By Emy Kleinkauf, Owner of Pueblo Pet Sitting Services
As summer kicks off, and temperatures top 100 degrees, heat poses a real danger to people and animals alike. While we escape to the comfort of air-conditioning indoors, we often leave our pets exposed to the elements outside. Without proper precautions, pets are at risk of sunburn, dehydration, and overheating. In some cases extreme heat can throw off the body’s thermostat, resulting in a life-threatening condition known as heat stroke. While heat stroke is all too often fatal, with the right safety measures it can be prevented and treated.
Preventing Heat Stroke
Pets should never be left in a car unattended, even “just for a minute.” Even with cracked windows, a motor vehicle’s interior temperature quickly soars. Leaving animals unattended in cars is not only dangerous, it’s illegal in Arizona and 13 other states. If you believe a car-confined animal is at risk of serious injury or death, contact your local animal control.
Whenever possible, keep your pets indoors on hot days. If pets must be left outside, be sure they have access to plenty of shade. Take into consideration how shadows shift throughout the day, and provide varying degrees of coverage. Outdoor doghouses often trap heat, and may not be suitable shelters. Avoid exercise, especially strenuous exercise, during the middle of the day. Instead, walk your dogs in the early morning or evening, and take breaks to rest if they seem overly hot or tired. Avoid long walks on asphalt and sand, which may burn dogs’ paw pads. Whether inside or outside, pets should have access to clean drinking water. Additionally, an inexpensive kid’s wading pool can be an easy way to keep your pet both cool and entertained. If your pet has long hair, keep it groomed—a matted, tangled coat traps more heat.
While all animals, even healthy, athletic “working” dogs, can suffer from heat stroke, a few demographics are especially at risk. Brachycephallic or “short-nosed” breeds like Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, and Persian and Himalayan cats, are more prone to heat stroke since they cannot pant as efficiently as long-nosed breeds. Similarly, obese animals often suffer from breathing problems, which put them at high risk. Older animals are also more prone to overheating, so extra precautions should be taken as your pet ages. Small animals like domestic rabbits and ferrets become overheated at temperatures as “cool” as 80 degrees, and simply should not be kept outdoors.
Recognizing the Symptoms
Early symptoms of heat stroke include rapid panting and breathing, thick saliva, drooling, glazed eyes, dizziness, disorientation, restlessness, and confusion. An overheated animal’s gums and tongue will at first appear dark red, but may turn white or blue as their condition worsens. Labored breathing, involuntary urination, vomiting, and an inability or unwillingness to move all indicate a dire medical condition. If you are unsure whether your pet is overheated or not, you can check using a rectal thermometer (lubricated with petroleum jelly). A dog or cat’s body temperature should be between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees. Any temperature over 104 is cause for concern and immediate action.
Heatstroke is a medical emergency, and should be treated immediately. Do not wait for the vet to begin cooling a heat stroke affected animal, as there is precious little time to prevent death. If you suspect a pet is suffering from heatstroke, move them out of the heat and sun right away. Wet the overheated animal with tepid water. DO NOT use cold water or ice water, which can cause the body’s core temperature to drop too rapidly and result in hypothermia and shock. Place wet towels or t-shirts on the animal’s footpads, face, armpits, and groin. If possible, place the pet in front of a fan. Offer cool drinking water, but do not force water down. Stop cooling the animal once body temperature comes down to 103 degrees.
Seek emergency veterinary care as soon as possible, even if the animal seems to have recovered. Internal issues are not always evident, and heatstroke can cause organ damage and other serious complications that require life-long treatment.
This summer please keep your pets out of the heat and out of danger. Be safe!