The Heat is ON – Keeping Our Pets Cool in Hot Weather

The summer weather can be downright uncomfortable and even dangerous, for pets as well as for us! Temperatures are on the rise and in some locations, the humidity is harder to tolerate than the heat. It’s important to become aware of and look out for the signs of heatstroke, as well as other dangers that become more prevalent as the summer heats up.  In addition, there are several precautions that should be taken to keep our little darlings safe and comfortable all summer long. 

When it starts getting warm outside, take your dog or cat to the vet for a full check-up. This checkup should include consultation for a flea and tick protection plan and a heartworm test. These are predominantly warm-weather concerns, but in certain climates, they can be an issue all year long. The more time they spend outdoors, the more important it is to be protected from the diseases that these external parasites carry.  While you’re at the vet’s office, if you haven’t already considered microchipping, you should have this discussion with your vet as well.  And if nothing else, make sure that any required licenses are up to date and that your pet has a current and legible ID tag on his or her collar. 

Summertime and warmer weather also mean that celebrations involving fireworks are much more common.  It might be best to exclude your dog from these celebrations, because of the anxiety that the noise can cause. Also, be aware that firework debris can injure or poison your pet so if you live in an area where these celebrations occur, be sure to check out your yard the following morning. 

It might seem obvious, but you would be surprised at the number of deaths that occur because people leave their pets in a parked car. NEVER leave your pets in a parked car and don’t make the mistake to think that it’s OK if the car is running with the air conditioner on. Most veterinarians advise against this due to the risk of air conditioner failures. Air conditioner failure doesn’t just mean that the AC stops working. Other ways the AC could fail might be due to having the car run out of gas or having the dog accidentally bump it and turn it off. Unfortunately, pets die in hot cars even with the AC on. Did you know that on a typical summer day, the temperature inside a car can quickly climb to a dangerous level? For example, when it’s 80 degrees outside it can get to 99 degrees inside a car after 10 minutes and to 114 degrees after 30 minutes. Temperatures this high can cause organ damage and death. A dog’s normal temperature ranges from 101 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38 to 39 degrees Celsius). It should never be allowed to rise above 104 degrees Fahrenheit (or 40 degrees Celsius).

When out in the sun pay attention to the UV index and be aware that pets with light-colored hair are more susceptible to skin cancer, especially on their ears. Asphalt or other road surfaces can get very hot and burn the pads on your pet’s feet so try to look for cooler surfaces or walk your dog in the grass. Avoid walking your dog in areas that you suspect have been treated with insecticides or other chemicals because these toxins can make your pet sick and even kill them. You should immediately contact your vet or even the ASPCA National Animal Poison Control Center (ASPCA/NAPCC) if you suspect your animal has been exposed to insecticides. 

If you like to exercise with your pet, take care on hot days. Reduce the intensity or length of your workout when the mercury is rising. On the hottest of days try to go out in the early morning or later in the evening when the sun is setting. And never forget to take water for your pet (and something to drink it out of) along with you to prevent dehydration.  I know it’s so tempting to take them to the beach with you, but you really should avoid the beach with your pet during the hottest time of the day.  If you do end up at the beach, be sure to find shade for them and cool, fresh water.  If your pet goes in the ocean be sure to rinse him off as soon as you can, as the saltwater can irritate his skin.  

Another hidden danger that is more prevalent in the summer is the risk of antifreeze/coolant poisoning.  Antifreeze is the yellow-green liquid that goes into automobile radiators and works to keep the engines running at the correct temperature. Antifreeze contains ethylene glycol, which is extremely poisonous to people and animals. If the coolant leaks from a vehicle and pools up in a place where your pet can get to it, it presents the risk of poisoning because most animals are attracted to the sweet taste of the antifreeze.  One teaspoon will kill a cat and a tablespoonful will kill a small dog. There are animal-friendly alternatives to traditional antifreeze that are made from propylene glycol instead of ethylene glycol and are not toxic to pets.

If you suspect your animal has ingested antifreeze, seek veterinary aid immediately. YOUR PET WILL NOT RECOVER ON HIS OR HER OWN. Time is critical as within minutes your pet will begin to experience kidney damage. 

Humid days can be hard on your pet too, especially dogs, since they cool down by panting. Panting involves the dog sticking its tongue out and the surface area of the tongue facilitates cooling by evaporation. The evaporation of moisture from the mouth and tongue, combined with the exchange of the hot air of their lungs with cooler external air helps them to cool down. Different types of pets have different challenges with humidity. For example, dogs with snout-like noses (like Pugs, Shih Tzus, Persian Cats, etc.) will usually have a more challenging time breathing so it makes sense that they would have a harder time cooling down when the humidity is high.

If you use a doghouse, keep in mind that the main idea is to allow the air to flow. A shady tree works much better to cool your dog than a doghouse. An improperly insulated doghouse is basically a hot-house and can be very dangerous.  Proper ventilation can help cool the doghouse. Find one that has vents if you must use a doghouse in the summer.

Symptoms of heatstroke include extremely heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, lack of movement or clumsy gait when moving around, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizures, and unconsciousness. Animals are at a higher risk for heatstroke if they are overweight or not used to exercise as well as if they are very young or very old or have a special health concern.

If your pet is showing signs of heatstroke, you should get them moved quickly to a shady spot or even better, to an air-conditioned room. Put cold towels (wrapped in ice packs if you have them) on their head, neck and chest, or hose them off with cool water. But watch out because if the water is too cold it can cause shock. Give them cool water and or let them lick ice cubes. Take them directly to a veterinarian ASAP.

Summertime doesn’t have to spell trouble for your pet who loves the outdoors.  A simple rule of thumb is that anytime your pet is outside, always make sure they have a way to protect themselves from the sun and the heat and make sure they always have access to fresh, cold water. Just as we’d prefer a drink of icy cold water over lukewarm water on a hot day, so does your dog. So go ahead – live it up this summer! Celebrate the end of winter and enjoy the long sunny days and warm nights.  Just be educated on the dangers that exist and take the right steps to make sure that your travels keep you and your pets out of the path of trouble. 

Diana Colbert lives near Pittsburgh PA Married with twins (son and daughter) who are 21 years old and still love to travel with their parents. She and her family have owned dogs and/or cats for most of their lives. She works in financial services and would love to live in Mexico someday.

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