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Help Your Pets Beat The Summer Heat

Tips and information from a local veterinarian to keep your pets just as cool as you this summer.

Nobody likes the heat, but what if you had to wear a fur coat and get rid of your sweat glands for the entire summer? That doesn’t sound like fun? Well, your pets do it every year.

While we run around on our two legs worrying about SPF, drinking enough water and our scaling electric bills, let’s not forget about our furry four-legged friends. The summer brings about fresh air and green grass, but it also presents a few dangers for our pets.

Dogs & Heat Don’t Mix

Dogs can’t sweat like we can; they simply don’t have enough sweat glands. The few that they have isn’t enough to cool them down in the “dog days” of summer. Panting doesn’t even help that much, but it is another way they try to cool themselves. If your dog has decided to lie down and pant all day during the summer, chances are he’s literally too hot to move.

Dogs are extremely susceptible to heat stroke, so here are a few absolute DON’Ts for your dog this summer:

  • Don’t leave your dog in your car. It is absolutely deadly for a dog to be trapped in a hotbox like that for even the smallest amount of time.  In fact, in New Jersey, it is against the law to leave your dog in the car for any amount of time, so if you get a ticket for it, you have no one to blame but yourself.

"Heat stroke in dogs is potentially and often fatal," said Anne Brodsky, DVM, of Fort Lee Oradell Veterinary Hospital. "We see this very commonly in dogs that are left in the car for a mere few minutes.  Many owners don't understand just how quickly it can happen.  When a dog's temperature reaches around 105 to 106 degrees and above, they are at risk for secondary systemic coagulation problems that can lead to widespread bleeding and death, among other complications.  I always tell owners if the car is not moving and with the AC on, then your pet doesn't belong there."

“Dogs should not be left out for any extended period of time in the summer heat," Brodsky added. "There should always be plenty of shade available as well as a constant supply of fresh cool water, as dehydration and heat stroke can ensue very quickly."

  • Don’t over-exercise your dog. We don’t like jogging in the heat, and neither do our dogs. When the weather is absolutely brutal, it’s okay to shorten Fido’s walk and keep exercise indoors, or at least to a minimum. This is especially important for overweight dogs and “flat-faced” (brachycephalic) pooches. 

"Summer heat can be rough to begin with for any dog or cat, however dogs with breathing problems such as laryngeal paralysis or brachycephalic airway syndrome and obesity are at even greater risk of dangerously overheating more rapidly,” Brodsky said.

Other Pets & Heat

Small animals like rodents, rabbits, and ferrets don’t do well in the heat either, and it’s an absolute must that they have air conditioning made available to them while you’re away all day. It might be inconvenient to foot that sort of electric bill for the sake of your critter friends, but it’s necessary. Though small, many “pocket pets” are susceptible to heat stroke and just a few hours in warm weather can do lasting damage.

Other ideas to keep your small pets cool are to freeze giant water bottles and leave them in the pet's cage. It’s almost like a home air conditioning unit.

Please keep in mind that electric fans should never be aimed toward rodents or rabbits as a means of keeping cool. Their delicate respiratory systems don’t appreciate it.

Ways to Beat the Heat

  • Always have fresh water available for your pets. You can even leave a few ice cubes in the bowl, so it stays cool for a while. However, don’t give your dog ice cold water right after a walk – instant tummy upset!
  • Your pets like the A/C as much as you do.
  • Spray your dogs’ paws gently with cool water after a long walk. Some of the few sweat glands they have are actually in their paw pads; it’ll help cool them down.
  • Allow your dog plenty of rest and lukewarm (not ice cold) water before and after exercise, and if he doesn’t want to walk in the brutal heat, don’t force him to.

"Many arctic breeds or thick long-coated dogs may benefit from a 'summer cut' to help keep them cool and more comfortable in the hottest summer months,” suggested Brodsky.

Just make sure you get your dog done professionally; sometimes dogs can actually get sunburn when they get too close a shave.

  • Take your dog swimming! If your dog likes water, swimming is a great way to cool down. Just remember to bring plenty of fresh drinking water, too, because pool water isn’t good for anyone’s tummy.

Other Summer Dangers

  • Fireworks! A dog that is terrified of fireworks will not only try to run away from the sound, but he might run away from your house too. Keep dogs indoors if they don’t like fireworks, but don’t baby them – just make sure they’re safe. Dogs have been known to run away from home in fright over the colorful displays and get lost, hurt or worse.
  • BBQ food is not for pets. Never give a half-eaten rib/chicken/anything bone to your dog. BBQ sauce and all those seasonings aren’t great for their tummy, and many dogs can actually get quite sick on the everyday junkfood we celebrate summer with.
  • Indoor/outdoor cats hang out under cars to keep cool in the summer, so if you have an “outdoor cat” be careful.

"Hit by car scenarios are also seen more commonly in the summer because it is nice out and pets are spending more time outside with their owners, whether on a walk or in the yard off leash," Brodsky said. "If your pet is hit by a car, the best thing to do is to bring him/her to an emergency facility right away and keep your hands away from your pet's mouth, as they may bite you because they are in extreme pain."

Keep an eye on your pets this summer and make sure everyone is staying cool and happy. If your pet is acting especially lethargic, vomiting or just seems “off,” call your vet. It's always better to be safe than sorry.

For those interested in more information on heat stroke and the potential dangers of warmer weather on our pets, Oradell Animal Hospital will be hosting a "Warm Weather Emergencies" related seminar on Thursday, Aug. 4, at 7 p.m. The seminar will cover heat stroke, car accident related trauma, snake bites, hi-rise syndrome (falling from heights) and more.

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