Hot Weather Safety for Pets

Dog sticking his head out of a car window

Hot cars kill dogs.

UPDATED: This post first appeared in early May 2016, but now it’s late June and temps today already are 95 degrees and climbing. Next week, I head to Arizona for the Cat Writers’ Association Writers Conference (in conjunction with BlogPaws conference). The temps there are likely to reach 115 or more. I love this conference because…well, WRITING and PETS! And the pets come, too.

Yes, there’ll be dogs and cats and bunnies and pigs and ferrets and who knows what else with their blogging partners. The thing is, humans at least know to come in from the heat. Pets need our help. So whether you’re hitting the road with your pet friends, or staying close to home, please keep these hot weather tips in mind.

THE STARS AT NIGHT…STAY HOT AND BRIGHT…

I live in N. Texas where it’s not unusual for weather to have everyone hot under the collar. Hot weather safety for pets around here is a matter of life and death for cats and dogs. Just imagine how pets feel with a fur coat.

Cats and dogs risk sunburn, pad burns and life-threatening heatstroke without proper precautions. Never leave your pet unattended in a hot car. These tips can help you prevent problems, or even save your pet’s life.

Dog paw

Paws are not as tough as you’d think.

PAD BURNS

Dogs don’t get pad burns very often because they flinch away from heat. But cats love heat and often lounge on surfaces up to 126 degrees. They won’t feel themselves getting burned.

Cat Facts: The Pet Parent's A-to-Z Home Care Encyclopedia

Learn more about heat-loving cats in CAT FACTS.

Both dogs and cats can suffer pad burns from walking on hot pavement, especially when not offered the option for cooler pathways.

Do the barefoot test. If pavement feels too hot for you, it’s also a problem for pets. Prevent pad burns by making shaded and/or grassy pathways an option. For pad burns, apply an aloe vera ointment three to five times a day to help shorten healing time. It’s safe for pets to lick off in small amounts, too.

Dogs attending the upcoming conference outside Phoenix are encouraged to wear protective booties. Otherwise, they can become blistered just by walking across the dirt. OUCH!

SUNBURN

Fur protects most dogs and cats from sunburn, but thinly furred ear tips, bridge of the nose, and the tummy can get burned. White pets are at highest risk. Dogs who sleep on their back and sun-worshiping cats seem affected most often.

Sunburn isn’t a medical emergency, but it can be painful. The skin turns red, can blister, become crusty, and peel. Kitty ears curl and literally turn crispy.

Cold water spray from a plant mister every half hour or so works great to soothe sunburned dogs, but cats hate getting sprayed. Witch hazel helps cool inflamed skin by evaporation and doesn’t sting like alcohol. Dab some on affected areas with a cotton ball three or four times a day to soothe the burn.

Sunburn dries out the skin. Aloe vera creams not only moisturize but also help heal burns faster. These products often contain vitamin E that speeds healing and soothes burns.

A funny image of a thirsty Boxer crossbreed with a very long tongue sticking out

Heat stroke is no laughing matter–and panting won’t help.

HEATSTROKE

Pets don’t sweat. To cool off, dogs pant so the moisture evaporates off the tongue. Cats lick fur and evaporation keeps body temperatures at a safe level. But for grooming or panting to work, the outside air must be a lower temperature than the pet’s normal body temperature (101-102.5 degrees). When self-cooling fails, heatstroke kills in less than 15 minutes.

DogFacts

Get the FACTS about all your dog health concerns!

Cars become deathtraps. When the temperature reaches 78 degrees, cars sitting in the shade reach 90 degrees in no time. But if parked in the sun on a 78-degree day, car temp soars to 168 degrees within minutes. That cooks the brain, leaving irreversible damage.

Signs of heatstroke include rapid panting, a bright red tongue and gums, sticky saliva, and body temperatures of 104-106 degrees. Severe cases of heatstroke may prompt body temperatures of 110 degrees or higher.

Unless you live only five minutes away, give first aid before heading to the emergency room. To save your pet’s life, reduce body temperature to 104 degrees and then get follow-up medical care.

For mild heatstroke, offer water or Gatorade cooler than the outside temperature. Wrap the pet in cold wet towels. Bring him into an air-conditioned space and turn on a fan so the air he breathes is cooler than his body to reduce internal temperature naturally.

first-aid

First aid saves lives–from hangnails to gunshots to animal bites, know what to do!

For severe heatstroke (body temperatures over 106 degrees), douse the pet with cool water from the hose, or dunk him in the bathtub or sink. Ice packs placed in the “armpits” or groin (near major blood vessels) help chill the blood so it cools the pet during circulation.

WATER INTOXICATION

Yes, there IS such a thing as too much water. Magical-Dawg loves to play “hose tag” and bite the water as it streams out the hose. He drinks a LOT of water during such games. When dogs become overheated, offering them too much water can result in water intoxication (hyponatremia). Here’s what happens.

Drinking too much dilutes the sodium in the blood. This lack of salt prompts water to flow into the cells, including brain cells. Excess water in cells creates swelling, and results in serious problems and even death.

Signs of water intoxication incude drooling, drunking behavior, lethargy, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils and glazed eyes, and pale gums, alone or in combination. The worst cases may also have problems breathing, collapse, suffer seizures or fall into a coma before they die.

This condition progresses VERY quickly, so as soon as you suspect a problem, get your dog to the vet. Treatment requires intravenous treatment to replace electrolytes, diuretics to get rid of excess water, and medications to reduce brain swelling. Dr. Karen Becker has an excellent article on the condition here.

During water games, be sure to give dogs a break from the fun every 15 minutes or so, and monitor the amount they drink. Dogs diving underwater, or playing with the hose or sprinkler may gulp large amounts that you don’t notice. Supervision is key to keeping your dog’s water play safe.

COOL PET TIPS

Prevent heat stroke by providing shade for outside pets, along with plenty of cool water. Specialized attachments turn outside faucets into 24/7 pet drinking fountains so you won’t have to worry about spilled bowls. Misting fans and aerosols lower the temperature and keep pet fur damp to cool fur through evaporation. Misters can be placed on the porch, deck or near your dog’s pen.

Invest in cooling bandannas and collars, body wraps, and pet mats from pet products outlets. Or just provide a child’s wading pool, fill it daily with cool water and let the water-puppies splash to their heart’s content.

dog in water

A safe place to cool off is great for dogs during hot weather.

Prevent problems altogether by keeping cats and dogs in air-conditioned spaces when the temperatures become dangerous. The most dangerous times of day for sunburn are 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. so schedule cooler times for outdoor excursions.

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