Summer’s long days are filled with memorable sun-soaked adventures. However, unfortunately for pets, heat-related hazards can spoil these dreamy days. Dogs and cats are susceptible to several serious warm weather dangers, including life-threatening heatstroke. Keep your pet safe this summer and during any warm sunny day by following Mountainside Animal Hospital’s tips for preventing your four-legged friend from developing a heat-related health emergency.
Deadly threat: Heatstroke and pets
Every year, countless pet owners underestimate the powerful effect that heat has on their pets’ wellbeing. Sadly, this leads to innumerable pet emergencies that can range from benign to tragic. Rather than being able to sweat to cool themselves, pets rely on panting to regulate their body temperature. Similar to sweating, panting uses evaporative cooling (i.e., moving air over a moist surface). Your four-legged friend moves air over their gums, tongue, and nasal passages to dissipate internal heat and cool incoming air. Although panting is typically a remarkably efficient system, excessive or prolonged heat exposure or pet fatigue can render this cooling method ineffective. As a pet’s internal temperature climbs above the normal range (i.e., 100 to 102.5 degrees) and exceeds 106 degrees, their body becomes hyperthermic, and a cascade of heatstroke-related changes begin.
Heat warning: Heatstroke signs in pets
Heatstroke progresses rapidly, but when you monitor your four-legged friend’s signs, you can intervene before they experience catastrophic organ damage. Ranging from mild to severe, a pet’s heatstroke signs may include:
Elevated heart rate
Incoordination (e.g., staggering)
Abnormal gum color (e.g., purple, blue, white)
Vomiting, potentially bloody
Although any pet can develop heatstroke, specific physical characteristics can reduce their ability to cool themselves effectively. Pets who are predisposed to developing heatstroke include:
Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) breeds (e.g., French bulldogs, boxers, pugs)
Overweight or obese pets
Extremely young or old pets
Pets suffering from health conditions
Risk: Prevent your pet from experiencing common heatstroke scenarios
When the weather is warm, a pet can develop heatstroke anywhere, anytime. However, the most common scenarios in which heatstroke can occur include:
An unattended pet in a parked vehicle — The temperature inside a parked car can reach a dangerous level in fewer than 10 minutes. Leaving the windows open a crack and parking in the shade do little to cool a vehicle’s interior temperature. Never leave your furry pal unattended in a parked vehicle for any length of time.
An unattended pet left outdoors — To protect your pet from dehydration and the sun’s unrelenting rays, supervise them when they are outdoors and ensure they always have access to fresh water and shade. In addition, limit your pet’s outdoor activity when the heat is extreme.
A pet who is exercised during the hottest part of the day — Physical exertion accelerates heatstroke onset and progression. Plan outdoor activities for the morning and evening when the air is cooler.
Act fast: How to respond to an overheated pet
Act quickly if you suspect your pet is suffering from heatstroke. Rapid intervention and controlled cooling can minimize long-term injury such as organ damage or failure. Immediately move your overheated pet to a cool location such as an air-conditioned building or vehicle. Offer conscious pets lukewarm drinking water and, if possible, wet them down with cool—not cold—water. If a thermometer is available, take your pet’s temperature every five to ten minutes. If your four-legged friend’s temperature remains above normal, contact Mountainside’s team for further instructions. Unconscious or seizing pets should be immediately transported to the nearest emergency veterinary facility.
Paws and assess: Protect your pet’s paws from thermal burns
Many surfaces, including asphalt and artificial turf, absorb and retain the sun’s heat, and if your furry pal steps on a blazing hot parking lot or other surface, their paw pads can suffer extremely painful thermal burns. Unfortunately, because such an injury can take hours to manifest, you won’t realize you could have provided your pet with immediate treatment and helped prevent some of their suffering.
A dark surface, such as asphalt, can reach a searing temperature (e.g., 135 degrees) on a relatively mild 86-degree day. Such surfaces also remain dangerously hot for hours after the sun goes down, so always check a surface’s temperature before allowing your pet to traverse it. If you cannot comfortably hold your palm against a surface for seven seconds, it is too hot for your dog and may burn their paws. To protect your furry pal’s paw pads, walk in the grass or during a cooler time of day. You can also outfit your four-legged friend with thick-soled pet boots that provide insulation against the dangerous heat.
Drink up: Keep your pet hydrated and healthy
Pets lose significant amounts of water by panting, urinating, and defecating, and through their paw pads. If they don’t replenish their body’s fluids by increasing water intake, your furry pal can become dehydrated. A mildly dehydrated pet will experience nausea and weakness, while a severely affected pet may succumb to kidney or other organ failure. Common dehydration signs include appetite loss, thick saliva, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy or weakness, dry nose, and dry or tacky gums.
Keep your pet hydrated by ensuring they always have access to fresh cool water. In addition, you can boost your four-legged friend’s hydration by providing them with the following:
Water supplemented with low-sodium chicken broth
Pet-friendly water enhancers
Frozen watermelon, blueberries, or carrots
Frozen Kongs stuffed with pet-safe fillings
Wet or canned pet foods
If your furry pal eats dry food, soak it in warm water or low-sodium broth. Doing so is especially helpful during the summer months but can also improve your pet’s hydration status year-round.
Summer is a great time to be a pet, but if you do not take the proper precautions, the season’s hazards can cause your four-legged friend to experience a health emergency. Keep your pet cool, calm, and comfortable this summer by limiting their outdoor time during extreme temperatures and taking extra steps to help ensure they remain safe when you venture outdoors. For additional information about keeping your pet safe this summer, contact the team at Mountainside Animal Hospital.