Summer offers a plethora of opportunities to have fun with our furry friends. With longer days come walks through the neighborhood, trips to the dog park, and more time soaking up the sunshine in your own backyard.
But it’s also important for you, as a pet owner, to keep your pet cool as the temperature outside rises. Remember, spending time in the sun is a different experience for humans than it is for animals. Unlike your dog or cat, you’re able to sweat—and you’re not wearing a permanent fur coat.
Overheating: Causes, Signs, and How to Avoid It
You likely already know you should never leave a pet alone in a parked car, even with the windows cracked: The temperature inside can rise more than 20 degrees in a matter of minutes, and that can be deadly. But did you realize that animals can also overheat and suffer heat stroke in other situations, such as being outside in the sun (especially if they’ve been running around) or even in an enclosed area such as a garage, shed, or doghouse?
The best way to prevent overheating and heat stroke is to avoid overly hot situations. Keep pets indoors during the heat of the day when possible, and make sure your air conditioning works properly so your pet stays cool and comfy. Even if you can handle a warmer house, consider your pets when you set your air conditioning.
Avoid strenuous activity outside or long periods of sun exposure, and make sure your pets always have access to cool, clean water. They may go through much more of it on hot days than they would otherwise.
If you believe your pet is overheating, stabilize him by covering him with cool (not ice cold) water. Once he seems to be stable, visit your veterinarian right away, or call the nearest emergency veterinary clinic for instructions.
Other Sunny Day Dangers
Overheating isn’t the only risk you’ll want to help your pet avoid. Here are several other dangers to keep an eye out for.
We walk around wearing shoes—at least most of the time—so unless we’re tiptoeing across a sizzling pool deck or sprinting from across a span of scorching sand, we’re generally pretty unaware of the temperature of the ground. That’s not the case for your dog. Walking dogs on hot surfaces, especially asphalt, can lead to discomfort or even serious toe pad burns.
Additionally, if your pet has short legs, that means his torso is closer to that sweltering surface, so even if his feet aren’t on fire, that surface can raise his body temperature tremendously.
Safety tip: Avoiding hot surfaces is the best course of action, but if unshaded asphalt is your only choice, first hold the palm of your hand against the surface. If it’s uncomfortable on your hand, drive to an alternate walking location. If you can’t regularly avoid hot surfaces, look into protective booties for your dog. It might take a bit of practice (and a lot of treats) to get him comfortable walking in them, but if it keeps his feet safe, it’ll be worth it
Even though our pets (well, most of them, anyway) have lots of fur covering their bodies, that doesn’t mean they have full protection from UV rays, which puts them at risk for sunburn and even melanoma. It’s also worth noting that while you might think shaving your dog or cat’s long fur will keep them cool, it also reduces their natural sun defenses . For that reason, it’s best to keep haircuts to a trim, even during the summer.
Safety tip: If your pooch spends a lot of time outdoors over the summer, look into a pet-safe sunscreen to put on exposed areas including nose, ears, and tummy. Make sure it’s specifically formulated for pets, as those made for humans can be harmful to dogs or cats who may lick it.
Even if your pet has never been terribly interested in looking out the window, that can change once the glass is out of the way and those sights, smells, and sounds are more accessible.
Safety tip: If you open a window to cool down a room, make sure there’s a screen securely in place (and ensure that the screen will resist a reasonable amount of pressure if your pet leans or pushes against it). If the screen is prone to popping out, you may need to keep the window closed and find another way to cool down the room.
You might assume all dogs can swim, but that’s not necessarily true. Bulldogs, for example have difficulty staying afloat due to their build. And any dog, even one who loves the water, can become fatigued quickly if he falls into a pool, panics, and can’t find the exit. Open water can be dangerous because dogs don’t understand waves, tide, and water traffic
Safety tip: The first step to aquatic safety is to make sure your pet is always supervised around water. Even if you’re there to keep an eye on him, it’s a good idea to use a dog-specific lifejacket; it will keep him afloat if he gets tired and provide you with a sturdy handle to lift him out of the water if needed. If you’re going out on a boat, kayak, or paddleboard, this is especially important, as it’s easy for dogs to fall into deep water by accident.
Don’t let your pet’s summer be a bummer. With a little planning, a few cool tools, and a willingness to do what’s best for your dog or cat, you can have plenty of fun in and out of the sun while keeping everyone safe and sound.