Ah, summer. That time of year where people are spending more time away from their desks and more time in the great outdoors. Almost nothing seems to beat the feeling of spending a day in the sun, surrounded by the people and pets you love. We love to bring our furry friends along, but how does hot weather affect our pets, and what can we do to keep them hydrated?
- Keep higher risk pets indoors. Pets who are older, have existing health conditions, or animals with flat faces (e.g., Pugs, Persian cats) are more susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Flat-faced animals are not able to pant as effectively and can experience heat stroke quicker than an animal with an elongated face1. Keep these pets cool in an air-conditioned space as much as possible.
- Watch humidity levels. The temperature on any given day may seem decent for outdoor activities, but humidity levels can drastically change the way the temperature feels. Animals evaporate moisture from their lungs by panting, which releases heat from their body. If it’s too humid outside, they are not able to cool themselves as effectively and their body temperature can rise in a matter of minutes.
- Hydrate! Our furry friends may seem invincible from time to time, but they can easily become dehydrated and over-heated. Be sure to keep plenty of fresh, clean water nearby when it is hot or humid. Even if you are spending the day near a body of water, it’s important to have water that you know is clean.
- Some lakes have algae or other micro-organisms living inside of them that can be extremely toxic to dogs. Don’t let your dogs drink more than a few licks maximum of lake water unless you know the lake has been tested for toxins recently.
- Pool water can contain chlorine and other chemicals that are not good for your pet. Always supervise your pet around pools and make sure they are not drinking the water. Rinse off your pet after swimming, too, to remove any left over chlorine or salt from their fur.
- Limit exercise. Of course exercising your pet is important for their physical and mental health. On hot days, take extra care in planning when and where to exercise. Go for walks in early morning or evening and adjust the duration of walks during warmer parts of the day. This can also be helpful for pets with white ears who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets who may have difficulty breathing2.
- Find a lot of shade. Make sure your pet always has protection from the sun in a well-ventilated area. Large trees, tarps, and open tents are ideal options because air can flow underneath them. Closed spaces like dog houses are not a good idea and can actually make heat worse.
- Shave your pet. It may seem like dogs with heavier coats (e.g., Huskies, German shepherds, Australian Shepherds) may benefit from a full shave to keep them cool. However, this is not true! The various layers of your dog’s coat keep them from overheating or getting sun burnt. The way the layers have different textures and thickness allows for cool air to be held closer to your pet’s body to keep their body temperature stable. Brushing your pet’s coat regularly during the warmer months can help remove any fur that has been shed but may be stuck between the layers.
- Hang out on hot asphalt. Pet paw pads are delicate. Having your pet walk or stand on hot concrete or asphalt for more than a few seconds can lead to burns. Always try to walk in the grass and during early morning or late evening hours to prevent injuries.
- Leave your pet in the car. The internal temperature of a parked car can rise dramatically in a short period of time. Significant temperatures and lack of air flow (even if the windows are open but there is no breeze) can lead to heat stroke, which can be fatal.
- On an 85-degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of a car to reach 102 degrees, and within 30 minutes the temperature can climb as high as 120 degrees. Never leave your pet unattended in a parked vehicle. Not only is it dangerous, but it’s actually illegal in several states.
- Use sunscreen or insect repellent that is not meant for dogs. Hot weather months tend to coincide with more bugs and pesky insects. Some repellent products meant for humans can be toxic for pets, so it is always important to use products specifically labeled for use on pets.
It’s important to know the symptoms of overheating in pets. Common signs and symptoms include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor, or collapse. More severe symptoms can include seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomit, and a body temperature over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pets may be more prone to heat stroke if they are old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to longer duration exercise, or have pre-existing illnesses. Dogs with shorter muzzles, such as Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Boxers, will have a more difficult time breathing in hot temperatures.
If you suspect your pet is suffering from a heat-related illness, immediately move them into a shaded or air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or chilled towels to their head, check, and trunk. You can run cool water (not cold) over them. They can lick ice cubes or have very small amounts of water at a time. Call your veterinarian and bring your pet in for an examination as soon as possible.