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7 Ways to Keep Your Pet Cool in a Heatwave

Southern California has recently been struck by a severe heat wave, which unfortunately makes it tougher for we dog owners who love to get out and be active with our pooches to do so safely.

Although Cardiff (my Welsh Terrier) and I are used to sunny and warm weather on a year-round basis in Los Angeles, the recent soaring of temperatures into the 90s and 100s certainly requires more planning ahead to prevent illness or injury in all aspects of our lives.

The biggest danger associated with pets living or exercising in hot environments is hyperthermia (elevated body temperature). The range of normal body temperatures for cats and dogs typically spans from 100 to 102.5F. 

Common causes of body temperature elevations above the normal range include fever-associated conditions (inflammation, infection, pain, toxic reaction, immune mediated disease, cancer) and non-fever conditions (activity, hot environment, etc.). Younger and smaller animals tend to run near the higher end of the range or slightly over.

In general, dogs and cats don't rid their bodies of heat via sweating like we humans, so the responsibility falls upon the respiratory tract and paw pads to evacuate body heat. As a result, pets are more prone to suffering health problems when exposed to high air temperatures or forced to be active in hotter environments,

Hyperthermia becomes dangerous when body temperatures rise above 104F, as the body’s ability to get rid of heat is overcome. As temperatures creep closer to or above 106F heat stroke occurs and causes vomiting, diarrhea, collapse, seizure activity, multi-system organ failure, coma, and death.

Although cats are also prone to heat related health issues, hyperthermia and heat stroke are more commonly associated with dogs.  This is likely a result of dogs typically leading a more outdoor lifestyle and participating in activities with their owners.

Brachycephalic (short faced) breeds such as the Pug, English Bulldog, Brussels Griffon and others are especially prone to suffering from heat related illnesses. These breeds and their mixes do not move air as efficiently through their respiratory tract as their longer faced (dolichocephalic) counterparts.

Unfortunately, there are so many different situations associated with heat that can potentially be dangerous to our pets that pet owners must exhibit the utmost caution on a consistent basis.

Here are my tops tips to keep your outdoor adventuring pet from suffering heat related illnesses. 

Stay Well Hydrated

Water constitutes nearly 70-80 percent of a dog or cat’s body mass, so it’s absolutely an essential nutrient for a normally functioning body. Remarkably, a loss of only 10 percent of the body’s total fluids can cause serious illness.

Rapid breathing (panting) needed to get rid of heat causes water to be expelled from the body through insensible body water loss.

Keep your pets as hydrated as possible by always having fresh water available in the places your pets spend time and by frequently offering small sips of water during activity. My preferred means of getting water into Cardiff is the Troff Hydration Pouch.

You can even pre-hydrate your pet before activity by feeding fresh, moist, and whole-food based diets instead of kibble.

Avoid Exercise During the Hottest Parts of the Day

Instead of venturing out for your daily hike between the hours of 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., choose early morning or evening times that are cooler and typically less sunny.

Seek Shade

The heating effects of direct sun on your pet’s body will not only cause an increase in body temperature but also more body water loss. Strive to find exercise spots that are primarily in the shade instead of constant exposure to the sun.

Take Frequent Breaks

Even if you and your pooch feel fully energized and capable of scaling that hiking hill, make sure to stop and rest frequently. How frequently depends on you and your dog’s fitness levels and environmental factors, but I suggest stopping and resting every 15 minutes when physically exerting yourself. Less physically fit pets and people exercising in hotter and more humid climates should stop as frequently as needed.

Schedule a Pre-Workout Veterinary Exam

Ideally, we are keeping our pets healthy enough for physical activity year-round. Before engaging in outdoor activities, especially during the hotter months, schedule an examination with your veterinarian for your less physically fit pet.

Provide your veterinarian with a thorough history of your pet’s day-to-day habits. The results of your pet’s physical exam and any recommended diagnostic testing (blood, fecal, and urine tests, x-rays, etc.) can help determine if your pet has a limitation that could be exacerbated by exercise, including arthritis, degenerative joint disease (the progression of arthritis), cancer, metabolic illnesses (kidney and liver disease, hypothyroidism, etc.), and others.

Avoid Confinement in the Car

As many owners bring their companion canines outside of the safe confines of their air conditioned homes and along for car rides, one of the deadliest hazards faced is the elevated temperatures that occur inside our automobiles.

Never leave your dog in a non-climate controlled car, even on what feels to you to be a relatively cool day. A Stanford University Medical Center study (published in Pediatrics Magazine) determined that the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 minutes (over half of a degree per minute), regardless of the outside temperature. 

Even if you plan to only be away from the car for a few minutes, unforeseeable circumstances may keep you occupied for longer. As a result, your pooch could cook inside his “glass coffin” (as cars are commonly referred to in the veterinary community) and possibly die. If your dog accompanies you for car travel, only bring him along when going to pooch friendly destinations that permit dogs to enter and remain in a comfortable, plentifully shaded, low-stress environment.

Keep the Indoors Cool, Too

Heat-related health concerns are not exclusive to outdoor environments. Even the shaded interior of your home can potentially become too hot for your pet if inadequate ventilation and thermoregulation aren’t provided. During hot to times of the year, always provide plentiful air circulation with a fan (ceiling, box, window, etc.) and air conditioning.

Since our feline friends most commonly live indoor lifestyles, make sure to carefully look out for their needs in addition to those of your canine companions.

As we are now moving from summer into the fall, I hope that your pet will soon be relieved from the heat-associated stressors of summertime and enjoy some reprieve in the cool and crisp weather.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff Hiking

Comments  2

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  • Is It Winter Yet?
    09/10/2013 06:18pm

    Excellent suggestions.

    You didn't mention anything about light meals if dinnertime is just prior to going outdoors. Should humans be careful about what Fido eats prior to outdoor/warm weather exercise?

    Cats always baffle me when it's really warm because they can usually be found snoozing in the sunshine. I've picked up a kitty to cuddle more than once and found the fur to be pretty darned warm.... and that's indoor cats!

  • 10/01/2013 04:44pm

    Great suggestion to feed less before activity (both in the AM and PM). More food in the stomach makes for a heavier belly and draws more blood to the digestive tract instead of saving it for the muscles!
    Dr. PM

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