their comfort, you and your pets should be able to enjoy the “dog days” of summer.
Keep Pets Safe in the Heat: https://www.humanesociety.org/resources/keep-pets-safe-heat
How Hot is Too Hot For Pets?: https://www.petsclinic.org/blog/pet-safety/how-hot-is-too-hot-for-pets/
ASPCA “It’s Hot Out! Infographic
How to Keep Your Dog Cool In the Summer: https://pets.webmd.com/dogs/features/dog-cool-summer#1
Do Dog Cooling Vests Actually Work?: https://doggearreview.com/article/coolingvest/
Walking With Your Cat In Hot Weather: https://catexplorer.co/stories-posts/walking-with-your-cat-in-hot-weather
Is It OK To Shave Your Dog’s Coat?: https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/health/is-it-ok-to-shave-your-dog/
Tips On Preventing Dehydration and Heat Stroke in Pets: https://headsupfortails.com/blogs/all/tips-on-preventing-dehydration-and-heat-stroke-in-pets
How To Prevent Heatstroke: https://www.thesprucepets.com/heatstroke-in-cats-551995