When summer comes in full swing, so does the desire to enjoy the beautiful outdoors, a desire that extends to our furry family members. This yearning to take pleasure in the summer heat can prove fatal to our pets.
While animal fur and hair provide excellent protection and warmth during the cold months of winter, they can be problematic in the summer, especially with the high humidity experienced in this area.
On top of this, animals are wired very differently than humans.
Stephanie Barbe, a licensed veterinary technician from VCA Herndon-Reston Animal Hospital, explains: “The most common misconception about pets in the summer is people not understanding there is a possibility of heatstroke. [Dog] body temperatures are naturally higher. So when humans go outside and start to feel the heat, dogs are already well past the point that humans are.”
Sarah Stalford, the manager at Alpha Animal Hospital in Fairfax, puts it simply: “If you wouldn’t want yourself or your child to be in that kind of heat, you wouldn’t want your animal to be either.”
Excessive panting and signs of discomfort can indicate heatstroke. A pet will feel hot to the touch because it will have an elevated temperature. Look for vomiting and for the animal to be lethargic and dizzy.
But not all signs are that obvious, especially in the early stages of being overexposed to heat. “Another way to indicate if they are suffering from heat exhaustion will be the bottom of their pads feeling wet,” Stalford says. This is because unlike humans, who have many sweat glands to help cool off, dogs only have a few sweat glands in their footpads, which help with heat dissipation but only minimally.
Dr. Carole Richards, veterinarian and owner of Caring Hands Animal Hospital of Merrifield, says, “Dark colored animals, overweight pets and brachycephalic breeds (broad, short-skulled dogs) are more prone to heatstroke. Be extra cautious with these pets.”
During the summer heat, provide adequate amounts of fresh water, and if your animal is outside, give it a sufficient amount of shade. Minimize exercise and walks in the afternoon, which is the hottest part of the day, and instead do those in the mornings or evenings, when it’ll be cooler and more comfortable for the animal. Never leave your dog in a car during the blistering heat because the car will act as a furnace.
If your pet is experiencing heatstroke, remove it from the hot environment immediately and try to lower its body temperature. This can be done by putting it into cooler areas such as somewhere with air conditioning, laying it on tiled floors or even putting it in a cool bath or lightly spraying it with a hose. Laying a wet towel on it will help as well, and be sure to offer water.
After the animal has been exposed to heat for an extended period of time, Barbe explains, “they will need to seek medical attention at the beginning of signs like depression, lethargy and panting.”
These early indicators are some of the minor symptoms. Heatstroke can cause many unseen problems such as swelling of the brain, kidney failure and abnormal clotting of blood.
Barbe says, “It is easier to prevent heatstroke than deal with it.”
You should seek medical attention for your animal after heatstroke to prevent damage.
“Heatstroke can result in multiple organ dysfunction and death,” Richard says. “Animals that survive can suffer from long-term side effects such as renal failure, liver failure and cardiac disease. Those animals that have suffered from heatstroke in the past may also be more prone to heatstroke in the future.”