Tips on protecting pets from the heat

With unseasonably warm temperatures right now in many parts of the U.S., pet owners may not be aware that normal routines need to be adjusted to accommodate for the excessive heat.  I had a friend who lived in Phoenix who used to walk her dog at 5 a.m. every morning so that they weren’t out in the hottest part of the day. She moved to Seattle, but you get the point. Most wild animals won’t even go out in the heat; instead they rest during the day and come out in the late evening or early morning to find food.

Heat-related illnesses account for many veterinary visits this time of year and it’s easy for a pet left outside or overworked to become ill or even die from this overexposure. Heatstroke symptoms include temperatures over 104-105 degrees, thick saliva, heavy panting, confusion, dizziness, seizures, and lying down and not wanting to get back up, among others.

Here are a few situations to avoid:

Walking your dog. Walking dogs during the heat of the day – or even tossing the ball and playing fetch – can be dangerous. Dogs can quickly overheat in these extreme temperatures. (Over the weekend, we had a high of 101 degrees with a heat index of 108.) Walk dogs in the early morning or evening to avoid extreme temperatures. Be aware that even if the temperature is cooler in the evening, the cement or asphalt may still be very hot on your dog’s paws.

Leaving your dog in a parked car. Hard to believe I have to pull this sermon out every year, but some people think it’s okay to leave a dog in a parked car if the car is left in the shade or if they will only be a few minutes. Not true, of course. Once the engine is turned off and the air conditioned stops running, it only takes about 60 seconds for the car to feel uncomfortably warm, even under a shady tree. Sadly, a dog’s body heat can rise quickly and heat stroke begins to occur at just 105 degrees. The dog pants, but can not cool themselves, they get weak, may collapse, suffer seizures, fall into a coma and die.

Leaving your dog in the yard. Heatstroke may occur for dogs left outside with no shade or shelter from the hot sun, no access to cool water to drink, or a place like a pool or sprinklers to cool themselves off in. But wait, here’s the kicker. Dogs can suffer heatstroke even if they have all these things too.

Here are some precautions to take.

1. Exercise dogs in the early morning or late evening – the coolest time of the day. Limit exercise in hot weather altogether.

2. Do not leave your dog, cat, rabbit, parakeet, etc in a parked car. (Last year, a woman left her bird in a parked car while she purchased movie tickets. She was only away from the car for a few minutes. The bird died.)

3. Keep your pets in well-ventilated areas — not the garage. Unless your garage is air-conditioned, heat builds up there quickly. Go stand in your garage for 10 minutes during the middle of the day if you don’t believe me.

4. Keep pets (both dogs and cats) indoors during extreme heat. Cats are prone to heatstroke too. Be especially watchful of puppies and kittens and senior pets that are more prone to heat-related illnesses.

5. Keep plenty of fresh, cool water to drink and maybe even a baby pool filled with cool water in a shaded area (the water gets hot quickly if left in the sun) for when they do go outside. But don’t leave pets outside for more than 10 minutes during the major heat of the day.

What to do if your dog suffers heatstroke:

• Move your dog or cat out of the sun or heat and place cool wet towels on the dog’s head or upper torso. Never use ice water or try to dip the entire dog in cold water.

• If you use the garden hose to cool them off, make sure the water is running cool before gently using over your pet’s body.

• Provide fresh cool water for your dog to drink. They may be too weak to drink though.

• Fan the pet to cool and increase circulation around them.

• Get your dog or cat to a vet as soon as possible for treatment. Heatstroke is a life-threatening situation and they need immediate veterinary care.

For more information on pet first aid for pets, check out “Pet First Aid: Cats and Dogs” by the American Red Cross.

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