Summer in Virginia means heat and humidity, which can be dangerous conditions for your pet. Our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team wants to help keep your pet happy and healthy through the dog days of summer by providing pet heat safety tips. 

#1: Educate yourself about heatstroke in pets

Heatstroke is a life-threatening veterinary emergency that can affect pets of any age, breed, or gender. Pets don’t sweat like humans, and can only use less effective means, such as panting, to cool themselves in the heat, which puts them at higher heatstroke risk. When their cooling methods fail, and their temperature rises above the normal range (i.e., 101 to 102.5 degrees), inflammation can occur throughout their body. These conditions can damage multiple body systems, including the heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract, and coagulation system. Signs include excessive panting, drooling, lethargy, brick red mucous membranes, vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, and collapse.

#2: Know which pets are at increased risk

While all pets are susceptible to heatstroke, certain pets are at increased risk, including:

  • Senior pets — Older pets aren’t able to effectively regulate their body temperature, putting them at increased risk.
  • Brachycephalic pets — The facial construction of brachycephalic breeds, such as Boston terriers, boxers, pugs, and Persian cats, limits their panting ability, and thus their cooling capabilities. 
  • Overweight pets — Pets who have an extra fat layer are over-insulated on hot days and have difficulty cooling themselves.
  • Pets affected by an underlying health condition — Pets who have an underlying health condition, such as a heart problem, metabolic disorder, or a collapsing trachea, are at increased risk of overheating.

#3: Never leave your pet in an unattended vehicle

Temperatures skyrocket inside a parked car on a warm day, and can quickly reach life-threatening levels. Parking in the shade or leaving your windows cracked doesn’t prevent the rising temperatures, and will not protect your pet from heatstroke. Leave your pet at home if they can’t accompany you when you are out and about.

#4: Keep your pet hydrated

Dehydrated pets are at greater heatstroke risk, and your pet should always have access to fresh, cool water to ensure they stay hydrated. Tips include:

  • Provide multiple water options — Ensure your pet has access to several water resources throughout your home, and offer different bowl options, so your pet can choose their preference. For cats, provide wide, shallow bowls to prevent whisker stress.
  • Clean water bowls — Clean your pet’s water bowls daily, and ensure your pet’s water is fresh and palatable.
  • Bring water on outings — On outings, bring water and a portable water bowl and offer your pet a drink at regular intervals. This will ensure they can get a safe drink when they need one. 

#5: Limit your pet’s exercise on hot days

On hot, humid days, restrict your pet’s activity. Pets can get carried away playing a favorite game, and may not stop to cool down. Opt for less strenuous exercise on hot, humid days, and take frequent breaks in the shade. If your pet is at high heatstroke risk, ensure they remain inside an air conditioned area, except for brief bathroom breaks, preferably during the cooler times of day.

#6: Ensure your pet can enjoy the air conditioning

When you leave your pet at home, don’t turn off the air conditioner. On a hot, humid day, temperatures inside your home can increase dramatically without air conditioning. Leave your air conditioner on, and close your curtains to help ensure your pet remains cool and comfortable.

#7: Keep your pet off hot surfaces

Paved surfaces can reach scalding temperatures on hot days, putting your pet’s paws in danger. Walk your pet on the grass or soil to avoid burning their feet. If you can’t avoid paved surfaces, place protective booties on your pet’s paws to keep them safe while walking.

#8: Know heatstroke first aid for pets

When a pet overheats, their prognosis depends on how high their temperature reaches and how long their temperature remains elevated. This means that the sooner cooling begins, the better your pet’s prognosis. Heatstroke first aid tips for pets include:

  • Take your pet to a cool area — Immediately take your pet to a cool, well-ventilated area.
  • Take your pet’s temperature — If possible, use a rectal thermometer to take your pet’s temperature, so you can monitor their progress and relay this information to your veterinarian.
  • Offer your pet water — Give your pet water to drink, but never attempt to force the water in their mouth.
  • Cool your pet — Use lukewarm water and wet towels to cool your pet. Never use ice or ice-cold water, which could cause your pet’s temperature to drop too quickly, leading to shock.
  • Take your pet to the veterinarian — As soon as your pet begins to cool, take them to a veterinary hospital to ensure they don’t sustain internal damage. 

Following these tips will help keep your pet safe during the hot, humid summer months. If your pet overheats, contact our Columbia Pike Animal Hospital team, so we can provide the care they need.