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Caring for Pets in a Heatwave

fluffy dog holding an orange toy in a small baby pool

Learning how to keep pets cool in a heatwave is an implemental part of being a pet parent. Whether you live somewhere that experiences hot summers or has high temperatures all year round, it's crucial that you protect your best pal from the dangers that can accompany a heatwave.

Keeping Pets Cool in a Heatwave

Summer pet safety for cats and dogs can begin with some relatively basic steps, though their importance should not be overlooked. Items that help people stay safe in the sun, such as sunscreen and plenty of water, can also help your canine and feline companions.

Summer Safety for Dogs

In the midst of summer or when temperatures are at their highest, it's possible for your dog to experience a heat stroke. A heat stroke can occur when your dog's internal temperature becomes abnormally (and dangerously) high.

Common symptoms of a heat stroke include:

  • High body temperature
  • Excessive drooling
  • Excessive thirst
  • Constant panting
  • Quickened breathing or heart rate
  • Change in gum or tongue color
  • Difficulty walking or loss of balance
  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Unsettled stomach

The signs of heat stroke can range from mild, more common ones to more severe issues. For instance, when your dog is out playing, they will typically be breathing heavier or seem more thirsty than normal—these alone are not necessarily signs of concern. However, when you begin combining these symptoms with many others, on top of the fact that it may be hotter than usual outside, this could be a sign that your pup is experiencing heat stroke.

If you suspect this condition is occurring, it's crucial that you immediately remove your dog from the hot and humid environment and begin trying to cool them down. Take them into the shade if that's all that's available, but ideally, an air-conditioned space is better. Using a fan or some towels with cool water (not ice water), continue working on lowering your pup's body temperature. You can also offer them some ice cubes or water if they seem to be alert. Be careful not to lower their body temperature too quickly as this could lead to further problems.

Meanwhile, you should still seek treatment from your veterinarian or nearby animal hospital. Call the clinic while you are already working on your at-home treatment, and they can offer some advice before you get to the office. Once there, your dog's condition will be assessed, but in many cases, they may be given intravenous (IV) fluids, and more measures could be taken to lower their body temperature further.

Summer Safety Tips for Cats

Although heatstroke and the effects of summer temperatures are typically discussed around dogs, cats can also be affected by the heat. Similar to dogs, a cat can experience heatstroke when their internal body temperature rises to an unsafe number. With many felines, if they become overheated, they could first experience heat exhaustion, which could lead to heat stroke if it's not managed quickly enough.

The common signs of heatstroke in cats include:

  • Higher than average body temperature
  • Unsettled stomach
  • Panting or quickened breathing
  • Drooling
  • Tremors
  • Dark red gums or tongue
  • Loss of balance and disorientation
  • Lethargy

While the presence of one of these signs may not be cause for concern, it's best to keep a close eye on your feline friend in case any other symptoms arise. Plus, you will want to consider if they could have become overheated based on where they've been hanging out.

Cats can become susceptible to overheating because they do not have the same efficient cooling methods as people and dogs. Instead of sweating or panting, cats often relocate themselves to a cooler place. However, the issue arises when they are unable to do so. Kittens, senior cats, overweight cats, and cats with certain health issues may be unable to get to a cooler area fast enough to avoid overheating.

After assessing your cat's condition, if you believe they are experiencing heatstroke, you will want to call your veterinarian or local emergency pet clinic immediately. They will provide you with some helpful tips to start lowering your cat's body temperature in a safe manner. They may recommend items such as:

  • Moving your cat to a cooler, well-ventilated area
  • Offering your cat water
  • Turning on a fan
  • Soaking a towel in cool water and placing on your cat, but do not wrap them

Once you've completed some of these steps to help lower your cat's temperature, your veterinarian will most likely still recommend bringing your cat in for an examination as soon as possible. Depending on the severity of your cat's condition, more measures may need to be taken to lower their temperature. They may receive some IV fluids, and tests may need to be run to determine if there was any damage to their internal organs.

With the arrival of summer also comes the presence of many types of bugs. Learn how to prevent a run-in with these insects and what to do if your pup gets bit or stung.

How To Keep Outdoor Pets Cool in Summer

With unpredictably hot and humid conditions, one of the best ways to protect an outdoor pet during summer is to bring them inside. However, if your dog is spending more time outdoors, it's essential that they have plenty of shade to stay in and at least one source of clean drinking water. Many dogs could also appreciate a kiddy pool or sprinkler to play in. Like kids, though, you should never leave your dog unsupervised when they have access to a full-sized swimming pool.

