‘Dog days of summer’ can be dangerous for pets
STILLWATER — With summer officially underway, Oklahomans are heading outdoors for some fun in the sun.
“Spending time outside is a great way to enjoy the summer season, as long as you take heat precautions, not only for yourself, but your pets as well,” said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at Oklahoma State University.
“Many people enjoy the long, sunny days of summer outdoors with their furry friends, but take care to not get overheated,” Giedt said. “Just as you take precautions for yourself, do the same for your pets. Although you enjoy being outdoors, keep in mind heat and humidity can take a toll on people and animals.”
When a pet gets overheated it can cause hyperthermia, which can lead to heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Because dogs do not sweat like humans do, this can be extremely dangerous for an animal. Dogs rely on panting to cool themselves. Brachycephalic breeds such as pugs, English bulldogs and Persian cats, are specifically prone to problems during the summertime because their panting is not as effective.
Giedt said symptoms of heat stress, heat exhaustion and heat stroke in pets includes excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, bright red tongue and gums, drooling, weakness, stupor or even collapse, as well as vomiting, bloody diarrhea and an elevated body temperature of more than 104 degrees Fahrenheit.
Because pets can get dehydrated very quickly, it is vital to ensure they have a continuous supply of fresh, cool water in a container that cannot be tipped over. If possible put ice cubes or small containers of ice in the pet’s water bowl every morning. This will help the water stay cool longer.
“Many people like to take their pets with them while they run errands. Unfortunately, this can be extremely dangerous when the weather is warm,” she said. “The inside of a vehicle will heat up to deadly temperatures very quickly, even if you park in the shade and leave the windows cracked.”
At home, shade is an absolute must for pets that live confined to the yard. Do not tether animals because the leash or rope can become tangled and the animal could get stranded in the sun.
“Providing a shady and well-ventilated spot for outdoor pets will keep them cooler. You can even place some cold, wet towels in your pet’s sleeping area,” Giedt said. “If your pet sleeps in a dog house, wet towels are especially good because the temperature inside the house can get quite hot.”
If one has space for it, a small kiddie pool filled with clean water is another great option for keeping pets cool in the hot summer months. Make sure to clean it out on a regular basis and refill with clean water.
Pet owners who are fitness-minded may enjoy jogging with their animals, but it is imperative to keep in mind over exertion in hot weather can easily cause the pet to overheat quickly, especially long hair breeds. Humid weather makes pets even more susceptible to heat exhaustion, even if the dog jogs with their owner every day in cooler weather and is in excellent shape.
“Not only do you need to keep the air temperature in mind, but also be mindful of asphalt and concrete temperatures,” Giedt said. “You’re wearing shoes to protect your feet while you jog or walk. The temperature of the surfaces on which you’re exercising can be extremely hot and cause burns to your pet’s paws.”
If one suspects their pet is suffering from a heat-related illness, emergency treatment includes sponging the animal’s neck and groin area with cool water till its body temperature is lowered. Contact a veterinarian immediately because the pet may require further treatment to prevent serious complications. Heat stroke can lead to severe organ dysfunction and damage.
Some pet owners believe clipping a dog’s hair coat will help pets stay cool during the summer months. While it can help, Giedt said some hair left on the dog serves as a natural protectant. If the hair is clipped too short, the skin can burn, just as human skin does.
“It’s always a good idea to keep your pet’s fur trimmed, if necessary, and this is especially true for animals with thick, heavy coats. Talk to your veterinarian about what kind of clip would be beneficial,” she said. “Your veterinarian is a great source of information about keeping your pet safe during the summer heat. Remember, your pet depends on you to provide the very best care possible.”