Planning for the Heat of Summer for Your Pets
By Dr. Bruce Little
The Summer Solstice begins in the Northern Hemisphere on June 21 again this year as it always does. The word Solstice comes from the Latin words sol, meaning Sun and sistere, meaning to come to a stop or stand still. On the day of the Summer Solstice, the Sun reaches its northernmost position, as seen from the Earth. At that moment, its motion does not go north or south as during most other days of the year, but it stands still over the Tropic of Cancer. That time then, is the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere. On December 21, the Sun reaches its southernmost position as seen from the Earth, and that determines the Winter Solstice as we see it from the Northern Hemisphere. And for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, that means we must begin to think about the needs of our pets when the weather turns hot, humid, and the days stay sunny much longer with the baking sun beating down on Mother Earth at our location. As pet owners, we have the responsibility to protect them from the hot days of summer by providing them with proper shelter, food, and exercise.
Pet owners should be advised to NEVER, EVER leave their pets in parked cars during any season, but especially during the summer months. The temperature inside a car rises exponentially and can increase by dozens of degrees Fahrenheit in less than an hour. DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS IN THE CAR! The most common finding for animals left in a hot car is heat stroke. The signs of heat stroke in dogs can include panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst and fever, lack of coordination, vomiting, seizure, and unconsciousness. Heat stroke constitutes an emergency for the dog, and it should be placed in cool water and given small amounts of water to drink, and as quickly as the dog is stabilized taken to an emergency animal hospital for veterinary care. It has become customary for people who see a dog or cat confined inside a car during the hot summer months to call police or to break into the car to give the pet relief from its heated confinement. Many states have introduced or already passed Legislation to make it legal for a Good Samaritan to break the window of a closed and locked car to remove a pet from danger. I suspect this trend to cross the country soon.
Hot concrete and asphalt can burn the pads on the feet of your pet. Before you take your dog for a walk, place your hand on the concrete or asphalt surface. If it is too hot for your hand, then it is too hot for your dog to walk on. Seek out grass in your own yard or at the dog park for your dog to attend to its bathroom duties. Try to pick the coolest time of the day to take the dog for a walk or let him out into a closed yard. You can buy booties for your dog’s feet, many with rubber knobs on the soles that imitate the pet’s own paws, at most pet supply stores. It may take some time to get the dog accustomed to the booties so that he will not attempt to remove them by pulling on them with his teeth. Practice that at home in the controlled environment before venturing outside together. Check your dog’s paws frequently while outside to ensure there is no damage from crossing superheated surfaces. While outside, supply ample fresh water for your pet by dumping any leftover water in the bowl and adding fresh water. It may be necessary to empty out and refill the pets water bowl several times during a hot day if they are outside. Never fill the dog’s water bowl with the first water out of a garden hose. Let the water run for a few minutes to pass all the heated water out of the hose before putting it in the dog’s bowl. It is very important that dogs and cats maintain adequate hydration during these times in the excessive heat.
It is best to limit exercise on hot summer days, especially for a young dog that loves to go to the dog park and play with friends. Adjust the intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature and humidity. On very hot, humid days limit the exercise to early morning hours or late evening hours. It is usually cooler early in the morning after the sun has been out of the sky for a longer period. There are breed differences to be taken into consideration as well. For instance, the short-nosed or brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats typically have more difficulty in breathing if it is hot and humid. So, their exercise should be limited on those warmer days.
Any time your pet is outside during the hottest times of the day, make sure he or she has protection from the sun. Apply sunscreen to the muzzle and any other bare spots where the hair does not cover the skin. Exposed dog skin will burn in the sun much the same as it does in humans. The shaded area should be configured such that the pet can access shade any time of day as the sun moves across the sky. The hottest part of the day is usually mid to late afternoon and it is imperative they have adequate shade to protect them from the sun. It is also necessary to have circulating air. Do not enclose the dog in a pen that has a building or solid fence structures on each side. Tree shade and overhead constructed shade areas are best as they do not obstruct air flow. Since dogs sweat through their paws, placing a fan in the dog pen does not have the same effect that it does for a human whose sweat is cooled by the fan and evaporation has a cooling effect. Cool your pet inside and out. Along with fresh water available for them always, you can make fruit flavored or peanut butter popsicles for dogs. Be sure to check the label to make sure the fruit or peanut butter does not contain the artificial sweetener, xylitol, as this sweetener is extremely toxic to dogs. Some dogs like to chew and suck on an ice cube; however, caution must be exercised to be sure the ice is not so hard as to break the enamel off the teeth. You can also keep your pet from overheating both inside and out with a cooling body wrap, vest, or mat, such as the Keep Cool Mat, that can be purchased at most pet stores. Soak these products in cool water and they will stay cool for several days. If your dog doesn’t find baths stressful, give him a cool soaking in the bathtub if he appears to be suffering from the heat.
