Keeping Your Pet Safe in the Summer Heat
For all the destination-less walks, cross-town jaunts and top-down car rides that summer brings, the heat between them means you’ll need to pay special attention to your companions that don’t have the option to take off their coats.
Temperatures even as low as the 70s can pose threats for dogs and cats without proper care, so now’s the time to make a quick inventory of the ways you’re readying your paw-footed family for the warmer months.
Generally speaking, morning and evening excursions always make more sense than the mid-day alternative. As tempting as it may be to venture out while the sun is at its highest, planning ahead is key to keeping your pets safe and cool.
- Bring water wherever you go. And if you’re not bringing water, make sure your target destination has a water fountain, vending machine or some way of obtaining it. Pets require plenty of water a day (just a 10-pound dog requires at least a cup), and those needs only escalate when the sun bears down.
- Bring umbrellas, tents or any other options you have to create shade. Shade from trees alone can reduce outdoor temperatures by as much as six degrees, which can make a huge difference on a sweltering day. Choose locations that are well covered or have access to shade
- Tune up your car. The last thing you want is to find yourselves miles away from home with a broken air conditioner. We’ve all heard the dangers of leaving a pet stranded in a hot car, but it’s important to remember your pets can overheat even with you right in the car alongside them.
- Go light. Muzzles, shirts, heavy leashes and other adornments can inadvertently raise your pet’s temperature. Retire your dog’s winter wardrobe for the season, and see how little you can safely get away with — obviously, for the safety of others, muzzles and specialty leashes or collars may be a necessity.
- Avoid the asphalt. Grass, dirt and natural surfaces are far more accommodating to pet paws, and the same way a black t-shirt attracts the heat on your body, fabricated black surfaces heat up faster (and stay hot longer) than natural ones.
Signs of overheating
Most pet parents have a general feel for when their pets are beginning to feel the heat. In dogs, panting is the most common indicator. In cats, the signs may be more subtle — watch out for increased breathing rates, lethargy or even vomiting.
(Side note: While cats may pant to cool themselves off, it’s rare. Panting is more commonly a sign of serious illness or discomfort, both of which warrant a visit to the vet.)
In extreme cases across dogs and cats, their gums can change color — bluish purple, bright red or pale — from lack of oxygen.
If you notice any of these signs and suspect your dog or cat is overheating, there are steps you can take before calling for veterinary attention.
- Take your pet’s temperature so you can accurately report it to the vet when you get there
- Douse your pet in room temperature water, not cold or hot
- Gently fan them
- Provide drinking water, but do not force your pet to drink
- Stop cooling once your pet’s temperature is 103
- Call ahead to let your vet know you’re coming
Overheating and heat stroke can result in seizures, sudden collapses and even more serious dangers without proper intervention. The key is preventing their body temperature from spiking in the first place.
How hot is too hot for dogs and cats?
It all depends. Pets have built-in body temperature regulation. Believe it or not, their fur actually helps keep them cool by wicking away sweat and protecting them from the sun. But long-haired or dark-colored breeds can be more susceptible to heat.
A healthy cat’s body temperature typically hovers in the 100-102 range, and keeping it there is about being mindful of their environment. We recommend shutting the exits for indoor-outdoor kitties when you see hotter temperatures on the horizon and keeping them in a climate controlled area.
Dog breeds with flat faces like bulldogs, pugs, pekinese, Boston terriers and Persian cats don’t pant as well as others so they have a harder time releasing body heat. Watch these pets in the heat and consider keeping them indoors in the AC until it cools off a bit.
The best rule of thumb? if it’s too hot for you in jeans and a t-shirt, it’s too hot for your pet.
For those necessary outings
Nature calls, and dogs and cats simply can’t avoid the outdoors altogether when the mercury begins to rise.
Until it gets comfortable enough for you to sit a few minutes in the sun, we recommend you join your pets on any trip outdoors. Even if it’s as simple as letting them out into the backyard to do their business, accompanying your pet will remind you to let them back inside in due time.
Mild summer days may be forgiving when you lose track of time, but scorchers require you keep a closer eye on the clock hands. Never leave your pets outside unsupervised during the midst of a heatwave.
For dogs, it’s still important to give them an opportunity to roam. Instead of cutting out (or even cutting down) your daily walk, consider limiting these activities to the cooler hours of the day. Walking your dog (or cat, if you’re brave enough), isn’t great for either of you at high noon. Get up a little earlier or stay up a little later if necessary.
We often get questions about booties for pets who take their walks in the concrete jungle: Yes, they can keep their pads from burning on the blacktop. However, many do not allow for heat to escape. Given that our pets’ most effective outlet for releasing excess heat is their paws, we wouldn’t qualify them as any sort of protective cooling measure. Wear them if it’s part of their routine, but don’t go out of your way to purchase a set in hopes it’ll keep your pets cooler.
Booties are fine, but grass, turf or dirt walkways are always better.