Now that summer is here and temperatures are starting to soar, you might be preoccupied with figuring out how to stay cool. But you mustn’t forget about any four-legged friends you have at home. Because our pets can’t verbally communicate in a language we totally understand, it’s essential for pet owners to anticipate their animals’ needs and protect them from the damage excessive heat can cause. Otherwise, you could put your pet’s well-being at risk and even be potentially charged with animal cruelty. To help keep your pet safe and comfortable even on the hottest days, be sure to follow these tips.
Never leave them in the car
Local government agencies are starting to crack down on residents who leave their dogs in their vehicles alone for any length of time. Experts say that leaving an animal for just 15 minutes, even with cracked windows, can be extremely dangerous. The temperature in the vehicle will be at least 20 degrees higher than it is outside, a situation that can quickly turn fatal. In just 10 minutes on an 85-degree day, the temperature inside a parked car can climb to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (or 48.8 degrees Celsius, a conversion made by subtracting 32 and dividing by 1.8). Currently, 28 states have laws pertaining to pets left in hot cars — but even if your state doesn’t yet, make it habit to never leave your dog behind in your car without you. If you happen to see another dog locked in a parked car, you should call local law enforcement or animal control (though you may be able to legally break a window if you see evidence that the dog is in distress).
Keep them indoors when you can
It’s important to note that dogs and cats don’t sweat like humans do. Panting is one way they try to regulate their temperature, but it’s really not as effective (or necessarily normal, particularly in cats). When temperatures get to the 80s and 90s, animals start to feel the effects. It’s best to keep pets indoors most of the time (making mornings and evenings the best time for walks). If they do need to be outside, make sure they’re in the shade and have plenty of water.
Avoid asphalt and concrete
As you might remember from your childhood, parking lots and other paved areas can get extremely hot in the summer sun. Unfortunately, our pets don’t have foot protection like we do. Walking on the hot concrete or asphalt can burn their sensitive, soft foot pads. Refrain from walking dogs on asphalt when the temperatures climb into the 70s or above. You can test the ground’s temperature with the back of your hand. If it’s painful for you, it will be damaging to your dog.
Take caution with sun exposure
Pet owners need to take special care with older dogs, especially if they have health problems already. These animals typically require vet check-ups twice a year and can be affected even more substantially by the heat. Overweight dogs or dogs with thick coats are often very uncomfortable when the weather warms up too, but they’re also more vulnerable to heat damage. You might think shaving your dog’s fur will help, but this actually increases their sunburn risk. That said, keeping their coat well-groomed can help them feel better. But don’t assume you can simply use sunscreen on your pet. While it may be important to protect their skin, human sunscreen often contains chemicals that may be harmful to dogs. Be sure to use safe sunscreens that are actually made for animals instead.
Play in a pool
For dogs who love the water, having a kiddie pool or sprinklers can allow them to enjoy being outdoors without putting their health at risk. But keep in mind that not every breed is built for doing the doggy paddle. Some just aren’t great swimmers, which is why you should fill up the kiddie pool with only six inches of water to ensure their safety. You should also make sure that the water in their kiddie pool is cool and fresh, as stagnant, warm water could make things worse for them. It’s generally not a great idea to let your dog swim in a big pool anyway, particularly if they have any infections or shed profusely.
Give them a cold treat
Some establishments will serve doggy ice cream (you may also be able to find frozen dog desserts at your grocery store). Dog-safe popsicles can be great too, which are made out of low-sodium chicken broth and vegetables or other ingredients. The idea that giving ice water to your dog to drink can be dangerous is actually a myth. However, cool water from the faucet will do just fine.
Recognize the signs of overheating
Even if you think you’re doing everything right, it’s possible your pet could start experiencing symptoms of heat stroke. These can include panting, lethargy, rapid pulse, glazed-over eyes, vomiting, staggering, or a red/purple tongue. Be sure to have a rectal thermometer on-hand and take their temperature if you suspect something’s wrong. Normally, your dog or cat’s normal body temperature is anywhere from 101 to 102.5 degrees; if it’s 105 or above, take them to the emergency vet right away. You should try to cool them off en route to the clinic or your vet with cool towels or ice packs on their neck, water, and air conditioning. And if you’re ever in doubt, call their office. They’ll be able to advise you as to whether they think you should bring them in or keep them cool at home.
Although we may be focused on ways we can beat the heat ourselves, we need to remember that our pets need our help, too. By keeping these tips in mind, you should be able to keep your furry family member cool, comfortable, and happy during the dog days of summer.