By Kim Gilliam
With temperatures in the 80s and 90s and the trademark D.C.-area humidity making a frequent appearance, it’s officially summer. While we humans have discovered or invented many ways to stay cool — a dip in the pool, an icy treat, or retreating to the indoors for air conditioning — let’s not forget about our four-legged friends with their thick fur coats and limited abilities to cope with the heat.
We all know how dangerous it is to leave pets unattended in the car when it is hot out. Even in moderate weather, the interior can reach deadly temperatures in a matter of minutes, but there are other things to think about as well.
It is of the utmost importance that you ensure adequate shade for your pets when outdoors and plenty of access to water. Cats usually have enough sense to laze about on hot days, but dogs tend to overdo it. To combat this, try to:
- Exercise your pet during cooler times of day like morning or late evening.
- Bring along plenty of water for them and yourself.
- Know when it’s time to take a break. Remember, dogs and cats have no sweat glands except in their feet, so their main method of cooling off is panting. If your pet is panting heavily, offer water and stop the activity.
- Help them cool off by offering ice cubes, frozen treats, or hosing them down. Soak a toy and freeze it beforehand, or play fetch into a sprinkler, creek or kiddie pool.
- Remember that indoor activities are always an option, like practicing obedience, teaching tricks, or making them use their nose to find treats hidden around the house.
Be alert for the signs of heat stress, a life-threatening rise in internal body temperature. Although this is mainly a problem in dogs, it can occur in cats as well.
Some animals are more susceptible, particularly older or overweight pets, short-nosed breeds like pugs, bulldogs and boxers, and pets with a history of respiratory problems.
The main signs are vigorous panting, difficulty breathing, drooling, vomiting and fatigue. With milder forms, the pet still may be standing, but acting agitated. The head may be extended with rigid or stiff legs.
A dog’s normal temperature is 100.5 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit — you can use a rectal thermometer to check. If the body temperature stays high for too long, the pet may experience organ failure, shock or seizure, any of which can lead to death. This must be taken seriously.
To treat heat stress, the goal is to bring the pet’s body temperature down as soon as possible, but not too quickly. Begin cooling the body by pouring water over the belly, legs, head and neck. Apply cool packs to the groin area, and wipe its paws with cool water.
Contact your vet immediately, as your pet will likely need additional treatment and monitoring. Heat stroke can cause potentially serious internal problems that may not become obvious for some time after the event.
Summer is the time for fun activities, but it is also a time of potential danger. As pet owners and caregivers, it is our job to help our furry friends have a safe, happy and comfortable summer.
The writer is the co-owner of Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in the Eisenhower Valley.