In Florida, we experience our hottest months of the year during July, August and September when temperatures quite frequently rise above 90 degrees. As pet owners, we should always be mindful year-round of the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion in pets especially during the summer months. Unlike humans who can perspire excess body heat through many sweat glands, dogs and cats have fewer options when trying to regulate their body temperature. With only a limited number of sweat glands located in their paws, pets rely heavily on panting in order to dispel body heat. Sometimes panting is just not enough for pets to be able to cool down sufficiently. Our companion animals need our help to ensure they are protected from overheating which can possibly turn into a life-threatening condition quite rapidly.
Here are 5 preventive ways to protect and keep your pet safe during the hot, “Dog Days of Summer”:
1. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion. Since pets do pant when overheated, look for signs of heavy panting and/or drooling. When initial overheating begins, pets may also act uncomfortable, agitated or may exhibit more subtle displays such as decreased responsiveness or lethargy. Signs that your pet’s condition may have elevated to something even more serious and life-conditioning include vomiting, diarrhea, and excessive drooling. A pet who is acting disorientated or unsteady is also cause for immediate concern. These symptoms may indicate that your pet is in serious danger of a heat stroke. Have your veterinarian’s telephone number on hand at all times (and an after-hours animal emergency clinic) so that you can receive immediate assistance and guidance if these symptoms arise. 2. Enjoy safe car rides with your pet on hot days. There are many laws in place, both at the statewide and county levels, which protect animals against neglect, abuse and cruelty in the state of Florida. Such laws also address leaving pets unattended and/or in cars where temperatures can rise to dangerous levels rapidly. Other precautions to take while riding with pets include pre-cooling the environment before entering a vehicle so that pets do not have to immediately compensate for extremely hot conditions while going from the house to the car. Also while in the car, having the windows rolled down may not be enough to cool a pet. Owners may want to consider using air conditioning in the vehicle if signs of overheating begin to develop in their pet.
3. Watch for signs of overheating during exercise time. Pets thoroughly enjoy running or exercising with their owners, yet dangerous temperatures may cause a pet to overheat even while having fun. During hot days, try to exercise pets in the early or late hours of the day. Also be cautious on days that have increased humidity levels. Higher moisture levels in the air also contribute to overheating in pets so watch carefully for signs that indicate stress while breathing. Brachycephalic or “snubbed-nosed” dogs have an even tougher time compensating on hotter, more humid days. Plan to take breaks during exercise sessions which will enable your dog to cool down during rigorous activity so that pets can better enjoy their active times without undue stress.
4. Protect your pet from excessive sun exposure or heat. Pets have a limited way of compensating when they begin to overheat so reducing any factors that will contribute to a serious health condition is essential. If your pet has access to the yard or lives outside, make sure plenty of shade is available for your pet. If at the beach, a park, hiking or other venues where sun exposure is a threat, ensure that portable shelter, shading or tree cover is available to your pet. It is also important to remember just how hot roads and sidewalks become in the heat of the day. Hot pavement can burn the pads of your pet’s feet so try to walk your pet in the grass or shaded areas, if possible. Having an alternate plan in place that will keep your pet cool if the air-conditioning unit in the home or office breaks down is also strongly recommended.
5. Water! Water! Water! It is absolutely essential that your pet has access to fresh water at any and all times especially when temperatures rise. By not having the ability to access water, a pet’s health condition can deteriorate rapidly. If outdoors, add ice cubes to your pet’s water dish to help keep them keep cool. Also adding ice cubes to the inside water bowl while help cool and refresh your pet when coming in from outside. During car trips, make sure there is plenty of fresh water for your pet to access by packing bottles of water and a drinking bowl while on the road. Packing a small cooler or thermos-insulated lunch bag with small ice chips is also a nice treat for dogs, especially on hot days. Just make sure the size of the ice cubes don’t present a choking hazard for your pet.
We understand owners enjoy many different and fun activities with their pets including spending time while outdoors. By considering how quickly a pet’s body temperature can elevate, taking preventive actions to help our beloved pets stay safe, especially during hot days, is a must.
Thank you for reading this month’s blog. If you have questions for the staff at North River Animal Hospital about the health or well-being of your pet, please feel free to call our office at 941-845-4448.