The dog days of summer (or every day in regions that are balmy year-round) present numerous hazards and stressors associated with warm weather and summertime festivities for our pets.
Summertime Climate Changes
Increased heat creates a variety of health risks for pets. Unlike humans, cats and dogs primarily expel heat through their respiratory tract (trachea and lungs) and skin; they lack the ability to sweat. Therefore, acclimating to hot and/or humid climates is more challenging to our feline and canine companions.
Pets that are brachycephalic (short-faced, like the English Bulldog, Pug, or Shih Tzu for dogs, and the Burmese, Himalayan, and Persian for cats), geriatric, juvenile, overweight/obese, or sick have a more challenging time acclimating to a hot environment than their healthy, adult mesaticephalic (medium-faced) counterparts.
In warmer temperatures, adjust your home and car climate to better suit your pet’s needs. Provide air conditioning and well circulated air to keep your pet cool both indoors and during vehicular travel.
Avoidance of Hyperthermia
Exposure to heat and the sun also puts your pet a risk for hyperthermia (elevation in the body’s core temperature). In comparison to humans, dogs and cats have a higher resting temperature (100-102.5°F +/- 0.5°F). Life threatening health issues can arise when the body temperature rises above the high normal limit. Only a few minutes to hours are needed, pending the climate and the pet’s ability to compensate for the heat. Prolonged hyperthermia can cause lethargy, diarrhea, vomit, multi-system organ failure, prolonged blood clotting times, seizures, coma, and death.
One of the most lethal summertime environments for pets is inside the glass and steel coffins that are our automobiles. A Stanford University Medical Center study reports that a "car’s interior can heat up by an average of 40°F within an hour, regardless of ambient temperature. Eighty percent of the temperature rise occurred within the first half-hour." As your car’s interior gets hotter, so will your pet’s body temperature.
Unforeseeable circumstances could keep you occupied for longer than initially anticipated, so never leave your pet unattended in a non-climate controlled car, even on relatively cool day. Additionally, provide continuous circulating ventilation with air conditioning during your trip.
Use Shade or Sunscreen to Protect Your Pet’s Skin
Despite the thick hair coat adorning most dogs and cats, sunburn is a realistic risk during summertime months, or for pets living in balmy climates. Pets with pink skin (often paired with light or white hair) should wear some form of sun protection or be confined to the shade. The nose, ears, and other areas having exposed skin can be covered with a pet-specific sun screen free from salicylates and zinc oxide, both of which are toxic if ingested. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen is the only product currently on the market that meets the Food & Drug Administration's standards for safety for dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends sunscreen application at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
Keep Your Pet’s Temperature Regulated Through Proper Grooming
Properly caring for your pet’s coat is also essential to maintaining normal body temperature. A well groomed coat and healthy skin permits circulation of air at the surface and transfer of heat out of the body.
Underlying metabolic diseases (canine hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, feline hyperthyroidism, etc.), and skin allergies and infections can also negatively impact a pet’s skin and its ability to regulate body temperature.
The addition of an omega fatty acid supplement (fish or flax oil, etc.) can also improve the overall health of your pet’s skin and coat and potentially permit increased resistance to heat and sun damage. Omega 3 and 9 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin, while also benefitting the joints, nerves, and cardiovascular organs (heart, lungs, blood vessels, etc.).
Cautiously Exercise Your Pet and Provide Proper Hydration
Schedule an examination with your veterinarian before actively engaging in new activities to ensure your pet is healthy enough for a summertime fitness program. Provide rest, shade, and voluntary or administered hydration at least every 15 minutes to ward off hyperthermia and dehydration. If your pet refuses to run or walk, never force it to continue.
Due to the negative health implications associated with heat and sun exposure, it’s safest to exercise caution when exercising your pet — even a healthy pet. Avoid vigorous outdoor activity in excessively hot or humid environments. Dawn, dusk, and evening hours are best from a temperature perspective, but they are also the prime feeding times for disease transmitting mosquitoes and other biting insects.
When warmer weather arrives, plan ahead and prioritize safety to ensure your pet does not suffer ill health effects from the "dog days of summer."
Dr. Patrick Mahaney