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How to keep pets safe when it’s doggone hot outside

By The Health News Team | August 8, 2023
Bulldog with tongue sticking out

Are you feeling hot, hot, hot? With temperatures expected to rise above 100º F in some areas of the county, you’re probably answering, yes, yes, yes!

Your furry friends feel the same.

According to the Humane Society of the United States, high summer temps can be as uncomfortable — and dangerous — for pets as it can be for their human owners. Among the top threats for both: heatstroke.

Heatstroke in pets can lead to organ damage and death. And pets that are old, very young, overweight, not used to exercise, or that have chronic disease are at greater risk for heat stroke. Additionally, pets with short noses — including boxer, pug, bulldog and shih tzu dogs; and Persian, Himalayan and Scottish fold cats — have a more difficult time breathing and staying cool in extreme heat.

Signs of heatstroke in pets include:

  • Heavy panting

  • Glazed eyes

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Excessive thirst

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Dizziness

  • Lack of coordination

  • Profuse salivation

  • Vomiting

  • Deep red or purple tongue

  • Seizures

  • Unconsciousness

If you think your pet might have heatstroke, the Humane Society says to take them immediately to a veterinarian. While on the way to the vet or as you prepare to take them, move your pet into a shaded or air-conditioned area; apply ice packs or cold towels to their head, neck and chest; run cool — not cold — water over them; and help them drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes.

Preventing pet heatstroke

In anticipation of a continued heat wave, it’s important to be prepared. Have a plan in case power goes out during extreme heat. Keep ice in a cooler to keep their water supply cold and in case of heat illness. Keep pets indoors or wherever you feel most comfortable. If you feel hot, they do too. And research air-conditioned boarding facilities or hotels that accept pets to turn to when power will be out for long periods of time.

On hot days, the Humane Society also advises you:

Never leave your pets in a parked car.

Temperatures inside a car or truck can quickly rise to dangerous levels, even if windows are open, which has been proven to have very little effect on a vehicle’s internal temperature. For example, on an 85º F day, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102º F within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120º F, which can be deadly for a pet.

Watch the humidity.

High humidity increases the danger for your pet. When animals pant, moisture from their lungs evaporates to help reduce their body heat. But high humidity makes it difficult for pets to cool themselves and their temperature can quickly rise.

Limit exercise.

Exercise pets in the early morning or evening hours, when temperatures are cooler. Be careful with short-nosed pets, who can have difficulty breathing, even in lower temperatures.

Stay off asphalt.

Asphalt and sidewalks can get very hot and burn your pet's paws. Walk them in the shade and on grass if possible.

Don't rely on a fan.

Dogs sweat primarily through their feet. So fans don't cool dogs off as well as they cool people.

Provide lots of shade and water.

Whenever your pet is outside, make sure they have plenty of shade and fresh, cold water. Shade provided by trees, patio coverings or tarps is ideal because they allow air to flow freely. A doghouse, however, can be stifling and dangerous. Cold water should always be provided to pets while indoors too.

Get creative about cooling your pet.

Dogs love “pupsicles.” Blend fruit, such as peeled apples, strawberries, bananas or cantaloupe, with plain or unsweetened yogurt, add the mixture to freezer molds, and freeze them until solid. Cooling body wraps, vests and mats or a cool bath can also provide relief.

How to help pets in danger

In California, it’s illegal to “leave or confine an animal in any unattended motor vehicle under conditions that endanger the health or well-being of an animal due to heat, cold, lack of adequate ventilation, lack of food or water, or other circumstances that could reasonably be expected to cause suffering, disability or death.”

If you see an animal locked in a car on a hot day, the Humane Society recommends you:

  • Take down the car's make, model and license plate number.

  • If there are businesses nearby, notify their managers or security guards and ask them to make an announcement to find the car's owner.

  • If the owner can't be found, call the non-emergency number of the local police or animal control and wait by the car for them to arrive.

“Good Samaritans” can legally remove animals from cars in California if they, in good faith, believe forcible entry into the vehicle is necessary because the animal is in imminent danger. They must first contact a local law enforcement agency, fire department or animal control before forcibly entering the vehicle. No more force than necessary should be used to enter the vehicle and remove the animal.

Learn more about pet safety from the Humane Society of the United States.

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