It's hard to beat the heat this time of year even with easy access to air conditioning, icy drinks and refreshing swimming pools. Imagine how our furry friends feel in the sweltering summer when they're dependent on us for protection from the high temperatures and the sun's sizzling rays.
"Heat stroke can occur when an animal's temperature rises to a critical level," said Dr. Michael Dix, medical director for Best Friends Animal Society. "Normal body temperatures for dogs and cats range from 100 to 102.5 degrees. When a dog's temperature rises to 108 degrees, or a cat's to 106 degrees, they can suffer irreparable organ damage and even die."
According to Dix, signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing.
If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and footpads. Don't pour ice water over the whole animal, submerge him in a tub of cold water or cover him in a cold, wet blanket. Once he is stable, get him to a vet as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Things may be happening on the inside that are not obvious from the outside.
A variety of situations like the extreme heat of a parked car, going for mid-day walks or simply being in a yard with no shade can contribute to an animal overheating. Best Friends Animal Society recommends taking a few simple precautions to keep dogs and cats healthy and comfortable as the mercury rises.
Keep pets indoors during the day. It may sound obvious but it's hottest outside when the sun is up. Quick walks and bathroom breaks are okay, but try to keep your pet in the shade.
If pets do spend time outside during the day, ensure that they have access to shade at all hours of the day. Dogs on tethers are especially vulnerable because they could become tangled out of reach of shade or water. Grass and greenery help keep the yard cooler too.
Provide pets with fresh, cool water at all times. During the heat of summer, water should be dumped and refilled often. Most dogs won't drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.
Exercise dogs during the cooler morning or evening hours, not in the intense afternoon heat. Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or a pushed-in nose--like bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs--are especially at risk of overheating. Bring water for both you and your pet, or a collapsible bowl if there's a water source on your route.
Be aware of the temperature of the sidewalk, asphalt, sand or even packed dirt as these can cause burns to your pet's paw pads if they are too hot.
Consult a veterinarian about whether your pet needs a pet-approved sunscreen on exposed areas. Dogs with bald patches or minimal coats may need sunscreen, as well as dogs like Nordic breeds who are prone to auto-immune related sun diseases.
Never leave your pet in a parked car when the outside temperature is above 70 degrees. Even with the windows partway down, even in the shade, even for a quick errand. Dogs and cats can't sweat like humans, so they pant to lower their body temperature. If they're inside a car, recycling hot air, panting gives no relief, and heat stroke can happen quickly.
A little empathy goes a long way in protecting our pets from extreme weather. If it's too hot for us to stay comfortable in the car, in the yard, or on a walk, it's even hotter for our furry friends.
Editorial note: Best Friends conducted a recent experiment on a 95 degree day, and discovered that the temperature inside a car--with windows down a few inches—increased from 69 to 140 degrees in 10 minutes. The social media package is available here: http://youtu.be/XzHKRNjCp-o.
[Best Friends Animal Society is a national animal welfare organization focused on ending the killing of dogs and cats in America's shelters. An authority and leader in the no-kill movement, Best Friends runs the nation's largest no-kill sanctuary for companion animals, as well as lifesaving programs in partnership with rescue groups and shelters across the country. Since its founding in 1984, Best Friends has helped reduce the number of animals killed in shelters nationwide from 17 million per year to about 4 million. Best Friends has the knowledge, technical expertise and on-the-ground network to end the killing and Save Them All®.]