National Heat Awareness Day is observed each year on the last Friday in May. This year, it lands on May 25th and it’s a day to raise awareness of heat exhaustion and dehydration in both humans and pets.
You may just save your fur baby’s life or help her avoid the agony of experiencing heat exhaustion or a stroke by knowing some of the basics on what the heat can do to your pets, how to help them when it does happen, and how to help prevent them from overheating in the first place.
1. Know How Quickly the Inside of A Car Can Heat UpBe aware that cracking the window may not be enough on a hot summer day. The inside temperature of a car can reach 20 degrees higher than outside temperature in just 10 minutes. On a 80º F day, your pet could be stuck in a 120º F vehicle in 60 mins or less. Check out this animated video about in-vehicle heat rise.
You may have seen veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Ward, locking himself in a car with the windows slightly cracked, to demonstrate just how hot the car got and express how it felt to be inside it.
2. Keep Their Water Bowls Full
As temperatures go up, your pets will drink a lot more water. It can be easy to forget to check their water bowl, particularly if you just checked it a couple of hours ago. Then when you do finally look at it, it’s bone dry, and your pet is beginning to get dehydrated. When it gets hot, make it a point to check your pet’s water bowl at least every hour, and if it’s even half empty, refill it.
3. Provide Shade
If your dog spends at least some of their time outdoors, make sure there’s a nice shady area where they can avoid the hot sun. If you have a large, leafy tree in your yard, the branches can provide a cool spot to get out of the heat. A patio with a roof, awning, or other covering will do nicely as well.
If you don’t have any shade in your yard, though, create some. A shady shelter or an outdoor pool umbrella are all great options and your fur baby will surely appreciate some of her favorite toys and a water bowl there too. There are plenty of possibilities, but do whatever it takes to ensure your pet can seek solace from the burning sun.
4. Trim and Groom Your Pet
This would be particularly helpful if your pet has longer hair. It can become very hot very quickly under the blazing hot summer sun or in a very humid condition. Think about taking them to a groomer to have the hair trimmed to a cooler, more manageable length. Whatever you do though, don’t shave your pets completely. Their hair acts as insulation from direct sunlight. Without it, they’re more likely to overheat rather than less and are also more prone to sunburn.
5. Teach Them to Swim – Gradually
Most dogs are naturally talented swimmers and enjoy splashing around in the water. If you have a pool, take advantage of this as it can be a great way to help your pet cool off. If your pet has never been in the pool, however, introduce them into the water slowly and make sure they’re comfortable with it. You can even buy them floaties, to make sure they’re safe in and around the water. When you take them out of the pool, rinse them off thoroughly to get rid of the chlorine and other chemicals. Just like you would with your human babies, your fur babies should be supervised when near the pool as well.
6. Be Extra Cautious with Flat-Faced Breeds
If you have a dog with a flat face, such as a pug or a bulldog, know that it’s more prone to overheating than dogs with longer faces. Since dogs can’t sweat, their main method of releasing heat from their bodies is by panting, and flat-faced dogs don’t pant as effectively. Take particular care with those pets by reducing the lengths of time that they are exposed to sun and heat in one setting and allowing them to cool off more frequently.
7. Know the Symptoms of Overheating and What To Do
Even when you’ve taken all the precautions, overheating can still happen. That’s why it’s helpful to be able to recognize the symptoms of heat exhaustion or heat stroke. More importantly, know how you can be your fur baby’s first aid and where to can get training if you don’t yet. The most common symptoms of overheating include:
- Heavy panting
- Glazed eyes
- Bloody diarrhea
- Bright red (or dark red) tongue
- Weakness, staggering, or collapsing
If you find your pet exhibiting signs of overheating, bring them to a cool, shady or air conditioned area. Keep in mind that overcooling is just as harmful as overheating so don’t attempt to cool them down drastically such as pouring ice water on them. If they are unconscious, call your vet right away and know when not to give them first aid yourself:
- Attempting first aid will delay veterinary treatment
- You don’t have ready access to cool water
- Attempting first aid will unduly stress your pet
- Your pet is vomiting, having diarrhea, or is noticeably bleeding or bruised
- Your pet is collapsed, unresponsive, or having seizures
If they’re conscious, give them water in small amounts. Making them drink too much too fast could cause vomiting and dehydrate them even more quickly. Take their temperature rectally every 30-60 seconds if you have access to a thermometer. A dog’s internal temperature normally should range between 101 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit and between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees for a cat. Stop cooling once her temperature reaches 103.5°F (39.7°C).
Continue keeping your pet cool and giving them water in small amounts, and get them to a vet as soon as you can, even if their body temperature reaches normal levels again. Get them professional treatment immediately and make sure they’re OK and that there’s no lasting damage.
8. Monitor Their Body Temperature
It’s always better to prevent overheating all together to avoid possible long-term impact heat exhaustion or a stroke could have on your pets. Invest in a health monitoring collar, like Waggit’s, that tracks your pup’s body temperature and get alerted when it rises too quickly or to a dangerous level.
These are just a few of the things you can do to make sure your pets can stay cool in the hot weather. Ask your veterinarian for other tips for keeping cool, that are specific to your particular pet and their breed. Keep their health and comfort in mind at all times, and remember: if you’re hot, they’re probably hot too. Not just tomorrow, but throughout the summer, it’s important to be aware of the heat, and do what you can to keep your pets from being overcome by it.