Sizzling sunshine, high humidity, and fur coats don’t mix well. Add in outdoor playtime, little shade, and not enough fresh water, and you’ve got an emergency on your hands. Heat exhaustion and heatstroke in pets are all too common during the warmer months, even if temperatures aren’t sky high. On cooler days, our pets laze about in the sunroom or tag along on car rides, but the latter are too dangerous in the summer, when the blazing sun can kick the thermometer up several notches in mere minutes. Children have died from vehicular heatstroke when the outside temperature has been below 70 degrees, and the same can happen to pets. Even a balmy 70 degrees outside can cause the interior of a parked car to dramatically increase in temperature, as much as 20 degrees in 10 minutes. Instead of a car ride to the grocery store, show your pet how much you love her by leaving her behind in the safety and chilled air of your home. Also take the following steps to avoid a heatstroke fatality this summer.
- Paws off the blistering blacktop — Your pet’s paw pads may be thick and calloused, but they are still no match for scorching hot pavement. If you can’t place your hand on the sidewalk for five seconds, your pet can’t walk on those surfaces. Stick to early morning walks or stay in the shade. Even after the sun goes down, the blacktop can still radiate sizzling heat. Or, change your walking path and hit wooded hiking trails instead. Be sure your pet is protected from fleas, ticks, and other parasites before venturing into the leafy coolness.
- Don’t dive in the deep end — Not every pooch is born knowing how to doggy paddle, so consider investing in a life jacket for your pet if you plan on taking a dip in a deep body of water. Many pets are unused to wearing such bulky garments, so practice wearing the gear on dry land first. If your pet is still uncomfortable in deeper water, set up a kiddie wading pool with a few inches of cool water so your pet can splash around and cool off without fear of drowning. Also with a kiddie pool, your pet won’t need a post-swim bath to rinse off salt, chlorine, or other chemicals.
- Polish off a popsicle — Frosty treats are a perfect way to cool down on a scorching summer day. Create your own popsicles—cats crave frozen tuna juice or low-sodium chicken broth, while dogs delight in frozen peanut butter and fruit combinations. You can also keep it simple with plain ice cubes to chill your pet’s drinking water.
- Seek out shade — Like people, pets can overheat quickly in direct sunlight, and can fall victim to painful sunburns. White-coated, thin-furred pets are most prone to sunburns and may develop skin cancer without proper protection. When outdoors, keep your pet under leafy trees and other shelter to prevent sun-related illness.
- Find your biggest fan — All that shade is not helpful without ventilation. A pet who is stuck in a stuffy garage or other building without adequate air movement can quickly begin to suffer with heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Ensure your pet’s resting area is properly ventilated to help keep her cool.
- Chill out with cooling mats — Pets enjoy soaking up sunny rays, even when the temperatures climb. Cats in particular like to lie on sun-drenched windowsills, where they can become overheated. Offer your pet a chilled resting place with a cooling mat. You can purchase a durable water- or gel-filled mat, or make your own from fleece and ice packs.
- Watch out for warning signs — After taking all these precautions, your pet may still suffer from heat exhaustion, especially if she has a short snout, is a puppy or elderly, is thick-coated, or is overweight. Keep an eye out for these warning signs of heat exhaustion:
- Excessive panting
- Rapid pulse
- Change in gum color
- Muscle tremors
At the first sign of overheating, take your pet into an air-conditioned building and run cool—not cold—water over her. Do not submerge her, in case she loses consciousness and can’t keep her head above water. Avoid freezing cold water, which can cause hypothermia. You may soak your pet with wet towels, but avoid wrapping her because wet towels don’t allow evaporation and trap heat.
Your pet will require veterinary care after a heat-related incident because of potential unseen organ damage. At our hospital, we will assess your pet for kidney, liver, and heart injuries, and correct her dehydration. Organ damage can take weeks to appear after a heatstroke event, so your pet will need a progress check.
Preventing heat-related illnesses is vital for your pet. Are you concerned about beating the heat this summer? We can help. We can also fix scorched paws, sunburn, and heat exhaustion—just give us a call.