Welcome to the dog days of summer – that time of year when the days are long and the weather is sultry. Summer offers almost unlimited outdoor opportunities for both pets and people, from swimming to camping to just soaking up the rays. But along with the fun and adventure, the sunny season also poses some potentially serious health hazards for your four-legged companion.
Imagine putting on a heavy coat and walking out into the midday sun. It wouldn’t take long before you’d be rushing back into the A/C or changing into shorts. Obviously, pets don’t have that luxury, and because they’re unable to sweat, they also don’t cool themselves as efficiently as we do. This can lead to potentially life-threatening illnesses such as heat stroke.
According to Dr. Eddie Garcia, clinic director at Veterinary Medical Clinic and Feline Wellness Center in Tampa, Florida, heat stroke occurs when a dog’s body absorbs more heat than it can dissipate, either through exercise or exposure.
“Heat stroke is a medical emergency,” says Garcia, “and should be treated immediately upon the recognition of symptoms.”
That’s the bad news. The good news is that you don’t have to hide inside your house for the rest of the summer. Just by taking a few simple precautions, you and your best friend can safely enjoy the waning days of summer together.
Even a leisurely walk in hot, humid weather can cause dogs to become overheated and lead to heat exhaustion. Avoid exercising your pet during the hottest part of the day, opting instead for early morning or late evenings when the sun is not direct and temperatures are more comfortable. Keep a gentle pace and offer water frequently, especially on longer walks or runs. If your pet seems tired, rest a bit or stop the activity.
In addition, both dogs and cats should be kept inside on hot days. Even if your yard has shady areas, they can shift throughout the day and leave your pet exposed to direct sunlight.
Protect Those Paws
Most of us would never dream of walking on the hot concrete in our bare feet, but it’s easy to forget it can be just as uncomfortable – and even dangerous – for our pets. At just 77 degrees Fahrenheit, asphalt temperatures have been measured at 125 degrees. Bump the air temp to 86 degrees, and the pavement can reach a sizzling 143 degrees (an egg will fry at 131 degrees). These temperatures can quickly burn a dog’s paw pads and even cause the skin to slough off.
To avoid painful burns, choose cooler times of the day for walks and try to stick to shady and grassy areas whenever possible. If your pup must walk on asphalt, invest in a pair of protective dog booties.
Block the Sun
Believe it or not, both dogs and cats can get sunburned, especially those with thin coats or light-colored fur. As with humans, sunburns can increase an animal’s chances of getting skin cancer, according to Dr. Carlos Garcia of St. Francis Pet Care Center in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
“White cats can get squamous cell carcinoma,” Dr. Carlos Garcia says, “and dogs get melanoma.”
Luckily, preventing sunburn in your pet is as simple as using sunscreen. Best of all, he says, you can probably just use what’s in your medicine cabinet right now.
“Human sunscreen is fine,” he adds. “You don’t have to purchase one specifically made for pets.”
When applying, avoid the eyes and pay particular attention to the ears, nose and belly.
Provide Plenty of Water
Dehydration is a very real danger during the summer months.
“Dehydration thickens the blood causing slowed circulation and subsequent lack of oxygen,” warns Dr. Eddie Garcia. “This ultimately leads to severe organ damage or failure.”
Avoid dehydration by providing fresh, clean water at all times, and monitor your pet’s water consumption. Some animals, like some people, need a little encouragement to increase the amount they drink. If this is the case with your pet, try purchasing a pet-specific drinking fountain, adding low-sodium chicken broth to water or offering ice cubes with frozen treats inside.
Keep Pets Well Groomed
A well-groomed coat not only keeps your dog or cat looking great, it also protects his skin from the sun, insulates against the heat, and helps regulate body temperature. Fur that’s matted or tangled can trap heat, while shaving a long-haired dog invites sunburn and may actually make it difficult for them to stay cool.
For both dogs and cats, regular brushings help will help prevent knots and mats from forming. Unless your dog is particularly dirty or smelly, don’t bathe him more than once every few weeks. More frequent bathing can strip away essential oils, leading to itchy skin and a brittle coat.
Special Tips for Water Hounds
For some people and dogs, summer just wouldn’t be summer without a trip to the beach or the lake. But there are a few steps you should take to ensure that your pup makes a splash safely. Apply sunscreen regularly and discourage drinking from anything other than their water bowls.
“Salt water can be very dehydrating if they drink it and can cause diarrhea and vomiting,” says Dr. Carlos Garcia. In addition, pools, lakes and streams can harbor dangerous chemicals and/or microbes.
Although it’s tempting to think that the water will keep them cool, dogs who are running, playing and swimming can become overheated. If you see signs like heavy panting, excessive thirst, rapid breathing or anxious behavior, it’s time to call it a day.