Summer is in full swing, and with it comes many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors. Pet owners often like spending time outside with family, friends and pets.
A lot of animals like spending time outside, and therefore, pet owners need to take precautions to ensure their animals stay safe in the summer heat, said Dr. Laura Nafe, assistant professor of small animal internal medicine at the Oklahoma State University Center for Veterinary Health Sciences.
“Just as you hydrate yourself and take precautions such as applying sunscreen and staying cool in the heat, it’s vital to keep a close eye on your pet when spending time outdoors, especially on a hot, sunny day,” Nafe said.
Dogs do not sweat like humans. Instead, they cool themselves primarily by panting. Excessive panting indicates your pet is overheated. Dogs also will seek shade to help cool themselves in the heat of the summer, and they enjoy a nice, cool breeze just like the rest of us.
“If you’re out for a walk or playing in the yard and your dog stops to sit or lie down, he is telling you that he is unable to keep cool enough for the activity,” she said. “A dog’s gums can be a good indicator of being overheated. Gums often appear more red early on when an animal is overheated, and become more pale if the dog is excessively overheated. In addition, a dog’s gums may be dry or sticky if the animal is not staying adequately hydrated.”
If you are spending time at a pond or lake with your dog, do not assume your pet will drink water from that source. Always bring water and a bowl with you and try to keep the water cool if possible. Your dog is likely accustomed to and prefers city water.
Dogs often love to travel in the car with you. Unfortunately, one of the most life-threatening mistakes people can make is to leave a pet in a vehicle in hot weather.
“Never, ever leave your dog in the car, even with the windows open. Cars heat up very quickly. As an example, on an 80-degree day, a car can heat up to 110 degrees in approximately 15 minutes,” Nafe said. “We’re well beyond the 80 degree days at this point in the summer, so extra precaution is necessary.”
Because dogs pant to keep themselves cool, taking in the hot air inside a vehicle has little cooling effect, and the animal will quickly overheat. Your pet may overheat and develop signs of heatstroke even after a few minutes spent in a sweltering car. As much as you enjoy your pet’s company, and as much as the pet enjoys a ride in the car, it is better to leave your pet at home on hot days.
Pet owners who enjoy going for a walk or run with their dog must remember asphalt gets very hot during the summer—hot enough to burn the pads on a dog’s foot. Before taking your dog for a walk, check the ground for hotness with one of your hands or bare feet. If you cannot keep your hand or foot on the ground for more than three seconds, it is certainly too hot for an animal. During the hot summer months, consider going on short walks early in the morning or later in the evening when the temperature is more bearable.
“Dogs who are older, overweight, have a thick coat, or have a pushed-in nose, such as bulldogs and pugs, are at increased risk of overheating,” she said. “It’s always a good idea to bring water for both you and your pet.”
Keeping your dog hydrated is essential to good health and is especially important during the summer months. If your dog is inside during the day, make sure it has fresh, cool water that remains in a shaded spot throughout the day, since sun coming through a window can heat a bowl of water. Most dogs will not drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.
If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure the water bowl is in a place where it cannot be tipped over. Water bowls can be tipped over by dogs trying to make a cool spot to lie down. If possible, give your dog fresh, clean water several times throughout the day.
“Freeze containers of water to put in your pet’s outdoor water bowl,” Nafe said. “This will help ensure your furry friend’s water stays cooler for a longer period of time.”
Also, make sure to provide your pup with a shady area to get out of the sun. A small kiddie pool is a great way to provide a fun cooling-off spot where your dog can play.
“Despite all your precautions, your dog may still show signs of heat stress or heat stroke. Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing,” Nafe said. “If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke, move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and foot pads.”
Do not pour ice water over the whole animal, submerge your pet in a tub of cold water, or cover it in a cold, wet blanket, as these all may result in cooling your animal too quickly and decreasing blood flow to important areas. Once stable, get him to a veterinarian as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Heat can cause internal damage to organs that is not obvious from the outside.
Keeping your dog well-groomed is another way to reduce the risk of heat stress and help keep the animal more comfortable in the summer heat. A natural coat that has been groomed offers protection from sunburn and acts as cooling insulation. Shaving your dog’s coat will take away that protection.
“Remember, your pet can’t tell you in words when something is wrong. As responsible pet owners, it’s your job to protect and provide for your pet,” she said. “If you’re feeling uncomfortably warm, it’s a sure bet your dog is, too.”
Story by Trisha Gedon