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How to keep your pets safe from the heat, 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 weatcooling her 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

A large dog lays down on a sunny patio
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Be on the lookout for excessive thirst and drooling, signs of overheating.

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 labored breathing, unsteadiness on the feet, excessive thirst, and drooling, especially if it’s thicker or more voluminous than usual. 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

A small dog drinks water from a collapsible silicone bowl
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Pets should have free access to plenty of water during hot days.

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,” MacPete says. “And access to plenty of shade and water, if they have to be outside.”

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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, MacPete says, 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,” MacPete says. “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 cooling mat) may also provide your dog or cat with a nap spot to chill out on (literally).

Get the Green Pet Shop cooling mat on Amazon for $27.98 and up

Change up your walking routine

A black, tan, and white dog sits on a sidewalk grate on a New York City street next to his owner's feet
Credit: Getty Images / krblokhin

On hot days, avoid concrete and asphalt as much as possible during walks.

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,” MacPete says. Collapsible water bowls can be clipped to a leash when you know fountains are on your route, or a combo bottle-plus-bowl lets 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.

Consider pet-friendly sunscreen

Two dogs wearing UPF shirts on a blue background
Credit: Reviewed / Sarah Hagman / PlayaPup

Pet owners can opt for UPF gear instead of dog-friendly sunscreen.

You may be surprised to learn that pet owners aren’t the only ones who need to lather on SPF. Dogs who spend time outdoors can be at risk for sunburns and certain types of skin cancers, particularly hairless breeds, those with light or thin fur coats, and loungers who enjoy lying on their backs on hot concrete patios.

In addition to chatting with your veterinarian, you’ll want to track down products formulated for dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, steer clear of zinc oxide and para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA)—popular ingredients in human sunscreens that are toxic to animals—and test a small patch before a wider application. Chewy shoppers are particularly happy with the My Dog Nose It! sun protection balm for areas like noses, ears, and exposed stomachs, and the brand also sells a body and coat spray.

After applying, keep an eye on your pet to make sure they don't lick it off. Or consider protective clothing, like this lightweight PlayaPup shirt that blocks UVA and UVB rays and, unlike sunscreen, doesn't require another coat every couple hours.

Think twice about bringing pets in the car

A small dog rests his head on an open car window
Credit: Getty Images / Eva Blanco

In just minutes, a car's interior temperature can drastically rise.

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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