As the days get longer and sunnier and the weather warms up, many of us will turn on our air conditioners, drink extra-frosty beverages, switch to cooler clothing and find other ways to beat the heat. Unfortunately for our pets, they don’t have the luxury of altering their environment when they get too hot, or even of being able to tell us they’re getting overheated and need our help. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), if it feels hot outside to you, it’s even hotter for your pet, so take some time to prepare their environment to keep them safe and comfortable.
Water, water, water: Make sure your pet has access to as much fresh, clean water as they want, and change it often. When you can, add some ice to help their drinking water stay cool longer.
A shady place to chill: Be sure your pet has a spot out of the direct sunlight, especially during the sunniest hours of the day. Even if your dog has a doghouse, try to also make sure they have another shaded area with more air circulation.
Consider a trim — but not too much: If your dog has a lot of thick hair, trimming some of it may help. A shorter ‘do may also make it easier to check for fleas and ticks. However, in most cases, avoid shaving their coat completely, as this raises the risk of sunburn on their exposed skin and can also make them feel prickly and uncomfortable. According to many veterinarians, removing a cat’s hair doesn’t really help keep them any cooler, so unless their coat is matted there’s no need for a haircut.
Speaking of sunburn: Even if your pet is not shaved, they can still get burned. If your dog has a very short or thin coat, sunscreen can help. But be sure you purchase one made specially for dogs — versions meant for humans can contain ingredients that might be toxic if ingested by your pet. Carefully follow the instructions on the sunscreen label to be sure you’re applying the product correctly and effectively.
Time activities with comfort in mind: Going for a walk, run or hike, or even just playing fetch, will be much more fun for both of you in the cooler hours of the day. Plus, there will be less chance of hot streets or sidewalks that may burn your pet’s paws. Take frequent breaks, and be sure to bring water along.
Hot cars can be deadly: Never leave your pet in the car, even for a few minutes. Even when it just seems warm, temperatures inside a vehicle can escalate dramatically and rapidly — and cracking the windows is no protection. It’s not worth the risk to your pet’s health and life.
It’s not just the heat, it’s the humidity: When humidity levels are high, the panting that normally helps pets cool themselves may not be enough, and their temperature may rise, so be extra careful about keeping them cool when it’s humid out.
Watch for signs of heatstroke: The Humane Society warns that pets with short noses/muzzles are at extra risk for heatstroke, as are those that are very old, very young, overweight, or have heart or respiratory disease. Symptoms of potential heatstroke include unusually heavy panting, glazed eyes, difficulty breathing, lethargy, fever, rapid heartbeat, vomiting and seizure, among others. If you notice these signs, immediately get your pet to a cool, shaded area and apply ice packs or towels to their head, neck and chest or run cool (not cold) water over them, and seek veterinary help as soon as possible.