The dog days of summer: Pet safety tips for hot weather


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You might have exchanged snow boots and scarves for flip-flops and tank tops, but your pet is stuck with his fur coat year-round. Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to help your canine and feline friends beat the summer heat and stay safe.


When panting isn’t enough

First things first: Know how to identify the symptoms of hyperthermia, or overheating, in your cat or dog. Yes, healthy dogs do pant to help regulate their body temperature, but if your furry guy starts excessively panting and drooling, something might be up. Other signs of heat stroke in dogs, as listed by PetMD, include reddened gums, little or no urine, irregular or rapid heart rate, difficulty breathing, muscle tremors or seizures, and an uncoordinated gait.

If your dog does suffer heat stroke, place him in the bathtub and run cool — not cold — water over his whole body, ensuring no water enters his nostrils. You also should apply a cold pack to his head. Then massage his legs to help with circulation, and provide plenty of cold water for him to drink. And finally and most importantly, seek veterinary assistance immediately.

To simplify matters, the symptoms and immediate treatment actions for a cat with heat stroke are the same as for her canine neighbors.

So you want to avoid the part of summer when you’re crying over your precious baby — well, fur baby, that is — in a bath tub, holding a bag of frozen peas to his head? This nightmarish scenario can be prevented. Read on.


Keeping your pet cool while you’re out

If you live in an older home without central air-conditioning, or simply don’t want to risk an astronomical energy bill, you might worry about what to do to keep your four-legged family member from getting overheated while you are away at the office. Keeping blinds and curtains closed to prevent the heating effect of sunlight through windows certainly helps, but the American Animal Hospital Association warns against completely shutting off you’re A/C when out. Instead, opt for a conservative but comfortable setting, such as 78 degrees, while you are out.

Make sure your pet always has access to fresh water, of course, but you might also want to experiment with placing ice cubes in their water bowl. Some animals will love this cooling treat; others inevitably won’t. Your best bet in ensuring your pet’s safety and comfort during the hottest summer months is to monitor their behavior. If you see your pet park in front of the vent, you should leave it on. If your cat prefers to curl up in a warm patch of sunlight, she might not be as affected by the higher temperatures.

The AAHA adds that pets will instinctively seek out cool, comfortable places  — the dark abyss beneath your bed or the tile floor of your bathroom, for example — so be sure those retreats are accessible to your pet during the day.

You can leave additional standing fans directed at your pet’s favorite napping spots if you aren’t leaving the air-conditioning on at full blast, but you also can invest in a nifty cooling bed like this one from Petsmart, which costs approximately $60 to $110, depending on the size. This cooling bed uses water, not electricity, to provide a comfy oasis for your dog or cat.

A cat-specific concern, particularly for those who live in inner-city areas or in multilevel apartment buildings, is high-rise syndrome — when cats, and occasionally dogs, fall out of a window, risking great injury and trauma. Manhattan Cats, a feline-exclusive vet practice in New York, warns that occurrence of high-rise syndrome significantly increases during the summer months. Why? Because we open our windows more often.

Do the responsible thing and install secure, protective screens on your windows before cracking one open. Cats are curious and surprisingly agile creatures; they will take advantage of the smallest of openings, sometimes to their own unfortunate demise.


Walking around the block

You know the saying: “It’s so hot out here, you could fry an egg on the sidewalk.” We’re not about to test this aphorism to see if it holds true, but we all know the shocking pain of stepping barefoot onto boiling hot asphalt. Your dog can get painful burns on his feet, too. (One less reason to laugh at trendy doggie strollers.)

Signs of paw burns include blisters, loose patches of skin and red, ulcerated patches. For minor burns, the ASPCA recommends applying a bacterial wash and covering the paw with a loose bandage. For more serious burns, contact your vet ASAP.

To prevent such burns, the Humane Society suggests walking your dog in the morning and evening hours, when the ground is coolest, and allowing your dog to walk through grass rather than on pavement, if possible.

City dogs have a unique breed of problems in that they might have to cross blocks of scorching hot pavement to even reach a neighborhood park. Rubbing a protective ointment — such as Musher’s Secret, a dog-friendly blend of pure natural waxes — onto your dog’s paws can form a helpful barrier between the ground and their feet. Musher’s Secret also doubles as protection from snow and salt; it’s canine footwear that is always in season.


Weekend days out & about

If traveling anywhere with your dog, never ever leave the poor guy cooped up in your hot vehicle for any amount of time. In addition to the fact that it is illegal in most jurisdictions to leave a pet unattended in a parked vehicle, the Partnership for Animal Welfare warns that even on a fairly comfortable 78-degree day, temperatures in a car can exceed 90 degrees. A vehicle parked in the sun, in comparison, can reach a blistering 160 degrees.

Once you reach your final destination, make sure your dog has access to clean water. If at the beach, make sure he doesn’t drink any dehydrating saltwater. If he does go for a dip in the ocean, be sure to rinse him off at the end of the day so all those salt and minerals don’t damage his glossy coat, the American Kennel Club advises.

And don’t forget the sunscreen! Yes, dogs can get sunburn, especially those with short hair, white fur or pink skin. Offer your dog a shady spot during the day, and apply pet-friendly sunblock, such as Doggles with SPF 15, to his sensitive nose and ears 30 minutes prior to going outside.

If you do get your dog a summer ‘do to prevent overheating, keep the coat length to at least 1 inch and never shave the fur off completely. This can actually cause the opposite problem and put poor Fido at risk for greater sun exposure and burning.


Backyard adventures

Backyard barbecues aren’t all fun and games for pets if you aren’t careful. If you use insecticides on your summer lawn or citronella candles to ward off mosquitoes, make sure your dog isn’t getting into them — or opt for safer organic gardening.

Leaks of antifreeze in your driveway or garage are also highly toxic; the Humane Society Legislative Fund estimates 10,000 to 90,000 animals are poisoned each year after ingesting ethylene glycol, the substance found in antifreeze and engine coolant. Although the Consumer Specialty Products Association has voluntarily agreed to add a bitter flavoring to antifreeze products, which deters animals and children from drinking them, it only takes one tiny teaspoon of antifreeze or coolant to kill an average-sized cat. If your pet does ingest one of these poisonous substances, immediately call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at (888) 426-4435.

If you’re checking out a community fireworks display for the Fourth of July, know that the loud firework noises — and summer thunderstorms, for that matter — can startle pets, who can get lost in the crowds fleeing from the sounds. Before heading out for fireworks, bring your pet indoors and put a secure leash on her.

With the right safety precautions, there’s no reason not to treat your dog, and yourself, to some memorable fun in the sun.