How to Keep Your Pets Safe During a Heatwave
As the summer months approach, heat warnings are certain to follow. What should you do when the temps rise? Wear light colors, drink plenty of water, limit time outside, and don't leave anyone in a hot car. But what about our pets? Are there certain precautions we should all take to ensure our beloved dogs and cats stay healthy and safe when a heatwave hits? Hyunmin Kim, DVM and Veterinary Staff Manager for Community Medicine at the ASPCA shares important tips that will keep our pets stay safe (and cool) this summer.
How Hot Is Too Hot for Pets?
While the hottest part of the day tends to be between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., there's no specific temperature that is too hot for pets since a variety of factors come into play, Kim explains. When walking your pets on asphalt or concrete, be sure to test if the ground is too hot for their sensitive paws. "A good rule of thumb is to place a hand on the surface of the pavement for 10 seconds. If the pavement is too hot for your hand, then it's too hot for your pets' paws," she says. "The outside air temperature can be 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but the asphalt temperature can be 125 degrees Fahrenheit. At 125 degrees Fahrenheit, skin destruction can occur in 60 seconds."
Keep this in mind when it comes to hot cars, as well. "Even at 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the inside of a car can reach 104 degrees Fahrenheit," Kim says. Leaving your pet along inside a car on a hot summer day can not only lead to fatal heat stroke, but it is also illegal in most states.
How to Cool Your Pet Down
Always give your pets plenty of fresh, clean water whether or not it's hot outside. "Pets can get dehydrated quickly so make sure to keep your pet hydrated at all times," says Kim. Pay attention to your pet's body language when you're enjoying time outdoors. If they seem to be getting too hot, escort them to a shady area or take them inside. If your pet is overheating, Kim says to apply cool, wet towels to the body (not iced), place them in a tub with cool (not iced) water for up to two mins to gradually lower their body temperature, or use a fan to help cool them down.
Spending Time Outdoors
Dogs need walks no matter what the thermometer says. Rather than taking them on hot asphalt, try to walk on grass or dirt, both of which will be cooler on the paws, or walk at dusk or dawn when the sun is less intense. Kim recommends using booties for added protection, but adds that air temperature and direct sun exposure can cause general overheating either way. "Pets with paw pad burns will limp or refuse to walk. The top layer of skin will look like it's blistering and peeling or may even be absent. Some animals will constantly lick at their paw pads causing secondary infections. Always check for redness between toes and cracks on your pet's paw pads," Kim says.
As for playtime, make sure a shady area is accessible to keep out of the sun and be sure not to over-exercise them. If it's extremely hot, stay indoors.
Creating a First-Aid Kit for Your Pet
Just as you would for humans, it's a great idea to have a pet first-aid kit on hand. Follow this checklist from the ASPCA to ensure you're well-stocked-it includes common items like towels, antibiotic ointment, and gauze, as well as things you might not normally have on hand or could overlook, such as styptic powder to stop bleeding in minor situations or a syringe to give oral medications. Be sure to include a list of your pet's medications and check your emergency pack every few months to make sure nothing has expired or needs replacing.
Heat-Related Illness in Pets
Knowing the symptoms of heat-related illness can save your pet's life. Kim notes that you should look out for symptoms of overheating like "excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor, or even collapse," she says. "Severe symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomit, along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees." If your pet is experiencing symptoms, call your vet or Animal Poison Control Center.
Flat-Faced Animals and Heat Stroke
"Animals with flat faces, like Pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively, and panting is a form of evaporative cooling," Kim says. "These pets, along with elderly or overweight animals, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible."
Protect Their Skin
First and foremost, do not shave your pet in warmer months. While it may seem like a logical idea, Kim states that "the layers of animals' coats actually protect them from overheating and sunburn. A minimum of a one-inch coat is always recommended for this reason." Instead, give your pet a seasonal trim and brush cats more often than usual to prevent issues caused by excessive heat. For extra safety, you can purchase pet-safe sunblock and insect repellent. The latter an important measure in protecting against heartworm, which is carried by mosquitos. "The hot, humid climate of the summer puts more pets at risk so make sure your pets get tested for heartworm if they aren't on year-round preventative medication," Kim suggests.