Summer brings the expectation of hot temperatures, sometimes to the point of danger.
As the temperature rises, keep in mind that the heat will likely make your pet feel even hotter. Dogs and cats generate more heat than humans and usually also have a thick layer of fur to keep that heat inside.
Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedicine, has some tips for spotting signs that your pet is too hot and suggestions for keeping them safe and cool on hot summer days.
While people sweat everywhere to get rid of excess heat, dogs and cats can only sweat through their paw pads.
Most pets rely on panting to cool themselves off, but animals with shorter noses, like bulldogs and Persians, tend to be less heat-resistant, which means they have a harder time getting rid of excess body heat.
“Very young and older animals, especially those with underlying diseases, are also less heat-resistant than healthy adult animals,” said Rutter. “If you hear snoring, coughing, or gurgling when your pet tries to gasp or gets excited, it is not heat-resistant.”
Factors like obesity, long hair, and medication can also make pets more sensitive to heat. If any of these apply to your pet, Rutter recommends talking to a veterinarian about increased heat sensitivity.
Fortunately, there are many things people can do to help their pets cool off on hot days. The simplest solution is to keep pets in an air-conditioned building. However, there are other options if the pet is spending time outdoors.
“Shade, cool water to drink or play, a fan, and a cool surface like grass help pets cool off – just like we look for a glass of lemonade, a shady place to rest and a breeze when we’re hot,” said Rutter.
Cats usually limit their own activity and seek shade when they get too hot, but should still have a fresh source of water and not be outside for the first time in summer.
However, working, agile, and motivated dogs, such as retrievers or wild dogs, may not slow down if they get too hot. Therefore, according to Rutter, owners should be careful to limit their activity as the temperature rises.
“Any dog that wants to take a break, does not want to run, or is panting heavily should be given fresh, cool water and a shady place to rest until their breathing normalizes and they want to be active again,” said Rutter. “Avoid exercise during the heat of the day and take a 10 to 15 minute break to cool off every 15 to 20 minutes if the temperature is over 80 degrees.”
If an animal is unable to remove excess heat, heat exhaustion or heat stroke can result. Ambient temperature, humidity, and the pet’s activity level can play a role in developing these conditions.
“Heat exhaustion is the feeling of lethargy, discomfort, or weakness that occurs when the body becomes too hot,” said Rutter. “It’s the body’s way of saying,” Slow down! “
In comparison, heat stroke is a disease caused by increased body temperature. According to Rutter, it is much more serious and can even be life threatening if not caught early.
If a pet shows signs of heat exhaustion, they should be wetted with cold (not cold) water and placed near a blower in a shaded, air-conditioned area.
If the pet is vomiting, looking lethargic, has red gums, or appears to have small red bruises on their mouth, eyes, or stomach, they should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you are unsure whether it is an emergency situation, it is better to have the pet examined just in case, as heat stroke can cause serious damage very quickly.
Rutter also reminds pet owners that it is dangerous to leave an animal in a parked car at any time of the year, but especially in summer. The inside of a car can get deadly hot in just 15 minutes.
The best way to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke is to be aware of the amount of time your pet spends outside in the summer and watch out for symptoms of these conditions. With these simple precautions, pet owners can ensure that their dogs and cats are safe in the worst of summer.