Author: Karen L. McGlothlin, DVM, PhD
So, it’s August in the Triad – school is starting back up and Fall is right around the corner, but there is still plenty of time to squeeze in that last outing or summer activity and include the pets. It’s a great time of year to spend some quality time with your four-legged companions. Involving them in activities like vacation travel, hiking, running, picnicking and water activities is a great way to strengthen the bond you share, but keep in mind that warm weather can take a toll on your pets and take some precautions to keep them safe. In our piece of North Carolina, the coming of Fall doesn’t immediately translate into the cooler temperatures that so many of us look forward to, so it’s a good idea to review some important safety tips before you head out.
- Always keep plenty of clean, fresh water available: Dogs and cats get much thirstier than we do when they get hot, and their risk of dehydration is greater; so when the weather is hot out, make sure they have ready access to fresh, clean drinking water. Carry an extra water bottle for your pets if you are traveling or taking part in an outdoor activity together and make sure they have a big bowl of fresh, clean water at home at all times. Don’t allow your pets to drink from a stagnant body of water. A recent tragedy in Wilmington, NC, in which three dogs died after swimming in a pond that contained toxic blue-green algae has focused attention on one of the potential dangers of ingesting stagnant water.
- Never leave your pet in a hot car: By now, you’ve likely seen the video of Dr. Ernie Ward sitting in a hot car to demonstrate how hot it gets and how quickly it happens. The interior of a car parked in full sun on a 78 degree day can reach up to 160 degrees – imagine a car in full sun on a 85-95 degree day! If it’s a warm day and you have things to do that can’t include your pets, your best bet is to let them chill out at home.
- Give your pets access to shade: Dogs and cats don’t sweat as effectively as we do and it’s hard for them to cool down. Sure, they can sweat some from the pads of their feet and they can pant to try to cool down, but that is not enough to prevent onset of overheating or even heat stroke on a really hot day. Pack along a source of shade for your pets or make sure you put them in some shade if they are participating in outdoor activities with you.
- Protect your pets from sunburn: Your pet may love to sunbathe (many of them do) and their skin can burn just like yours. This can be painful and may even lead to skin cancer. Pets that have white or light-colored coats need extra protection and areas on the pet where the hair is thin (noses, tops of the muzzle, ears, and bellies) are more susceptible to sunburn. You can safely use a children’s sunscreen such as Bull Frog or Babyganics, but there are also pet sunscreens available, as well. A fresh layer of sunscreen should be applied every 3-4 hours in order to provide full protection.
- Watch out for hot asphalt, concrete and metal surfaces: Asphalt, concrete and metal surfaces can heat up rapidly when the sun beats down on them and quickly lead to pain, discomfort, and potentially burns to your pets’ paws. Test the surface that you are on by placing the back of your hand on it for 4-5 seconds. If you are able to leave your hand in place, it is acceptable to walk your pet. Ways to avoid paw injuries include taking walks in the morning or evening when walking surfaces are cool; walking on natural surfaces, such as grass or trails; or trying a set of pet booties for protection.
Get out there and enjoy the last bit of summer with your pets and be sure to take the proper precautions to avoid heat-related problems. Before you know it, it’ll be Fall, y’all!
Hyperthermia First Aid