8 hot weather safety tips for pets
Long, sun-soaked days and blue skies lie ahead as we approach the summer season. Many of us — our pets included — enjoy more outdoor activities during this time of year, but it’s imperative to remember that dogs and hot weather don’t always mix. Building an understanding of how to keep your pets cool in the summer is essential. Even backyard summer picnics and barbecues can quickly become dangerous for our four-legged friends, as many human foods are toxic for dogs. So, what steps can you take to keep man’s best friend safe?
1. Provide adequate water. Dehydration can happen quickly and have serious consequences. Understanding how to prevent dehydration in dogs is essential. Always have fresh, clean water on hand, especially when it’s particularly hot or humid outside. Early signs of dehydration in dogs include:
- Loss of skin elasticity
- Reduced energy
- Dry mouth and gums
- Dry nose
- Excessive panting
You should offer a mildly dehydrated dog small amounts of water every few minutes. Providing too much water too quickly could cause vomiting, which would only further dehydrate the animal.
More serious signs of dehydration may include:
- Vomiting and diarrhea or loss of appetite
- Sunken, dry eyes
- Loss of coordination
- Signs of shock, such as rapid heart rate, a weakened pulse or shivering
Severely dehydrated dogs need immediate medical attention and often require rehydration through intravenous fluids. Call your veterinarian as soon as you notice the first signs of severe dehydration.
2. Understand the signs of overheating in dogs. Overheating is often linked to dehydration, as dogs are unable to regulate their body temperature as efficiently as humans. Panting and vasodilation in the ears and face play a key role in helping overheated dogs cool down.
Overheating can lead to heat exhaustion and potentially deadly heat stroke. Brachycephalic or flat-faced breeds, such as bulldogs, pugs and boxers, are especially prone to overheating in the summer months because their facial anatomy prevents them from panting efficiently. Overweight dogs and those with dark coats are also at increased risk. Contact your veterinarian immediately if you notice any of the following signs:
- Body temperature in excess of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (102.5 is normal; temperatures of 106 or higher can damage internal organs and prove fatal)
- Heavy panting
- Excessive drooling
- Bright red gums
- Rapid or irregular pulse
- Seizures or muscle tremors
- Loss of coordination or consciousness
3. Don’t shave your dog. Many well-intentioned owners naturally equate more fur with a warmer dog in the summer months and are inspired to shave their pets in order to provide them relief, but this is not generally wise. Shorthaired, single-coated dogs are typically more heat-tolerant by nature, but the fur on double-coated breeds, such as Australian shepherds, Shelties and Samoyeds, are actually dual-purpose, keeping them both warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Learn more about why shaving doesn’t keep your dog cool.
4. Never leave your pet unattended in your vehicle. Even when you leave the windows cracked or park in a shady spot, the temperature inside your car can climb in excess of 100 degrees Fahrenheit in a matter of minutes during warmer months. If you can’t take your dog inside with you at each of your destinations, either drop them off at home before you complete your errands or leave them there to begin with.
5. Be sensible about hot-weather exercise and play. This is important to keep in mind as you exercise your dog to ensure that they don’t overdo it. Choose cooler times of the day, such as early morning or evening, or consider going for a swim or running through the sprinkler instead. Not all dogs are strong swimmers, so it’s important not to leave them unattended around pools and other bodies of water. If you’re exercising on hot pavement, asphalt or sand, don’t forget your dog’s paws. If these surfaces are too hot to walk on with your bare feet, the same will be true for your dog; as such, it’s best to put dog booties on them or wait until the footing cools down.
6. Avoid getting into the habit of feeding your dog people food. Not only does this often lead to unwelcome behaviors like begging, it can also embolden your dog to scavenge for scraps and prey on unsuspecting visitors who might inadvertently provide your pooch with items that are potentially dangerous. Backyard barbecues are ripe with risky temptations, such as:
- Cooked bones: Dogs and bones don’t always go together. Cooked bones can easily splinter into dangerous shards that may lead to choking or cause other serious damage to a dog’s mouth, throat or digestive tract.
- Rich foods: That creamy potato salad or mayonnaise-infused dip may seem like a good idea at first, but if we’re not used to such rich flavor, it can come back to haunt us in the form of gastrointestinal upset. The same holds true for your dog.
- Onions: These classic burger toppings may add great flavor to your meal, but they contain a substance that is toxic for dogs and can damage their red blood cells, leading to anemia.
- Grapes or raisins: Both are highly toxic and can lead to acute kidney failure, even in small amounts.
- Corn on the cob: While corn itself is not toxic to dogs, the cob is a choking hazard that could also lead to intestinal obstruction and an emergency vet visit.
- Chocolate: Ingestion of this sweet indulgence might also spur an emergency visit to the vet, depending on the type and amount of chocolate consumed, as well as the size of your dog.
7. Think before you light those fireworks. If your dog is afraid of thunder, odds are that he or she will also be afraid of the loud noises associated with fireworks. A dog’s hearing is far more sensitive than our own, and they can hear sounds four times further away than we can. Imagine what a boom that is loud to us sounds like to our dogs.
If you have an anxious dog that is fearful of loud noises, do your utmost to keep them calm and comfortable, ideally leaving them indoors in a covered crate that might create an added sense of security and safety. Provide a distraction, such as a favorite chew toy, and turn up the TV or radio to help drown out the outdoor noise.
8. Don’t forget about flea, tick and heartworm prevention. More time spent outdoors means that pets are at an increased risk for complications associated with pests. As Dutch philosopher Desiderius Erasmus is thought to have said, “Prevention is better than cure.”
Fleas are prevalent in neighborhood mice and rabbits and can easily transfer to your pet, causing issues like excessive itching and hair loss. They can also be a nightmare to get rid of once they are in your home. Ticks are perhaps less of a nuisance than fleas but can transmit serious illnesses, such as Lyme disease, which predominantly causes lethargy and recurrent lameness due to joint inflammation. Prevention is ideal. There are several highly effective flea and tick preventatives on the market today; ask your veterinarian for recommendations.
Heartworm is spread by mosquito bites and is a serious and potentially fatal disease. Fortunately, however, it is considered almost 100% preventable in dogs and cats. Even if your pet spends the majority of its time indoors, it’s important to provide a regular heartworm preventative, which must be prescribed by your veterinarian.
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