Keeping Pets Cool in the Heat

Providing protection for our pets in hot weather is critical. Pets, like people, are susceptible to the effects of extreme heat. This resource outlines the effects of hot weather on dogs, cats and rabbits.

Pets in hot weather: Dogs

One of the most life-threatening mistakes people can make is to leave a dog in a vehicle in hot weather. Dogs can’t perspire, as humans do, to cool themselves off via evaporation, so they have to pant to cool themselves. If the air that they are taking in is too hot (as it is in a parked car in hot weather), then panting has little cooling effect and the dog quickly overheats.

Many people think their dog will be OK if they leave the windows open, but even with the windows wide open, the car can quickly become hot enough to cause heatstroke, brain damage, and even death. Your pet may pay dearly for even a few minutes spent in a sweltering car. And you should never let your dog ride in an open pickup truck, but it’s especially dangerous in hot weather, since truck beds are often dark colors, which get very hot. Please leave your pets at home during hot weather.

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 foot pads. 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.

If you walk your dog on lead, keep in mind that asphalt can get very hot during the summer. In fact, it can get hot enough to burn a dog’s pads, causing him pain for days. You might want to do only short walks early in the morning or later in the evening, when the temperatures are lower. Before taking your dog for a walk, check the ground for hotness with one of your own hands or bare feet. If you can’t keep your hand (or foot) on the ground for more than three seconds, it’s probably too hot to walk your furry friend. Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or have a pushed-in nose (such as bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs) are especially at risk of overheating. On walks, bring water for both you and your pet, or a collapsible bowl if there’s a water source on your route.

Providing water for your dog is always important, but it’s especially critical during hot weather. If your dog is inside during the day, make sure you supply fresh, cool water that remains in a shaded spot throughout the day, since sun coming through a window can heat a bowl of water. Most dogs won’t drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.

If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure his water bowl isn’t in a place where he will tip it over. Water bowls can be tipped over by dogs trying to make a cool spot to lie down. If necessary, buy a tip-proof water bowl. Also, make sure he has a shady place where he can get relief from the sun. Kiddie pools are a nice way to give dogs their own clean puddle in which to play.

Grooming all dogs, even dogs with short coats, helps to keep them comfortable as the seasons change. A natural coat that has been groomed offers protection from sunburn and acts as cooling insulation. Shaving your dog’s coat will take away that protection. If you give your dog a close cut for summer, she may need protection from the sun, so 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 Nordic breeds of dogs, who are prone to auto-immune-related sun diseases.

Cats

Cats, of course, also need plenty of cool water during hot weather. White cats can become sunburned if they lay in the sun too long. Even if they’re indoor cats, they can get sunburned through a sunny window.

Rabbits

Rabbits can also be adversely affected by extremes of temperature. To control the temperature of their environment and to keep them safe from predators, rabbits should be kept inside. The temperature inside their houses should not drop below 60 or go above 75 degrees. Heat stroke can occur in a rabbit at 80 degrees.

Pets in hot weather

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.