How to keep your pets safe from the heat this summer, according to a vet
Protect your furry family members from hot-weather emergencies.
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As a hot-weather lover, I revel in—rather than rue—the days when temps hit 80-plus. The first sign for me that I should turn on the AC: when my Caribbean-born pup glues himself spread-eagle to the cool tile of the bathroom floor.
Hot and humid weather that feels unpleasant to people (other than me) can be unbearable for cats and dogs—they just can’t complain about it as loudly as we do. With these vet-approved precautions, you can keep your furry friends cool and comfy all summer long.
Know the signs your pet’s too hot
In addition to having permanent fur coats, pets don’t have nearly as efficient cooling systems as humans do. “In order to cool off, [dogs and cats] dispel heat by panting and perspire only minimally through their foot pads,” says Dr. Ruth MacPete, DVM, a California-based veterinarian and co-founder of VetDerm Solutions.
Cats are generally less heat-affected than dogs as they are often kept indoors and will just get lazier as temperatures climb. Active dogs are a greater risk and “brachycephalic—or short-nose—breeds like pugs, bulldogs, French bulldogs, Boston terriers, and my favorite, boxers, are even more heat-intolerant than other dogs,” MacPete says.
Aside from panting and cool-seeking behavior (like finding shade or chillier surfaces to lie on), signs that dogs are too hot include drooling, especially if it’s thicker or more voluminous than usual, labored breathing, unsteadiness on the feet, and excessive thirst. If you notice these, offer water and even douse your pooch with it to chill him out faster. Danger signs include tongue and gums that appear dark or bright red, fever, vomiting, seizures, and collapse—these require immediate medical attention.
Start with these heat-management basics
While many people take to the outdoors in summer, pets will be happiest if they stay indoors, especially if there’s air conditioning. “Be sure they always have access to plenty of fresh water,” says MacPete. “And access to plenty of shade and water, if they have to be outside.”
Most pets will self-limit activity as they feel hotter, but dogs that love to run and play with their humans may keep going well past the point of comfort for their bodies, so it’s best not to encourage activity during the hottest times of days.
Brushing out pets whose coat shed can help remove excess hair and insulation, says MacPete, and is therefore a good practice. In addition, “haircuts may also help keep your pets cooler, but before shaving off all of your pet’s hair, speak with your veterinarian,” says MacPete. “Your animal’s coat protects him from getting sunburned and, depending on your dog’s breed, the undercoat may actually help keep excessive heat out by insulating their body [from it].” Some breeds with undercoats that shouldn’t be cut include German shepherds, Australian shepherds, huskies, chows, Pomeranians, golden retrievers, border collies, Bernese mountain dogs, and sled dogs such as samoyeds and malamutes.
A gel-filled cooling mat that absorbs body heat (like the The Green Pet Shop Dog Cooling Mat may also provide your dog or cat with a nap spot to chill out on (literally).
Change up your walking routine
You can’t very well keep a dog indoors all day (well, those trained on wee-wee pads excluded). Limit longer strolls to the early morning or evening hours when it’s coolest out, and stay in the shade as much as possible. “I believe pet parents should always have water and water bowls with them at all times,” says MacPete. Collapsible water bowls can be clipped to a leash when you know fountains are on your route, or a combo bottle-plus-bowl let you bring hydration with you.
Additionally, stick to grass or dirt paths over concrete or asphalt as much as possible, and check with the back of your hand to see if the ground is too hot for paws—if you can’t handle five seconds of contact, neither can your dog. You can also take the guesswork out of prevented paw-pad burns by outfitting your pooch with protective booties (that is, if yours will walk in them).
For dogs that are the most heat sensitive—or for longer midday walks—try a cooling vest. You soak these with water pre-walk and the evaporation helps to regulate your pet’s body temperature, while the outer reflective material deflects the sun’s rays.
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Maybe don't bring pets in the car
That blast of hot air when you open the door of a car that’s been baking in the sun? It’s even more oppressive to your fur-covered friends. Even after a car has been comfortably chilled by the AC, it can reach dangerously high temperatures within moments of parking: According to the ASPCA, on an 80-degree day, the interior can heat to 99 degrees in only 10 minutes. That’s why you shouldn’t leave your dog in a parked car for any length of time, for any reason, especially in the summertime. “Instead of taking pets along on errands, leave them safely at home,” MacPete says.
If you happen to see a pup left in a locked car, the ASPCA recommends calling the police right away, and staying there until help arrives—if your beloved furry family member were in danger, you’d want someone to do the same.
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