Pets: How to help four-legged friends beat the heat

July 24, 2017

As you plod along on a summer day, or dash from air-conditioning to car and back again, you’re doing all you can to not pass out from the heat. There’s a water bottle in your hand, shoes on your feet to protect them from hot concrete, and sweat-wicking clothes (as few as possible) on your body.

Your pets feel the heat, too.

"Pets can be in danger in so many ways," says Maura Davies, vice president for marketing and communication for the SPCA of Texas. "Use your common sense. If you’re hot, your pets will be hot."

Dallas veterinarian Kathryn Sarpong works at the Metro Paws Animal Hospital location close to White Rock Lake. "I see people all the time going around the lake with their dogs when it’s 95 degrees," she says. "They’re playing a little with fire."

Dogs are much more heat-sensitive than humans, she says. "They cool down by breathing and panting. When the temperature is over 90 and they’re panting, they’re heating themselves up and not cooling themselves."

As this latest heat spell drags on, here’s what we need to know about pets and heat. Even if you don’t have a pet, you could save a life if you see an animal in distress.

— A fur coat is not insulating

"When animals exert themselves, their bodies are heating and a fur coat prevents heat from escaping like it would for us," Sarpong says.

That said, Davies warns that shaving pets’ coats too close to their skin "can decrease their ability to regulate heat," she says. Even more importantly, she says, they can get sunburned.

— Hot sidewalks are hot for everyone

"Several times every summer, we see paw burns," Sarpong says. They’re painful, plus take a long time to heal. Test the temperature by putting your hand on the sidewalk.

"If it’s hot for your hand, it’s hot for their feet."

— Know the signs of heat distress

"Dogs will start to pant heavily and their tongues will hang out and be a bright red color," Sarpong says. "They’ll start seeking shade or the grass while they’re walking."

Other cues include listlessness and convulsions, Davies adds.

— What to do if your pet shows symptoms

If you’re far from home and your dog is experiencing symptoms, pour water from your water bottle down your dog’s back, recommends Sarpong. "I tell clients to wet their dogs before a walk. Pouring a water bottle down the back can help make that walk safer. It lets them evaporate water and that’s what our sweat does. It takes heat away from the body, giving them an additional way to cool down."

Watch them, she says. "If they are able to have a snack and respond, fine. But if they start vomiting or being unresponsive or collapse, they need to be seen" by a veterinarian. "Don’t assume they’ll be fine once they cool off. They should go to the nearest vet, even if yours is on the other side of town."

— Certain breeds feel the heat more than others

Bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers and other short-nosed dogs "tend to be the most heat-sensitive and also enthusiastic dogs," Sarpong says. "They don’t admit they’re uncomfortable."

— Your dog would rather be at home than in a hot car

"The biggest, biggest health concern: Never ever ever leave your pets in a parked car," Davies says, "even on an 80-degree days, even with the windows cracked. A car can act like an oven; temperatures can get up to 120 degrees even on a mild day."

Adds Sarpong: "If you wouldn’t sit in the car with the window up, then your dog should not sit in a car."

— If you see a dog in distress, call for help

"If you see something, say something," Davies says. Call 911 or go to spca.org/cruelty.

"Sometimes they vomit and aspirate," Sarpong says. "They get into multiorgan failure from heatstroke where we can’t save them. They have a 108-, 110-body temperature" — 99 is normal — "and we may or may not be able to turn that around."

— Pets don’t belong in pickup truck beds

"They’ll jump out," Sarpong says. "If you tie them there, they’ll jump out and hang themselves and drag themselves. If you don’t want to ride in the back of a pickup, they don’t want to. Wherever you don’t want to put your 5-year-old, don’t put your dog."

— Keep pets indoors if at all possible

The SPCA of Texas advises people who do keep pets outdoors to give them plenty of water and shade. A kiddie pool filled with water is a good idea too, Davies says.

"Best of all, bring your pets inside."

She also recommends keeping the indoor temperature at 78 degrees or lower, even when you’re not there.

There are products designed to keep pets cool, Sarpong says. One is a blanket that’s put into the freezer, "a giant ice bag your dog can lie on if it’s an outdoor dog. If you’re going to go to that much trouble, though, keep your dogs inside."

She’s not "a super big fan" of another product designed as a cooling vest, she says. "If it’s not staying cool and people leave it on their dog too long, that’s further insulation to warm them up. If it’s used wrong, it makes things worse."

— What about cats?

"Most cats are indoors, we hope," Sarpong says.

Those who are outdoors tend to know enough to nap in the shade when it’s hot outside, she says.

— A few more things

Like humans, Sarpong says, "an obese animal has a harder time with heat than an animal in good shape."

Keep walks shorter; walk in the day or after the sun sets. For all pets, make sure fresh water is available. "Add ice cubes to their water," she says. "Cooler water can help their bodies cool off, too."

"Be kind to your pets," Davies says. "We domesticated them and they deserve our love and care."

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