An estimated ten million or more households have acquired a cat or dog since the beginning of the pandemic, so that’s a lot of new pets, and potentially a lot of first-time pet parents. Some people may be experiencing their first spring and summer with their pets, and others may be simply getting out and about more and bringing pets along with them on errands or on road trips. Best Friends Animal Society seeks to help pet owners keep their animals safe in the heat.
Most experts consider an outside temperature of 70 degrees to be warm enough that it may be unsafe to leave a pet inside a car, even for a short errand. Studies vary, but many show that the temperature inside a car on a 70 degree day can rise to 89 degrees in ten minutes, and to 104 degrees in only a half hour.
Best Friends conducted an experiment on a 95-degree day and discovered that the temperature inside a car–with windows down a few inches—increased from 69 to 140 degrees in 10 minutes.
Heat stroke can occur when an animal’s temperature rises to a critical level. Normal body temperatures for dogs and cats range from 100 to 102.5 degrees. When a dog’s temperature rises to 108 degrees, or a cat’s to 106 degrees, they can suffer irreparable organ damage and even die.
Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing.
If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke, move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and footpads. To prevent shock, don’t pour ice water over the whole animal, submerge him in a tub of cold water or cover him in a cold, wet blanket. Once he is stable, get him to a vet clinic as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Things may be happening on the inside that are not obvious from the outside.
A variety of situations like the extreme heat of a parked car, going for mid-day hikes or walks, or simply being in a yard with no shade can cause an animal to overheat. Take a few simple precautions to keep dogs and cats healthy and comfortable as the mercury rises:
Keep pets indoors during the day. It may sound obvious but it’s hottest outside when the sun is up. Quick walks and bathroom breaks are fine but try to keep your pet in the shade.
If pets do spend time outside during the day, ensure that they have access to shade at all hours of the day. Dogs on tethers are especially vulnerable because they could become tangled out of reach of shade or water. Grass and greenery help keep the yard cooler too.
Provide pets with fresh, cool water at all times. During the heat of summer, water should be dumped and refilled often. Most dogs won’t drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.
Exercise dogs during the cooler morning or evening hours, not in the intense afternoon heat. Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or a pushed-in nose–like bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs–are especially at risk of overheating. Bring water for both you and your pet, or a collapsible bowl if there’s a water source on your route.
Be aware of the temperature of the sidewalk, asphalt, sand or even packed dirt as these can cause burns to your pet’s paw pads if they are too hot.
Consult a veterinarian about whether your pet needs a pet-approved sunscreen on exposed areas. Dogs with bald patches or minimal coats may need sunscreen, as well as dogs like Nordic breeds who are prone to auto-immune related sun diseases.
Never leave your pet in a parked car when the outside temperature is above 70 degrees. Even with the windows partway down, even in the shade, even for a quick errand. Dogs and cats can’t sweat like humans, so they pant to lower their body temperature. If they’re inside a car, recycling hot air, panting gives no relief, and heat stroke can happen quickly.