As summer approaches, we’re going through our closets pulling out our t-shirts and shorts in preparation for fun in the sun. But what about our four-legged friends stuck in a permanent fur coat? Are they as affected by the midday heat as we are? (Spoiler alert: yes.) And is there anything we can do about it? (Also, yes.) Here’s the good news: beating the heat is as easy as ABC!
A. Always Plan Ahead
Remember, our companion animals are at our mercy when it comes to being out in the sun. While we can choose whether or not to take a midday hike or sit out in the backyard for hours, they have to go along with the decisions we make, even if it is uncomfortable or potentially dangerous for them. Heat stroke illnesses and deaths spike in the summer, stemming from three main categories:
Prolonged exercise in full heat is dangerous. People who take their pet out to walk or run during the hottest time of the day and don’t realize their pet is overheating. Limit your exercise times to morning and evening during hot months.
Leaving pets in cars. It’s a myth that cracking the windows makes the car cooler ... it doesn’t! Another common misconception is that the outside temperature needs to be high for pets to suffer. On a sunny 70 degree day, the interior can reach 90 degrees in 30 minutes. In 85 degree weather, the temperature can reach 120 in the same period of time! If you can’t bring your dog or cat inside with you on your errands, let them stay home. It simply isn’t worth the risk.
Too much activity and not enough water. I’ve seen pets get heat stroke just from playing in the yard on a warm afternoon. If you’re planning on staying outside with your dog, make sure he or she has plenty of water to drink, a shady place to retreat to, and maybe even a sprinkler or wading pool to cool down in.
B. Beware the Signs of Heat Stroke
Heat stroke symptoms can begin once the body temperature exceeds 103 degrees F. While most of us don’t carry a pet thermometer around, watch for these specific warning signs:
- heavy panting
- excessive drooling leading to very dry mouth
- extra-red tongue or gums
- weakness or collapse
Brachycephalic breeds like bulldogs and pugs are especially prone to overheating, as are dark-haired breeds. Dogs and cats can and do die every summer from heat exposure, so if you suspect your companion animal is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, go to the veterinary ER as soon as possible!
C. Clipping: What About a Summer ‘Do?
Many people like to give their dog or cat a summer clip to help stay cool. If this is something you are considering, talk to your groomer to ensure it’s appropriate for your pet’s breed. Dogs whose fur grows continuously - such as poodles and Lhasas - do well with clips, while double-coated breeds such as Akitas and Chows do not. In some cases, a pet’s coat may actually help keep him or her cool, rendering a clip counterproductive. If you do opt for a trim, make sure there is at least one inch of fur remaining so your beloved pup or kitty doesn’t get a sunburn.
Although heat-related illnesses are scary and serious, the great news is that they are also entirely preventable. With just a little foresight and planning, our furry friends can enjoy the summer just as much as we do! Now get out there and soak up the rays!
Dr. Jessica Vogelsang