Whenever you are out on a hot day, sweating profusely, you know it’s important to cool yourself off. You search for shade, drink a tall, cold beverage, or submerge yourself in a large body of water. Dogs and cats need relief from the heat, too—although they can’t tell you so. Here are some of the serious dangers of heat and hot weather for pets, and how you can prevent them from suffering hot weather-related medical conditions.
Hot topic #1: Breathing
Dogs are not able to cool themselves off the same way as humans, who have adapted to sweating to remove excess body heat. Instead, dogs, and sometimes cats, pant to remove excess heat from their body. As they pant, the air that moves over their tongue causes water to evaporate from the mouth. The evaporating water decreases the dog’s body heat, leaving the body a little cooler. This is the only way pets can naturally cool themselves.
You can see that pets are at a disadvantage when it comes to self-cooling mechanisms, so you will understand the following cautions:
- No muzzles — Pets who are outside on a hot summer day cannot be muzzled, because that eliminates their ability to pant and, therefore, their ability to cool their body.
- Take extra care with brachycephalic breeds — Dog breeds with a flat face (i.e., brachycephalics) have a shortened airway, their trachea is often too small, and areas in their throat can swell, further restricting airflow. Called brachycephalic airway syndrome, this puts brachycephalic dogs at high risk for heat stroke and death, when exposed to summer heat. If you have a brachycephalic dog, walk them early in the morning, or after the sun goes down, and keep them in air-conditioning during the rest of the day.
Hot topic #2: Skin
Did you know that the skin of dogs and cats is similar to humans? Of course, your dog and cat have fur covering most of their skin, and it’s harder to see, but when it comes to summer, your pet’s skin is as vulnerable to heat injury as you are. Pet parents should know what to look for, to help protect their pet.
- Protect paw pads — Dogs and cats don’t generally wear shoes, and the fleshy padding on their paws—their paw pads—are as sensitive as the human hand. When considering taking your pet outside on a hot, sunny day, place the palm of your hand on the pavement. If you are immediately inclined to pull your hand away because the pavement is hot, then the surface is too hot for your pet to walk on. During the summer months, we see numerous pets at the Pet Resort – Stone Ridge hospital with burned paw pads from walking on hot pavement. Use caution, and prevent your pet from suffering with these painful injuries.
- Avoid sunburn — It is also not well-known that pets can get sunburned, despite most of their body being covered with fur. Any exposed skin on your pet, such as around the ears, eyes, muzzle, and belly, can be burned, and pets also can develop skin cancer. If your pet likes being outside with you, playing with your kids, or lying in the sun, no matter how hot, take extra precautions, and use pet-friendly sunscreen on their susceptible areas.
Hot topic #3: Whole body heat
Imagine walking your dog, or being outside with your cat, on a hot summer day. You, no doubt, are in a short-sleeve shirt and shorts, while your pet, although not wearing any clothes, has a fur coat. Now imagine that on that same hot summer day, you are wearing Great Aunt Sally’s fur coat on top of your clothes. You won’t have that coat on for long, before you start feeling your body overheating. Remember this analogy the next time you are outside with your pet in the summer heat, and ensure they are protected. Keep your pet groomed, with short fur, during the summer months to help keep them cool.
- In the outdoors — One of the biggest concerns for pet parents during the summer months is the potential for heatstroke in their pet. When the body gets too hot, certain body mechanisms fail, the blood clots inappropriately, and the brain can’t process information. Left untreated, heatstroke can result in death. Always provide fresh, cool water, and a shaded area if your pet is left outside, remembering that these areas may change throughout the day with the sun’s path.
- In your vehicle — One of the leading causes of heatstroke occurs in dogs left in the car on a hot day, which is never acceptable. On a day with an ambient temperature of only 70 degrees, your car’s interior can heat up to 100 degrees in less than 20 minutes, which can be enough to evoke heatstroke, and potential death.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has developed an informational article and chart to help demonstrate how hot your car can get over time, based on the initial ambient temperature. For example, if your car sits for 10 minutes, the temperature inside can increase 20 degrees. The longer it sits, the hotter it gets. Never risk your pet, if it is a hot summer day. Leave them at home, or bring them with you when you leave your car.
With these precautions in mind, you can keep your pet safe during the hot summer months to come. If you have additional questions about sunburn, paw pad burns, brachycephalic airway syndrome, or heatstroke in pets, call us, or make an appointment to talk with a member of our team about a personalized summer heat-safety plan for your pet.