Denver resident Susan Kohut loves hiking Colorado trails with her 3 ½-year-old Great Dane, Floyd. But since he weighs 160 pounds and his black fur attracts heat, she is careful to make sure he avoids overheating.
“I saw him once after a long, long walk. He found a cool spot to lie in and was breathing heavy for about 20 minutes,” Kohut says.
Kohut fed Floyd ice cubes and he soon recovered and was ready for their next excursion. To avoid any future discomfort or danger to Floyd, she takes additional precautions to make sure their hikes are safe as well as fun.
“If it’s going to be a hot summer day, we either go out really early in the day and finish by 10 or 11 at the latest, or we go out late afternoon. And I definitely make him stop frequently to drink water. I carry a liter bottle of water with a sport tip on it and he knows how to drink from that.”
Kohut adds, “It’s great fun to hike with him!”
Summertime is a great time to enjoy the outdoors with pets – and as long as pet owners take precautions to prevent overheating.
“The main reason hot weather is an issue for pets is because they are not able to cool off as efficiently,” says Tom Carpenter, DVM, AAHA President 2007-2008, and President of Newport Harbor Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, Calif. “They don’t sweat and have to pant to release the heat.”
The main issues that arise from overheating in summer heat are dehydration, heat stroke and sunburn. Symptoms of dehydration include the gums of the mouth feeling tacky to touch and/orthe skin may become slow to return to its natural position when pulled up. According to Dr. Carpenter, dehydration can lead to lethargy as it progresses, and the pet’s eyes may appear to be sunken. In mild to moderate cases, giving your pet small amounts of water to drink over time will help, but in severe cases they’ll need IV fluids administered at your veterinary hospital. To prevent this, it’s important to have clean, fresh water available for your pet at all times, in a container that can’t be tipped over accidentally.
Heat stroke is very serious. Symptoms include extreme panting, salivating, staggering, vomiting and diarrhea. As it becomes fatal, your pet will become comatose and their temperature will range from 104- 110°F.
“Every year we have a sad story of a pet that has heat stroke,” says Dr. Carpenter. “I am a marathon runner and have a friend who was out running with his black lab on a warm day. Of course, there was no end to this dog’s enthusiasm. The lab started to pant and stagger and he was fortunate that a passing car saw him to help. They put his dog into the car and rushed to the veterinary hospital, where he was treated for heat stroke. Fortunately, this story ended happily.”
If your pet is experiencing heat stroke, call your veterinarian immediately – time is of the essence. Use cool water to bring the temperature down; Dr. Carpenter suggests soaking towels to use while you are driving to the veterinary hospital. However, do not let their temperature drop below 102-103°F as this can cause hypothermia. Your pet will be treated with IV fluid therapy at the hospital. To prevent this situation, access to shade, ventilation and water are key, as well as avoiding exercise during the peak heat of the day. (This is particularly important for short-nosed dogs such as pugs, which cannot cool off by panting as efficiently.)
Sunburn will look similar on a pet as it would on a human, and typically occurs in non-pigmented areas that have less or no hair – often the ears and nose in many breeds, or the underside of the belly. Since dogs and cats might lick off their sunblock, access to shade is critical. Try to keep them out of the sun from 10 am – 4 pm. Aloe can soothe pets’ burned skin, but they’ll need to see their veterinarian if it is severe.
In general, it’s important to avoid walks or hikes during peak heat, and to keep up on normal wellness visits as recommended by your veterinarian. A summer check-up can help detect early problems such as kidney disease, which might get worse by the stress of heat during the summer.
On walks, be careful to avoid hot asphalt, which can burn pets’ feet if they aren’t toughened from exercise, or if it is extremely hot – you can test it with your own hands or feet to be sure. Also, if your pet is thirsty, they’ll be more prone to drink from puddles. This should be avoided in case chemicals such as antifreeze are in the puddles (Dr. Carpenter hopes people will choose to buy antifreeze that has a bitter taste to deter this).
It can also be a good idea to cut your pets’ fur shorter in summer months.
“In addition to being cooler with summer activities, the hair can get matted more easily as well. If the hair gets matted, it is even warmer on the pet,” Dr. Carpenter advises.
He also urges pet owners to be careful with their swimming pools.
“Teach your dog how to get out safely,” he says. “It is better to do this as a precaution than to deal with the incredible sadness of losing a pet to drowning.”
Finally, it is important that pet owners avoid leaving their pets inside their cars, as the heat can easily be 20-40 degrees warmer in a very short period of time.
“We all love to give our pets rides and have their companionship, but if you can’t take them out with you when you stop, don’t take them at all,” Dr. Carpenter says.
By taking precautions to keep your pet safe from summer heat, you’ll have little to worry about. Then you can focus on enjoying the weather together!
Freelance journalist Jen Reeder used to rub ice cubes on her tabby Fluff during childhood summers, and miraculously, was never scratched.