Keeping Your Pets Cool in the Summer

As temperatures rise, here's some tips to keep your pets cool and safe.

Summer has arrived with increasingly higher temps. If you feel hot and gross, imagine how your pets feel. They wear those fur coats year-round. Dogs and cats do not sweat like humans; instead, they pant to cool themselves. This makes them more susceptible to heat stroke than humans.  As pet owners, we need to be vigilant during the summer months. Heat exhaustion can be deadly to animals.

Kittens, puppies, older animals, overweight animals and those with heart and lung conditions are more likely to suffer from heat stroke than younger, fitter animals. Brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as pugs and bulldogs are especially susceptible to heat stroke. Their smaller airways make it difficult for them to blow out air, making it harder for them to pant. An animal can die or suffer severe brain damage from heat stroke in 15 minutes.

If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms seek immediate veterinarian attention: heavy, labored panting (if a cat is panting this should be a major tip-off that something is not right); pale or whitish gums;  increased pulse; vomiting; diarrhea; increased drooling; acting disoriented, sluggish or unresponsive. A pet with heat stroke may collapse, have seizures and go into a coma.

Pets should never be left in unattended in a vehicle. Even with the windows open, a parked car on a hot day can feel like an oven.  On a 90-degree day a car’s inside temperature can reach 160 degrees in a matter of minutes. In some types of severe weather it is illegal to leave an animal in a parked car in the state of Maryland. If you see an animal you think may be in danger call Animal Control or the police.  If you absolutely must bring your pet along in the car on a hot day, make sure someone stays in the car with the animal and provides it with plenty of water.

During the summer, try to think of alternatives to long, mid-day walks. Take your dog out early in the morning or later in the evening. Try to avoid the middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest. A good rule of thumb is that it the asphalt is too hot for you to comfortably place your palm on it is way too hot for your dog to walk on. While outside try to walk in grassy and shady areas and rest frequently. Bring along water for your dog so he can stay hydrated.

Another thing you can do to cool your pet off is to dampen their paws with a wet washcloth or alcohol wipe. If it’s too hot for your dog to go outside to do more than just her “business”, try playing fetch or tug-of-war inside. She’ll still be getting plenty of exercise and you’ll both be nice and cool.

Pets who spend time out in the yard should be provided with plenty of clean, fresh water and adequate shade. The sun shifts throughout the day so keep this in mind when leaving your pet outdoors.

During the summer months standing water serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other bacteria. During the summer months the risk for fleas and ticks is much greater, so remember to apply your pet’s flea and tick medication before you head outside.

A great way for your dog to cool off and have fun at the same time is to fill up a hard plastic baby pool with water.  Don’t try this with a blow-up baby pool - it will be wrecked in less time than it took for you to blow it up! If the pool seems like too much trouble, run through the sprinkler with your dog or spray him with the hose. If your pet has light fur or is shaved you may want to apply a pet-specific sunscreen to his ears, the tip of his nose and tummy. It’s ok to use a “people” sun screen formulated for sensitive skin or babies, but remember not to use one with zinc oxide, it can be harmful to pets if ingested.

When leaving pets indoors make sure they have access to the cooler parts of your home. If you don’t have air conditioning invest in a small window unit to put in the room where your pet spends most of her time. On the average, a healthy dog drinks about one half ounce to one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day, so be sure your pet has access to plenty of fresh water. Placing ice cubes in your pet’s water will cool it off faster. As an extra special treat you can make your dog doggie ice cream!

Have a great summer and enjoy the great outdoors – winter will be back before we know it! Just remember; keep cool, stay hydrated and be on the lookout for signs of heat exhaustion, it could save your pet’s life.

Linda O’Neal draws from the experiences and adventures she shares with her two cats Jose and Beau and dog Molly.  She is also the asst. manager of Fetch! Pet Care of Silver Spring a local dog walking and pet sitting company. 


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