Keeping Your Pets Safe This Summer

Kitten on Picket Fence

by Dr. Mara Tugel

Summer is here, and whether you enjoy relaxing in the sun with your furry friend, or taking your dog out to play or even swim, this is a great season to enjoy time with our pets. Unfortunately, hyperthermia (or heat stroke), is a real risk here in Kentucky.  Every summer we see a number of pets who become very ill or even die due to their internal body temperature rising too high. Here are a few tips to help you keep your pets safe in the summer heat.

Avoid situations that commonly result in heat stroke.  Do not leave your pet in the car for any length of time on warm days.  Even on relatively nice summer days, the temperature inside the car can rise well above the outdoor temperature.  Also, do not leave your pet outside without adequate shade and fresh water.  If your yard or dog kennel become hot during the day, consider keeping your pet inside during really hot summer days.

The same is true for exercise when it is hot and humid.  Getting your dog out for a walk or to the dog park early in the morning or late in the evening is the best way to avoid the summer heat.  Even then, consider taking a shorter walk than normal or don’t allow them to play quite so hard as they usually would.

It is really important to provide a cool place for your pet to recover from hot conditions.  Ideally, they can be brought into air-conditioning, or otherwise provided a shaded area with a fan.  Also, provide your pets with fresh, cool water, but never force water into their mouths.  For those dogs who love to play in water,  letting them take a dip in a creek, or providing a kiddy pool for them to walk through in the back yard are examples of ways to help them stay cool.

Watch for signs of heat stroke.  Often, dogs appear restless and cannot stop panting. Cats will breathe with their mouths open when they are in distress, and some pets will drool excessively.  As the hyperthermia progresses, pets may appear unsteady, weak, or non-responsive.  By the time they have made it to this level of heat stroke, they are in a very dangerous situation.  It is best to recognize early signs of becoming overheated and transport your pet to the closest veterinary clinic.

Try to start the cooling process on the way to your veterinarian.  Lay wet, cool towels across their neck, groin, and armpit regions.  Pets cannot sweat the same way that people can to evaporate heat, but they can evaporate heat through the pads of their feet to some degree.  Wetting the pads and flaps of their ears with cool water can help.  Although it is tempting to use ice-cold water, or to completely submerge your pet in cool water, this can actually worsen the situation.  Very cold water causes superficial blood vessels in the skin to constrict and actually slows down cooling of your pet’s internal body temperature.  Cool tap water is the safest and most effective.

Now you know how to stay safe while enjoying the summer months with your pets! Remember these tips to avoid getting in a bad situation, and most importantly remember to seek immediate veterinary attention for your pet if you notice any signs of heat stroke.