The old adage “out of the skillet and into the frying pan” most appropriately describes temperatures felt across much of the United States right now, as summer rolls in with full force. Warmer weather offers a multitude of outside activities for dog and cat owners and their pets, but it is important to keep an eye on the temperature. Don’t let the “dog (cat) days of summer” turn into heat-related pet health emergencies. National Heat Awareness Day, slated for May 23, serves as a reminder for pet owners to take the necessary precautions to keep their animals safe and healthy during hot summer days.
Pet Heat Safety & Different Cooling Systems
When it comes to pet heat safety, our furry friends have a number of disadvantages. Humans can peel off layers of clothing to help cool off, but cats and dogs cannot remove their furry coats. Humans have sweat glands, located all over the body, which bring warm moisture to the skin surface, cooling them off as it evaporates. Dogs and cats, however, have few sweat glands, and most of them are found on their footpads. If you’ve noticed your dog standing in his water bowl, that's merely his way of trying to keep cool.
Another method dogs use to cool off is panting. Basically the moist lining of a dog’s lungs serves as an evaporative surface. Contrary to popular belief, their tongue does not have sweat glands, but salivary glands in the mouth and tongue allow some cooling to take place as air flow produced by panting moves across this wet area. In a smaller fashion, a cat cools down much the same way, but it will also sweat from its coat. Cats lick their coats and as the saliva evaporates on their fur, it produces a cooling effect.
Dogs also maintain the ability to expand blood vessels in their face and ears to dispel heat. This process causes blood to flow closer to the skin surface so it can cool off. Being able to jump in a body of water—be it a pond, lake, ocean, pool, or plastic tub—helps cool off a dog as well.
Now, high humidity presents a double whammy in the cooling-off process. If humidity is too high, dogs and cats will be unable to cool themselves and could be in a dangerous health situation rapidly. To help counter this, use well-placed water misters; these can provide some relief for cats and dogs. The best option, of course, is to bring your pets inside on these hot, humid days and keep the air conditioning on.
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Reminders for Keeping Your Pet Safe in Summer Heat
Never leave a pet in a car, even in moderate temperatures like the 80s. According to the National Transportation Safety Act, when the outside temperature is 83 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature inside the car can reach 109 degrees Fahrenheit in only 15 minutes, even with the window rolled down. With higher outside temperatures, the inside of a vehicle quickly becomes an oven.
Limit outdoor exercise when the weather's hot. Running in excessive heat will not allow a dog to cool down. Never start an extensive running program without conditioning a dog for this activity. Wait for cooler times of the day before taking your dog on long walks and runs. Remember the unique function of footpads on dogs (and cats). Avoid concrete, asphalt, pavement, and sand that has been sizzling in the sun. All of these have the potential to burn a pet’s paws.
When it's hot, bring your dog and cat inside and keep them cool via air conditioning. If a pet has to be outside for extended periods of time, make sure they have plenty of shade so they can stay out of the sun. It should be a covered area with airflow. (Doghouses become mini-ovens for a pet so that is not a good option.) If necessary, rigs some tarps under trees for a protected area where air can move. Of course, access to cool, fresh water is also mandatory. Cats will seek out shade and will lie on cool surfaces like dirt out of the sun’s rays.
Cats love a good windowsill with a view and seek these out to stay cool and also for entertainment. Be sure screens are well-secure: using safety screens in all open windows will allow a cat to chill without the chance of falling.
Watch out for special needs animals like elderly cats and dogs, young puppies and kittens, or those with illness or disability and make sure to take the proper precautions to keep them cool and hydrated.
Once more: when it is hot out, bring your dog and cat inside a keep it cool via air conditioning. If you think it’s miserable out, your dog (and cat) would agree.
Water to Help Prevent Pet Heatstroke
Provide access to lots of cold, fresh water—whether at home or out on a walk or run. Continuously filled bowls work well for inside, and access to a waterer attached to a hose keeps water flowing day and night for outside. Some great options for water access: Bergan’s Gourmet Waterer and the Bergan Auto-Wata with a garden house connection; non-splash and anti-spill stainless steel bowls can do double duty at home and while traveling.
Placing ice in water dishes and devices provides a chilled drink on a hot day for both cats and dogs. Portable water bottles and containers are a must if walking or running with a dog or simply traveling with a cat. Collapsible pet bowls provide a quick, easy container for fresh water that can be stowed in a car, bag, or backpack. Since water left in a car or outside will also heat up, plan ahead to place some in a small cooler with ice/icepacks when heading out. Lixit Travel Water Bowl is ideal for trips since it holds three quarts of water and won’t spill, even if turned upside down.
Keep in mind, while some dogs enjoy swimming, not all are good at it. However, backyard wading pools provide a great opportunity to cool off for many pets as do pools, lakes, and beaches. Be sure to bring fresh water on these excursions so your canine companion is not tempted to drink contaminated or chlorinated water.
Many cats will play with water and ice. Inside a cat may enjoy a quick game of ice hockey, batting an ice cube or two around on a smooth floor, especially if its owner spends a few minutes playing the game.
Prevent Heatstroke in Pets
If a pet (dogs and cats) exhibits signs of heatstroke, get treatment immediately from a veterinarian or pet emergency clinic.
Signs of heatstroke can include a bucketful of symptoms. Among them are:
- Confusion and sluggishness
- Body temperatures of 104-110 F degrees for dogs and over 103 F for cats
- Lack of coordination
- Dark or bright red tongue and gums
- Sticky or dry tongue and gums
- Excessive panting
- Bloody diarrhea
Animals can also go into a coma and in critical cases, death is a possibility.
Take action if heatstroke is suspected by getting the animal out of the heat and apply cool, wet towels around a dog’s feet and head. Wetting a dog down with a garden hose can also start the cooling process. Cats can be wrapped with wet towels, too, if tolerated. Don’t use ice water as this can lead to Hypothermia. Most importantly, get the dog or cat to a vet immediately.
Heatstroke can damage the liver, kidneys, brain and other organs due to the elevated body temperature. A veterinarian can determine through blood tests and examination if an animal’s health has been compromised. A secondary result of heatstroke can be a complex blood disorder, called Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation (DIC). It can be fatal if not resolved or monitored.
Sunscreen for Sunburn
Just like humans, dogs and cats can get sunburned under the right conditions. Light-colored, hairless and shaven-down dogs can get burned. Cats are also susceptible. Pet-specific sunscreen can keep the threat away during outside activities or for felines who spent considerable time lying in the sun.
Pet Heat Safety for Specific Breeds
Short-nosed dogs and cats with snouts pushed in, identified as Brachycephalic breeds like Pugs and Persians, suffer from more health concerns with excessive heat and humidity. This is something owners need to keep in mind during the summer months.
So summer may be cooking, but some precautionary measures should keep your cat and dog from baking in the heat. That way “staying cool” will be more than just a slang expression.