Now that summer is upon us, many pets are spending more time outdoors enjoying the beautiful weather and longer days. However, our pets are not able to regulate their body temperature as well as we can because they sweat mainly through the pads of their feet, and rely mostly upon panting to cool down. While you may enjoy the summer months in shorts and a tee-shirt, dogs and cats go through the summer wearing a full-length fur coat! Flat-faced breeds, elderly or overweight pets, and pets with black, dark-colored or very thick fur are even more prone to overheating. However, there are some simple precautions you can take to make sure your furry friend has a safe and happy summer.
Know the signs of hyperthermia
One of the biggest dangers to your pet during the summer months is hyperthermia, which is an elevated body temperature that can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Heat stroke in pets is life-threatening and requires immediate veterinary attention. Heat stroke typically begins with heavy panting and/or difficulty breathing. The tongue and gums are bright red and tacky, with thick saliva. Your pet may vomit and have diarrhea, and exhibit weakness and dizziness. The pet may eventually have seizures, collapse, lapse into a coma, and may ultimately die if not treated immediately and aggressively.
Avoid the risk of hyperthermia
Do not leave your pet outside for long periods of time. When outside, make sure your pet always has access to plenty of fresh, cool water and a shady place to get out of the sun. Never leave your pet unattended in a parked car, even for a few minutes or with the windows rolled down. Try to limit exercise and playtime to the cooler morning and evening hours.
What to do if you suspect your pet has heatstroke
Contact your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. Move your pet out of the heat and begin efforts to cool your pet by applying cool water to your pet’s body, especially the foot pads, stomach, armpits and head. Do not use very cold water which will cause the blood vessels to constrict actually slowing the cooling process. Monitor your pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer, and discontinue the cooling process once the temperature falls below 103ºF. Offer your pet cool water, but do not force liquids. Bring your pet to the veterinarian even if he or she seems to be improving as permanent damage to your pet’s internal organs may occur, as well as the risk for complications such as a condition called disseminated intravascular coagulation.
Panting is a very inefficient form of cooling, so if you are hot, it’s likely that your pet is hot, too. One episode of heatstroke increases the likelihood of experiencing it again, so prevention is the best course of action.