Cats pose a slightly different need for care in the heat. Yes, they will find shaded and the coolest place possible to hide out during the heat of the day; however, they can sunburn so place sunscreen on bare spots on their exposed parts as well. Create a cool retreat by moving the cat’s bed into a dark and secluded spot so they can keep calm. When cats are stressed out they seem to get hotter. Keep them cool by letting them relax and sleep in a quiet place. If it is especially hot in the cat’s favorite space, put chilled or cold water dampened towels in his bed to cool his body. Rub cold water on the tips of his ears and paws to help dissipate heat in his body by cooling the blood in the veins and arteries that pass through the ears and paws thus cooling down the organs as this chilled blood passes through them.
Animals are at risk for heatstroke if they are very old, very young, are not conditioned to prolonged exercise, are overweight or have heart or respiratory disease. In general, take the same precautions with your pet during spells of intense heat as you do with other family members. Stay in the shade and keep as cool as possible. It might mean the difference between a good day and a trip to the animal emergency clinic.
Summertime across most of North America is when we see the highest influx of external parasites. The Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) predicts a bumper crop of ticks, fleas, and mosquitos this year because of the wet winter. Check your pets for ticks, fleas, mites, flies, and mosquitos every day. If your dog spends considerable time outside during the summer months, it is likely to be exposed to ticks, the parasite that carries many diseases including Lyme disease that can affect both animals and humans. Mosquitos carry the larval form of heartworms and can transmit Heartworm disease from pet to pet as they encounter them. Mosquitos also carry West Nile Virus to humans, so they are pests that families do not want to be part of the home environment during these summer months. Fleas attack dogs and cats in enormous numbers in some parts of the U.S. in the later stages of the summer. Some dogs develop allergies to fleas that can cause extreme irritation and hair loss from scratching. The flea excretes a saliva when it bites which serves as an anticoagulant to allow blood to flow freely while feeding. Many dogs are allergic to this saliva and develop what is called “flea bite dermatitis.” These dogs must be taken to the veterinarian to diagnose and recommend the proper treatment to not only rid the dog of fleas, but to minimize the skin irritation so the dog will discontinue its incessant scratching. The veterinarian will differentiate between a “flea bite dermatitis” and an allergy due to seasonal allergies to plants or dust mites, and offer the appropriate treatment.
It is becoming increasingly common for people to see wild animals who are predators in many areas of the country. Weather has a lot to do with the migration of wild carnivores who are in search of food. If you live in a suburban or rural area, never leave dog or cat food in their food dishes for any length of time. It serves as an attraction to these wild animals. Coyotes can be seen everywhere these days, even encroaching on urban areas. It is my theory these animals are following the deer population from place to place as a source of food. When you see coyotes where you live, keep cats indoors and don’t allow dogs in the yard without adult supervision. Most of the time adult humans are generally safe from coyotes; but, don’t allow your dogs, cats, or children in the yard without adult supervision. And never leave infants outside in the known presence of coyotes for even a short period of time. Along with coyotes, the presence of bobcats in small towns, suburban areas next to big cities, and rural areas is increasing across the U.S.A. The bobcat population has more than tripled since the 1980’s when many state governments listed them as endangered species thus not allowing to be hunted or trapped. There have been bobcat sightings from New England to the suburbs of Los Angeles and everywhere in between. Like coyotes, foxes, and bobcats an occasional mountain lion can be seen in small towns and suburbs, realizing there is ample food to be found there to sustain their needs. You must protect your pets against these predators.
Create a written plan regarding the care and well-being of your pets during these hot days of summer. Make sure all family members and guests are informed and commit to conform with the plan to protect your pets. Consult with your veterinarian about how to protect your pets from the harshness of summer, external parasites, and wild animals who might show an interest in utilizing your small dog or cat for a meal simply because they crossed paths. It is necessary that we provide these protections.