Summer is a season that most people anticipate in terms of the long days, sunny skies and warm weather. Depending on where a person lives, the warm days of summer can become exceptionally hot. These hot days may become stressful not only to the health of people, but to their companion animals as well.
When exposed to high temperatures a dog, cat, or other type of animal can suffer from problems such as dehydration and even heat stroke. Heat stroke in pets occurs because of an animal’s inability to sweat as profusely as humans. When a person sweats, it occurs all over and it is the body’s natural way of cooling down. Dogs and cats, however, pant to cool down and sweat only from the pads of their paws and their noses. Although this cools them off, it is insufficient against intense heat. If an animal is unable to cool down it will suffer from heat exhaustion and eventually from a heat stroke and potentially death. When responsible for the care of an animal, people must learn how to keep them cool as well as understand how to recognize and remedy any signs of stress from temperatures that are too high.
The danger of overheating is genuine threat for pets. Because animals are unable to express themselves, a pet owner may be oblivious to its distress until it is too late. Animals can suffer from heat exposure regardless of whether they are indoors or out. Animals that are left inside of homes that are not kept at a safe temperature are in danger from heat. Ideally if a pet is kept indoors, it should be kept in a downstairs room or in the basement as these are the coolest locations in the house. Windows should be closed as well as curtains and blinds to keep the sun out. Setting one’s thermostat to between 78 and 80 degrees will also keep pets comfortable without running the air conditioner constantly.
When kept outside the danger to animals increases. If there is not sufficient shade or access to clean water, the animal’s risk of dehydration and heat stroke rises. To help pets stay cool while outdoors they should be kept in a location that has adequate shade such as a large tree or a dog house. It should always have a nearby bowl of cool water, which is also one of the ways that dogs and cats in particular cool down. During intense heat, people should avoid taking their pets for walks on surfaces that absorb heat, such as concrete or asphalt. The pads of a dog’s or cat’s feet can burn on these surfaces. People can also help their pets stay cool by avoiding strenuous play and activity during the hottest part of the day. The more active a pet is, the hotter it will become and the greater its risk of heat stroke. Ideally, the best time to exercise or play with a pet is in the morning hours or in the evening after 7p.m.
Once an animal’s body temperature is elevated without relief for a significant amount of time, it will begin to display the signs of heat stroke. These signs are typically in the form of listlessness, staggering, hard panting, a look of confusion, or of being dazed. The animals tongue or gums may take on a purplish color. In some instances the animal may also begin to vomit. Although it is important to contact the vet immediately, a person should first take steps to begin gradually bringing the animal’s temperature down. If there is more than one person present, one should call the veterinarian while the other takes the animal to a cool location, such as an air-conditioned building or a shaded area if at a park or beach. Giving the animal ice to lick will also help it to cool down, or cool water to drink in small amounts. If available, cold packs or a cold wet towel should be placed on the animal’s head, its neck and on its belly. Placing it in water that is cool, but not cold, is also helpful if possible. The longer the animal remains untreated the greater the risk of damage to its brain and organs. The animal may also suffer from heart failure and eventual death if it remains overheated.
Responsible pet owners will want to take every step possible to keep their pets safe and comfortable. In addition to understanding that their animal is potentially in danger of overheating, a pet owner must understand that there may also be limitations in what their pet can and cannot do in hot weather. Trips to the beach may end in overheating if a pet is unable to cool down, and animals should never be left inside of a car, even for short periods of time. Once pet owners recognize that animals are as sensitive to heat as humans, they will be better able to ensure the health of their pets during periods of high temperatures.
Click the following for more information about caring for companion animals during high temperatures.
- Bay Animal Hospital: High Temperatures and Your Pets
- Seven Safety Tips for Pets (PDF)
- ASPCA Hot Weather Tips
- Northwest Veterinary Specialist: Heat Stress Injury Prevention and Care (PDF)
- MCDH – Weather Tips: Protect Your Pet From Weather Hazards (PDF)
- Information About Hot Weather Tips for Your Pet
- Grapevine, Texas: Hot Weather Tips (PDF)
- Columbus, Indiana: Hot Weather Tips
- Hot Weather and Your Pets (PDF)
- Indianapolis: Play it Cool With Pets in the Summer
- Franklin County Dog Shelter – Hot Weather Pet Safety Tips (PDF)
- Army Medicine: Keep Your Pets Cool This Summer
- Martha Stewart: How to Keep Pets Safe and Cool During the Summer (Video)
- Prevention: Keep Pets Safe All Summer – Summer Fun Safety Guide
- CBS News Money Watch: Keep Your Pets Cool This Summer
- Reader’s Digest: Summer Safety Tips for Dogs
- Pets America Summer Safety – Then Tips to Help Pets Beat the Heat (PDF)
- Better Homes and Garden: Cool It! Summer Heat Can be Dangerous for your Pet
- American Red Cross: Protecting Your Pets From the Heat