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Posted on 06-06-2014

Keeping Pets Safe in the Summer Heat

The phrase “the dog days of summer” often refers to the hottest, most humid days of summer. And here in Austin, “hot” is an understatement. The warmer months are also a popular time to travel and partake in outdoor activities for people and their pets, but due to our high temperatures, it can also be a very dangerous time of year...  

"I'll Be Right Back!"
There are many hazards to avoid, but let me touch on one of the most frequent violations first: leaving your dog in the car while you “run in” to buy something. Leaving a pet in a hot car for extended periods of time can be very dangerous. And most people do not realize how quickly the temperature inside a car can rise. A car can heat to life-threatening temperatures in a matter of minutes, and cracking windows has little to no effect on the climbing temperature in a car. Even on a 70 degree day, the temperature in a car can reach deadly levels.

Deadly Consequences
In the summer, extended time in a hot vehicle or activity on sweltering days are common causes of heat stroke—a serious condition that can cause irreversible damage to the organs and even death. Our pets are poorly equipped to handle the heat; their sweat glands are localized to the pads of their feet and noses, and are not adequate for cooling on the hottest of days. Panting does little to help cool a pet if the air they pant is overheated. 

Other factors increase your pet’s risk of heat stroke. Old and young animals have trouble regulating their body temperature and are at greater risk. Short-nosed breeds like boston terriers, pugs, bull dogs, and persian cats are at risk because they are considered to be ineffectual panters. Animals who are overweight (50% of the pet population), pets with heart or lung issues, or debilitated animals are at risk. Also, animals traveling from cooler environments to warmer ones are at risk because their bodies are not acclimatized to warm weather.   

The Effects of Humidity
Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels—very quickly.

Taking It Easy
Take care when exercising your pet. Adjust intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet's paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible. And always carry water with you to keep your dog from dehydrating.

Prevention Tips
There are many things you can do to prevent heat stroke in your pets. First, never leave your pet in a parked vehicle, even in cool months. If your pet is left outside, make sure it has plenty of shady area to escape direct sun and plenty of fresh, cool water. 

If your pet is kept indoors, make sure the room they are in is cool, well-ventilated and that there is plenty of water available. Don’t rely on a fan—dogs have sweat glands in their feet, and fans don’t cool as effectively as they do in humans. If you are traveling to a warmer climate, allow your pet to adjust to the temperature gradually over a few days before becoming active.Try to avoid activities with your pet during the hottest parts of the day. 

What To Do
If you find your pet in adverse conditions, watch for signs of heat stroke; rapid panting, bright red tongue, bright red or pale gums, thick ropey saliva, depression, weakness, dizziness, vomiting, diarrhea, shock, or even coma.  If you see any of these sings you should immediately get to your vet’s office. Move your pet into a cooler environment, and place a fan on it. You can cool your pet on the way to your vet’s office by wetting down its limbs with tap water.  (Don’t use ice water or cold water because it will cause the vessels of the limbs to constrict and inhibit cooling.)  If your pet will drink cool water then offer it, but do not force your pet to drink if it unwilling or unable. 

With a little bit of vigilance, the Dog Days of Summer don’t have to be dangerous.

Dr. Sandra D. Ontiveros
Manchaca Village Veterinary Care

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