Heat Related Dangers for Pets

Jul 18, 2019   Tracey Aston   Pet Safety

Imagine sitting outside in 80+ degree weather with a full coat on.  Now imagine you're running around chasing a ball or playing a game with friends. It's very easy to see how pets can quickly become overheated in the summer temperatures. A normal body temperature for dogs and cats is higher than in humans, ranging from 100 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit.  As the heat and humidity rise, it becomes more and more difficult for pets to expel heat. For this reason, it's imperative to watch for signs of heat related sickness while outdoors with our pets. 

Our pets don't sweat like we do – they pant to circulate air and cool their core temperature and sweat through their paw pads. While they don't get heat rash the same as humans, they can suffer from skin fold pyoderma. Skin fold pyoderma is an inflammatory skin disorder that develops in skin folds, such as facial folds, lip folds, and in the groin or armpits. It's also more common in overnight dogs or dogs will a lot of natural folds in the skin. The area between the folds creates a warm, humid environment that breeds bacteria, creating an infection.  Skin fold pyoderma is uncomfortable and itchy, and in an attempt to find some relief, pets will often scratch at the area, opening it up for even greater risk of infection. 

Paw pad burns are a serious concern during the summer months, if the air temperature reaches 85 degrees, sun scorched asphalt can reach a dangerous 135 degrees! Walking on pavement, concrete or asphalt at that temperature can easily cause severe burns within 30 seconds! If a pet parent can't keep the palm of their hand on the asphalt without feeling uncomfortable, it's too hot for the pet to walk! On hot or very sunny days, it's best to walk a pet on dirt paths or have play and potty time in a grass covered yard.

Nothing tastes better than a glass of cold water on a hot summer's day and pets feel the same way. On hot summer days, a bowl of fresh water should be available to pets at all times. Dehydration can come on very quickly on hot days during playtime and raises the risk of even more serious illnesses. If taking a pet on a picnic, such as the 4th of July, or on a hike, always remember to pack a water bottle and bowl for your faithful friend.  Under normal, calm circumstances, such as a leisurely day lounging under a shade tree or sitting by a creek, a dog can have ice water. HOWEVER, if the pet has been in the heat for a long time, or has exerted itself during hiking or play, cool water, not ice water or cold water should be offered to the pet. Ice water can cool the system down too rapidly. 

Heat exhaustion can come on very quickly and sometimes be difficult to notice. Panting when playing outside is normal, especially during hot days. However, excessive panting, drooling, reddened gums, and uncoordinated movements are signs of serious heat exhaustion and possibly even heat stroke. 

If you notice any of these signs, start treatment immediately.  Get the pet to a cooler area - an air conditioned house or car, in front of a fan or if outdoors without access to electricity, use something to hand fan them. If possible, wet the pet down with cool – NOT COLD – water.  Cold water could send a pet into a seizure or shock. Cool slowly – paw pads, groin area, under neck and ears. If the pet is alert enough and wants to drink, allow them some water but don't force them to drink. If the pet does show interest in water, allow them only small amounts at a time and monitor their intake.  An over-heated pet gulping cold water could either cause them to throw it all back up or even worse go into shock by cooling the internal system too fast! 

Some dog breeds are more at risk for heat related dangers, such as brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Bulldogs, Boxers, Pugs, French Bulldogs and Shih Tzu.  Senior pets, overweight pets and pets with thick coats also have an elevated risk. 

If your pet has an elevated risk of heat related illness, limit outdoor play to mornings and evenings. Even in the cooler hours, always ensure your pet has access to shade and plenty of water. 

Light colored, pets with thin or missing fur or shaved dogs are at risk for not only heat related illness but sunburn! In the unfortunate instance that your pet does get sunburn, musher's wax can be applied gently.  Use caution with sunscreens with zinc, hydrocortisone and aloe, as they can be deadly to pets if ingested. 

 Summer months are great times to get outside and make family memories. Furry family members will be more than happy to attend these events, but pet parents need to watch for signs of heat related dangers. With a few precautions and forethought, all family members can enjoy the summer months together. 

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