The power of summer heat and humidity demands respect. Unfortunately, every year, human and pet lives are claimed by the unforgiving temperatures. Town and Country Animal Hospital wants your pet to have a fun summer, but for things to be fun, they must be safe. Use the following guide to make the most of the summer with your pet, and fill this season of endless sun with only memories, and no regrets.

Heating and cooling and pets

If you are hot, you can assume your pet is miserable. While we can shed layers of clothing to  cool off, our pets cannot simply step out of their furry coats. If they could, they would not get much benefit anyway, because of their inability to sweat. When temperatures rise above their body’s natural range, pets are forced to rely on panting. 

Panting is a rapid exchange of warm, moistened, internal air from the lungs for cooler external air. Evaporative cooling occurs as the air moves over the pet’s elongated tongue and the mucous membranes of the nasal passages and mouth. Unfortunately, panting is ineffective in excessively high temperatures and high humidity, and a pet cannot lower their body temperature. As their temperature reaches 104 to 106 degrees, heatstroke’s cascading effects begin.

Heatstroke in pets can be devastating—but is preventable

Heatstroke happens as the pet’s body diverts blood from the organs to the skin’s surface for rapid cooling. This compromise of blood flow and dangerously high internal temperatures causes irreversible kidney, liver, and brain damage. Heatstroke is reversible if detected early, but without intervention, pets may die during the initial event or days later. Common heatstroke warning signs include:

  • Excessive panting and drooling
  • Red gums
  • Restless, anxious behavior
  • Mental dullness
  • Vomiting and diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizure
  • Death

If you suspect heatstroke, remove your pet immediately to a cooler location. Take their temperature if a thermometer is available, and wet them down with cool—never cold—water. Offer cool water if the pet is coherent, but do not force them to drink. Transport your pet to Town and Country Animal Hospital as soon as possible for stabilization. 

How can heatstroke be prevented in pets?

Heatstroke prevention is all about managing your pet’s environment. Awareness of heat risks will help you to evaluate your pet’s safety in each situation. Here are a few everyday summer scenarios that commonly cause heatstroke.

  • Leaving pets unattended outdoors — Busy summer schedules can have you hustling from sun-up to sundown. You may not be mindful of the here and now, and forget your pet is outside, unattended. Owners frequently forget to bring their pets inside on hot days, and find their beloved dog or cat collapsed in the backyard without water or shade. A five-minute errand or phone call can easily become 30 minutes, and your pet may pay the price. When you are outside with your pet, ensure they have plenty of shade to escape the sun’s rays, as well as plenty of fresh, cool water to keep them cool, and prevent dehydration. Frequently offer your pet the chance to return inside.
  • Leaving pets in parked vehicles — Short trips to town may seem a great opportunity to take your pet on a summer cruise, but if your trip involves leaving the car for any reason, leave your pet at home. Parked vehicles can heat up fast on days with unassumingly mild temperatures, and can climb 20 degrees in the first 10 minutes on a sunny 70-degree day. On a hot day, a pet left in the car will quickly die a cruel death, despite the windows being cracked. Don’t let heat be the reason for your pet’s last ride. If the temperature is higher than 70 degrees, leave your pet at home.
  • Exercising pets too hard, too late — Modify your summer routine and exercise your pet during the cooler parts of the day, namely early morning and late evening. Aerobic exercise during high heat and humidity is a common cause of heatstroke in pets and people. Keeping your pet active is important, but safety is crucial. Reduce the exercise duration and intensity, or switch to indoor games or conditioning activities.

On your daily walks, check surface temperatures of roads and sidewalks to prevent paw pad burns. When in doubt, stick to the grass. If you must exercise on asphalt, consider a pair of boots to protect your dog’s feet.  

Who is most vulnerable for heatstroke?

Heatstroke can affect any pet, but the following groups are especially at risk for heat-related complications:

  • Brachycephalic or flat faced breeds — Their shortened face, nose, and throat anatomy makes panting less efficient
  • Elderly, debilitated, young, and obese pets — These pets’ age or health condition make them especially vulnerable. 
  • Heavily coated breeds While many pets appreciate a trim of excessive feathering, fringe, or hair on their chest, abdomen, and belly to increase cooling, contrary to common thinking, double-coated dog breeds do not benefit from being shaved. 

Our pets need extra help getting through the dog days of summer, so always plan with your pet’s comfort and wellbeing in mind. While some adjustments may seem inconvenient, remember that summer doesn’t last forever. Before you know, we’ll all—including our dogs—be daydreaming about this season for the next nine months.

For additional questions about heat safety, or if you think your pet has heat-related signs, contact Town and Country Animal Hospital immediately. Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency.