By Dr. Becker
Sunday, June 21st is the first day of summer this year, and after a particularly long cold winter in many parts of the US, I know we're all looking forward to sunshine, warmer temperatures, and getting outdoors. As enjoyable as this time of year is though, it's important to play it safe when it comes to fun in the sun for furry family members.
Our dogs have a higher body temp than we do, and less ability to cool down. Humans are covered with sweat glands, but a dog's are confined to her nose and the pads of her feet.
An overheating dog can only regulate her body temperature through panting, which isn't terribly efficient in hot weather. In a very short period of time, an overheated dog can suffer critical damage to her brain, heart, liver and nervous system.
Recognizing the Signs of Overheating in Your Pet
Heatstroke -- the ultimate and often deadly result of overheating -- is caused by a dangerous elevation in an animal's body temperature. While it most often occurs in dogs left in cars during the summer months, it can also happen in late spring and the first weeks of summer if a pet is exposed to high temperatures before he or she has acclimated to the heat.
Symptoms of overheating include:
Heavy panting or rapid breathing
Elevated body temperature
Increased pulse and heartbeat
Vomiting, bloody diarrhea
Bright or dark red tongue, gums
In addition to hot vehicles, other contributors to pet overheating include humid conditions, lack of drinking water, obesity, and overexertion.
Some pets are at higher risk for heat-related illness than others, including brachycephalic breeds (dogs and cats with flat faces and short noses), older pets, puppies and kittens, animals that are ill or have a chronic health condition, pets not used to warm weather, and any pet left outside in hot weather.
Tips for Keeping Your Pet Safe in the Heat
1. Never, ever leave your pet alone in a parked car on a warm day — Not even for a minute. On a warm day, the temperature inside your vehicle can rise quickly into the danger zone. For example, on an 85-degree day it takes only 10 minutes for the temperature inside your parked car to climb to 102 degrees. In a half hour, it can hit 120 degrees. Leaving windows cracked doesn't drop the temperature inside the vehicle. Leaving your car running with the air conditioner on is dangerous for a whole host of reasons.
Leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle in extreme heat or cold is a criminal act in several states and municipalities. Most statutes have rescue provisions that allow certain individuals – for example police officers, firefighters, animal control officers, store employees -- to do whatever is necessary to rescue an animal trapped in a vehicle in extreme temperatures.
On summer days, it's best to leave your pet home where she can stay cool, hydrated, and safe.
2. Don't walk or exercise your pet on hot pavement — This can be a tricky one to remember (unless you're in the habit of walking your dog barefoot), but it's extremely important. Not only can pavement on a hot day burn your dog's paws, but the heat rising from concrete or asphalt can quickly overheat an animal that lives close to the ground. Also don't allow your pet to stand, walk or rest on hot outdoor surfaces like sidewalks or parking lots.
3. Exercise your dog during the coolest parts of the day — In most locations, this means early in the morning or after sunset. Try to stay in the shade during daylight hours, and no matter the time of day, don't overdo outdoor exercise or play sessions. Even on an overcast day or in the evening, a long period of physical exertion in hot weather can cause heatstroke in your dog.
A good rule of thumb is if outdoor temps hit 90 degrees, your pet should be indoors where it's cool.
4. Provide plenty of fresh clean drinking water at all times — In addition to overheating, your pet can become dehydrated very rapidly in warm weather. A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between ½ and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day. And if she'll be outside for any length of time, she should have access to complete shade. Periodically encourage her to play in the sprinkler or gently hose her down with cool water to prevent overheating.
Attention City Dwellers with Cats: Beware of Feline High Rise Syndrome
While overheating is less of a problem for cats than dogs (because kitties tend to find a nice cool napping spot on hot days), during the warmer months of the year more than a few city dwelling cats fall from open windows and fire escapes to the ground below. This is known as Feline High Rise Syndrome, and it can have devastating consequences.
Well-intentioned cat guardians who live in tall buildings often allow their kitties to sun themselves in open windows and on fire escapes. It sounds safe enough, however, the feline prey drive can lead a cat to try to pounce on moving birds or insects. Falls from tall buildings often result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken limbs, and even death.
A few facts about High Rise Syndrome:
- When a cat falls from a high perch it's unintentional, not deliberate. Cats are smart. They don't leap from high places because they know it's dangerous.
- The reason cats fall is usually because they are intensely focused on something outside, perhaps a bird, and either lose their balance or their prey instinct sends them out the window before they realize what they're doing. Another cause of falls is normal muscle twitching and other movement during deep sleep. A kitty can roll off a windowsill while changing sleep positions.
- While cats won't intentionally jump from a high perch, they also don't realize they can't dig their claws into brick, concrete, or steel surfaces to help prevent a fall if they lose their balance.
- When a cat falls from a high perch, he doesn't land squarely on all fours. He lands with his feet slightly apart, which is how serious head and pelvic injuries occur. And falling shorter distances can actually be more dangerous, because kitty doesn't have enough time to adjust his body to land correctly.
- Even if your cat survives a fall in relatively good condition, she'll land in an unfamiliar, frightening place on a sidewalk or street and can easily run away before you can get to her.