Unlike humans, pets don't have sweat glands, so they're not able to keep cool in the heat as efficiently. "Most breeds are covered in fur which further worsens their ability to remain cool," says Dr. Shapard. "They're also lower to the ground and more vulnerable to increased temperature."
Combined, all these factors can make them more susceptible to heat stroke. "We tend to forget that unlike humans, animals cannot tell us when they're not feeling well. By the time we notice they are not doing well, they are already in a dangerous territory and immediate intervention is essential to save their lives."
Your pets are relying on you to keep them cool and comfy, no matter how hot it gets. Follow Dr. Shapards tips for keeping your pets cool in the heat, and learn how to recognize the signs of heat stroke—it can save your pet's life.
How to keep your pets cool in extreme heat
1. DO give them plenty of water keep them hydrated
Pets need more water to stay hydrated during the summer. Fill up bowls regularly with cool water to help keep their core body temperature down.
"Companion animals can't tell us when they're thirsty, tired, feeling dizzy or light-headed—natural signs of a heat stroke that we experience," says Dr. Shapard. To be better safe than sorry, fill (and re-fill) that bowl up multiple times a day.
2. DON'T take them out on a long walk mid-day
If your dog needs to stretch his legs, Dr. Shapard recommends going in the early morning or late evening when the sun goes down and temps cool off. "Don't even think about mid-day runs with them," she says.
Even on those evening walks, bring water. There are plenty of portable water bowls you can bring with to give them a drink mid-walk, like Prima Pets Collapsible Pet Bowl ($12) or the Outward Hound Port-a-Bowl ($6).
3. DO leave them at home with the air conditioning
If you're leaving for the day, keep running the air conditioner. Your dog or cat will be most safe with the AC running at a healthy, comfortable temperature.
Dr. Shapard says you should never turn the air conditioning off if you're gone for an extended period of time in case they do overheat and you're not there to help. Your best bet? Invest in a high-efficiency AC unit you can leave running without a huge electric bill.
4. DON'T ever leave them in the car—not ever
This is Dr. Shapard's biggest no-no. "Never ever them in the car even for a few minutes," says Dr. Shapard. "I have seen way too many DOAs [dead on arrival] of dogs that went into cardiac arrest from being in a car on a hot summer day."
Your errands are not worth your pet's life (or legal recourse, as leaving your pet's unattended in a hot car is actually illegal in some states). Wait until they're home, safe in the AC, to run out again.
5. DO be conscious of their precious paws
You wouldn't walk barefoot on hot concrete or searing pavement, would you? Neither should your pet. When the sun is especially high, take note of the surfaces they're walking on to avoid burning their paw pads. While avoiding a burn is important, Dr. Shapard emphasizes that keeping them hydrated is the number one most important thing: "Burns can be treated, but strokes can kill," she says.
6. DON'T give them a drastic summer haircut
In theory, shaving your fluffy Saint Bernard or Bernese mountain dog can help keep them cool when temperatures skyrocket. But be conscious not to shave off too much.
"Fur does have some layer of protection from heat as well, and exposing their skin can cause sun burns," says Dr. Shapard. "Just like humans, it's important for them to have sunscreen on to protect their vulnerable skin that is now exposed to heat that otherwise would have been protected from their fur. It would be best to shorten their hair but not shave them down completely."
7. DO recognize the signs of heat stroke and take immediate action
According to Dr. Shapard, signs of heat stroke can include excessive drooling, excessive panting, weakness and lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, incoordination, stumbling, sudden collapse, and seizures. If your pet displays any of following, bring them indoors to AC and give them cool—not cold—water. If they're hot to the touch, too, you can rinse them with cool water, as well.
"I'm stressing the importance of the water temperature as we do not want to cause vasoconstriction [narrowing of the blood vessels] when an animal is suffering from heat stroke," says Dr. Shapard. Doing so could lead to a sudden, dangerous change in blood pressure. Instead, stick to cool water.
Your best bet is to call an emergency animal hospital or vet clinic as soon as you notice any distress. If you have a breed with a "smoosh face," like a pug or a Persian cat, get to a vet as quickly as possible.
"Their respiratory tract is already compromised," says Dr. Shapard. "Because they are less efficient at regulating their temperatures from panting, they can go from doing alright to sudden respiratory distress and arrest. It can be very tricky to save them, even with the best veterinary staff on board."
A dietitian's guide to the most hydrating foods (for you, not your pets):
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