If you have a cat that spends time outdoors, one of the best ways to protect them from the heat is to bring them inside as well. Unfortunately, summer is also the time for many stray cats to pop up. Though bringing every stray cat into your home isn't necessarily recommended, you can help them by providing some water in a shaded spot in your yard. If you are able, you can speak with your local pet shelter or cat rescue to see if you can find them a new home.

Extra care should be taken with short-nosed or brachycephalic cats and dogs during hot or humid days. With a shortened airway, it isn't quite as easy for these breeds to catch their breath. In other words, they could experience heat exhaustion or heatstroke much quicker than other feline or canine companions.

orange and white cat touching paws to human hand

How To Protect Pet Paws in the Summer

Perhaps your pup will be running some errands with you throughout the day this summer. If this is the case, be mindful of where they are walking. Pavement can be incredibly hot and could burn your dog's foot pads. With smaller dogs, you may be able to carry them over the sidewalk or parking lot, but with bigger dogs, you may either need to get them some protective booties or walk them solely in the grass or dirt.

If your dog normally spends their days either inside the house or in their backyard on the grass, chances are they won't need booties. However, little booties may be the perfect solution if your pup is out and about all summer long. When shopping for them, you will want to consider your dog's paw size, how easy the boots are to get on and off, how much protection they will provide, and whether they have some grips so that your dog doesn't slide on the floor.

Like introducing any other new product to your dog, use positive reinforcement to show them that they don't need to be anxious about the booties. Slowly practice putting them on and taking them off, rewarding your pup for a job well done. You can eventually work your way up to having your dog wear their boots around the house for longer and longer periods.

While some dogs may need just a week or so to get used to their boots, others may require much more time to warm up to their new footwear. Stay patient with your dog during this process, ensuring that the boots aren't causing any pain or discomfort. Most importantly, never force your dog to wear them when they clearly are opposed.

Summer Pet Grooming Tips

Seeing your pet walk around with their thick coat during the hot summer months may have you wondering, “Is it okay to shave my pet during the summer?” Though that may initially seem like a solution to keeping your pet cool, giving your pal a buzzcut could lead to more problems.

Cat's and dog's fur serves many purposes beyond making them cute to look at and fluffy to pet. Their coats can help regulate their body temperature in cold and hot weather and protect their skin from the sun. If a majority of an animal's fur is suddenly shaved away, this could lead to poor temperature regulation, meaning they could become overheated easier and run the risk of being sunburned.

The best thing you can do for most breeds is to keep them well groomed. Though many breeds will naturally shed more during the hotter months, you can help keep their coat free of dead hair by brushing them at least a few times a week. If you have a dog that enjoys cooling themselves off in the water, it may also be worth your time to regularly bathe them and ensure that their coat is completely dry.

In the case of some breeds, Doodle mixes, for instance, require regular coat trimmings for their ever-growing fur. To help these cuts last longer and to have less fur to deal with throughout the summer, you can request a summer cut next time you take your dog to their groomer. However, a professional dog groomer will still know the appropriate length of hair that may be cut so that it is still safe for your dog.

Keep Pets Healthy in a Heatwave

Though the summer heat can be rather unforgiving at times (particularly in some southern and western states), there are many ways pet parents can protect their pals from the sun's rays. One of the easiest ways to keep dogs safe is to limit their time outdoors when the temperatures are too high. Take them out early morning or late evening if they need a quick walk. Otherwise, only allow them to go outdoors when they need a potty break.

Ice cubes are a big hit with pups during the warmer months. You can toss a couple into their water dish throughout the day or give them homemade ice cube treats as a cool snack—try adding dog-safe fruit, beef broth, or dog treats to your dog's ice cubes.

Don't forget—never leave your dog locked in a car on a hot day. Without the air conditioning on, the internal temperature of a parked vehicle can skyrocket above the external temperature, leading to dangerous conditions.

With cats, be vigilant about making sure your cat does not become trapped in a hot space. This could include your car, garage, laundry room, or attic. Always have a bowl of clean drinking water available, and if your cat has difficulty moving about, having more than one bowl on different floors or in various rooms could be helpful.

If your home has air conditioning, it's best to leave it running all day while you are gone. However, if you live somewhere without air conditioning, leaving a few fans running for your cat could be beneficial. Just be mindful if you crack any windows, as some cats like to escape through screens.

There's no doubt that summer can be an exciting season full of adventurous trips, delicious food, and wonderful weather. However, to enjoy all of these fun activities, it's essential that you take the necessary steps to keep your canine and feline friends safe during those hot and sunny days.

The information presented in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and does not constitute or substitute for the advice of your veterinarian.

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