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By Jessica Remitz
As the weather kicks it up a notch, the natural tendency can be to get everyone up and out of the house, pets included. While spending more time outdoors can be a great source of exercise and fun for all involved, it’s essential to be wary of heat exhaustion in your animals.
“Being covered by fur works well in the winter, but it can make it difficult to manage the heat of a summer day,” said Douglas Aspros, DVM and President of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA). “Both dogs and cats dissipate heat by panting [and] as they get overheated, they pant more quickly trying to maintain a safe internal temperature.”
Follow these tips for keeping your pet cool this summer.
1. Get the Details
There are two major reasons pets get overheated, Dr. Aspros said, hyperthermia and their upper respiratory systems. Hyperthermia occurs when animals are trapped in an environment (like a car or the beach on a hot day) that overwhelms their ability to cool themselves. Pets with compromised upper airways, like bulldogs, or an acquired condition like paralysis of the larynx have more difficulty removing heat in their bodies through panting, Dr. Aspros said. These animals often find that, in attempting to cool themselves, they generate more heat through exertion and can fall victim to heat stroke.
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include excessive panting or labored breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling and mild weakness, according to the ASPCA. More severe symptoms can include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomiting and a body temperature of over 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Beat the Sun
Pets are smarter than we give them credit for, and prefer staying at home and laying on cool surfaces (like your tiled kitchen floor) in the heat of the day, Dr. Aspros said. Save your outdoor time with your pet for early in the morning or in the evening once the sun has set. By taking your daily walk, run or visit to the park either before or after the sun is at its hottest, the air will be easier for your pet to breathe and the ground will be cooler on the pads of their paws.
3. Find Some Shade
If you do find yourself out in midday with your pet, make sure you keep them out of direct sunlight or give them a shady place to get out of the sun. Remember, your pets don’t wear shoes, so the pads of their paws can be burned walking across particularly hot sand or asphalt, Dr. Aspros said. If it’s extremely warm, keep them indoors as much as possible.
4. Leave Fluffy and Fido at Home
“The classic mistake for owners is leaving a pet in a closed car on a sunny warm day when the temperature in your car can rapidly climb to over 140 degrees Fahrenheit,” Dr. Aspros said. “It’s solar heating that’s the culprit, so you can face serious risks even on a comfortable day.”
The takeaway? As much as your pet may love riding in the car or spending time with you, if it’s hot out and there’s a chance they’ll be uncomfortable the best thing to do is leave them alone. Panting takes more exertion than sweating and can bring your pet to respiratory distress faster than you think, Dr. Aspros said. Avoid any potential issue by keeping them safe and cool at home.
5. Hydration, Hydration, Hydration
In addition to overheating, pets can get dehydrated quickly, so you’ll want to make plenty of fresh, clean water available to them. Panting is effective in allowing animals to cool down because it helps evaporate fluids from the respiratory tract, Dr. Aspros said. Help replace these fluids and prevent dehydration by leaving out water or water alternatives throughout the day, particularly when your pet has spent time outside in the heat. Water alternatives are especially great for pets since they replenish electrolytes and taste great.
6. Be Mindful of Certain Breeds, Conditions
If your pet is brachycephalic — or has a flat-shaped face — like Pugs, Pekingese, Boston terriers and Persian cats, they cannot pant as effectively and are more susceptible to heat stroke. Be especially careful with breeds like these in hot weather and keep plenty of water on hand, Dr. Aspros said. The ASPCA also advises that pets which are elderly, overweight and have heart or lung disease be kept in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible in the heat.
7. To Trim or Not to Trim
Many pet owners, especially cat parents, incorrectly think that shaving their animals in the heat will help cool them down. In reality, the layers of your pet’s coat help to protect them from overheating and sunburn. Trimming long hair is perfectly okay, according to the ASPCA, but it’s unnecessary to do anything else for cooling purposes. Brushing your cat more often to help remove loose fur can also prevent overheating.