Summer means pool time, ice cream, and barbecues, but the heat and humidity can cause serious problems for your pet. Our Town and Country Animal Hospital team provides do’s and don’ts to ensure your four-legged friend stays safe during summer’s hot, humid days.

DO recognize when your pet experiences heatstroke

Heatstroke is a veterinary emergency that can have life-threatening consequences for your pet. The condition occurs when excessive heat or overexertion causes your pet’s body temperature to rise above normal (i.e., 101 to 102.5 degrees). As your pet’s body temperature increases, inflammation occurs throughout their body, causing damage to multiple body systems. Organs affected include the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and gastrointestinal tract. In addition, the inflammation can cause disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC), a condition that results in excessive bleeding throughout the body. Watch for the following signs that can indicate heatstroke:

  • Excessive panting — Pets can’t sweat like humans, and they regulate their body temperature by panting. When they overheat, they pant excessively in an effort to cool themselves.
  • Drooling — Evaporating saliva takes heat away from your pet’s body, and the more saliva that evaporates, the more heat is lost. When your pet overheats, their body produces more saliva in an attempt to cool down as quickly as possible. As your pet’s condition worsens and they become dehydrated, their saliva becomes thick and stringy.
  • Red gums — Your dog’s peripheral blood vessels dilate to help release heat, causing their gums and other mucous membranes to appear red. 
  • Diarrhea and vomiting — The gastrointestinal tract is one of the first areas affected by the inflammation, and, as the intestinal lining is impaired, your pet will vomit and have diarrhea. 
  • Neurological signs — As the heat damages your pet’s brain, signs such as lack of coordination, confusion, collapse, and seizures can occur.
  • Pinpoint red lesions — Pinpoint lesions, called petechiae, can appear on your pet’s abdomen and ear pinnae, indicating DIC.

DON’T leave your pet in an unattended vehicle

Interior car temperatures can reach deadly levels within minutes, putting your pet in serious danger. Attempts to mitigate these temperatures, such as leaving your windows cracked or parking in the shade, aren’t enough to prevent heatstroke. If your pet isn’t allowed in establishments you visit, leave them at home to ensure they remain cool and comfortable.

DO know if your pet is at increased risk for heatstroke

While all pets are susceptible to heatstroke, certain pets are at higher risk. These include:

  • Active pets — Extremely active pets may get excited and not realize they are overheating until it’s too late.
  • Senior pets — Older pets can’t regulate their body temperature as effectively, predisposing them to heatstroke.
  • Giant breed dogs — Large dogs tend to lose heat more slowly than small pets, and they aren’t good at regulating their temperature in hot weather.
  • Obese pets — Overweight pets have extra fat that acts as insulation, making it difficult for them to cool themselves.
  • Brachycephalic breeds — Flat-faced breeds, such as shih tzu, pugs, bulldogs, and Persian cats, have a facial structure that inhibits their ability to pant effectively and limits their cooling ability. 

DON’T exercise your pet strenuously on a hot day

Avoid excessive exercise on hot, humid days, and walk your pet during the cooler times of the day. When on an outing, take frequent breaks in the shade to allow your pet time to cool down, and offer water to ensure they don’t become dehydrated. If you have a high-risk pet, they should remain inside your home in the air conditioning except for brief bathroom breaks.

DO keep your pet hydrated

Water is vital, and your pet should have constant access to fresh water to prevent dehydration. Tips to get your pet to drink more water include:

  • Cleaning water bowls frequently — Clean your pet’s water bowls frequently and freshen the water.
  • Providing many bowls — Ensure your pet has water options throughout your home to make drinking easy and convenient.
  • Adding water to your pet’s food — Feed your pet wet food, or add water to their dry kibble to encourage fluid intake.
  • Purchasing a water fountain — Some pets are attracted to running water, and they may drink more if they have a water fountain.

DON’T walk your pet on pavement

On hot days, paved surfaces can reach temperatures 40 to 60 degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature, putting your pet’s paws at risk for serious burns. Only walk your pet in grassy or shady areas to protect their feet, and if you must walk them on a paved surface, place protective booties on their feet to prevent burns. 

DO know how to respond if your pet experiences heatstroke

If your pet starts exhibiting signs indicating heatstroke, begin the cooling process as soon as possible. These steps include:

  • Moving your pet — Immediately move your pet to a cool, well-ventilated area.
  • Offering water — As long as your pet is conscious, offer them water but don’t attempt to force them to drink.
  • Taking your pet’s temperature — Use a rectal thermometer to monitor your pet’s temperature so you can track their progress and report the findings to your veterinarian.
  • Cooling your pet — Pour cool water over your pet to help start bringing their body temperature down. Don’t use ice or ice water because bringing their temperature down too quickly can result in shock.
  • Taking your pet to the veterinarian — Your pet will need veterinary care. If they seem to recover once you start the cooling process, they still will need to be evaluated by a veterinarian to ensure they didn’t sustain internal damage.

Following these do’s and don’ts should help protect your four-legged friend during summer’s hot, humid days. If your pet is exhibiting signs indicating heatstroke, immediately start the cooling process and contact our Town and Country Animal Hospital team so we can ensure they receive the care they need.