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Cool Summers for Hot Pets

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The sweltering summer heat had taken a toll on her dog Tasha by the time Liz Naughton of Melrose, Mass., took the two-year-old Golden Retriever to the groomer to shave his coat. “My dog would come to the door panting immediately after going to the bathroom. She stopped chasing tennis balls and birds, which were normally her favorite things,” Naughton said. But after her shave, Tasha showed no greater immunity to the heat.

Although most dog owners believe double coats, found on dog breeds such as Golden Retrievers and Sheepdogs and certain cat breeds, stifle animals in the summer, these coats actually keep the animals cool. “If the undercoat is groomed properly and free of mats, it will provide a breeze to the animal as it moves,” said Mindy Dobrow, owner of Brookline Dog Grooming and Pet Supplies in Massachusetts. “The top coat insulates the pet from the heat and provides protection against powerful rays of sun.”

Skin exposed to the heat after a shave is at risk of serious damage. UV rays cause scaling and dandruff and can take a long time to heal. Your animal’s top coat may have a patchy and scruffy appearance as it grows back and may never become as lush as it once was.

Heat stroke

Dogs and cats face increased risk of heat stroke during the summer. Unlike people, they have few sweat glands, which are found primarily on their paws and noses. Though many people believe that dogs sweat through their tongues, panting is not an effective method of heat loss.

If your pet exhibits frantic breathing, a bright red tongue, vomits, or staggers, it is likely suffering from heat stoke. In severe cases you will notice your pet’s lips begin to turn pale blue or gray. Pets most susceptible to heat stroke are animals with shortened muzzles such as Bulldogs, Pugs or Persian cats; old and overweight pets; and those with respiratory problems. The Humane Society advises that immediately after you notice symptoms of heat stroke, move the pet into the shade or indoors with air conditioning. Apply cool – not cold – water to your animal to gradually lower their body temperature. Finally, seek veterinary care, which can best save your pet’s life.

Cooling down in the heat:

  • Always supply your pet with water and make sure the dish is out of the sun. Put ice in to keep it cooler, longer.
  • Take your dog swimming or hose them with water on hot days.
  • Walk dogs in the early morning or late hours of the day when the sun is least harsh. Carry water during these walks.
  • Check your pets for ticks and fleas. Look into purchasing a pet-safe bug spray if they spend a great deal of time outdoors.
  • Don’t take your pets to crowded summer events. “I can never comprehend why people insist on having their dogs with them at events such as parades and carnivals,” said Wisconsin veterinarian Dr. T.J. Dunn. “Dogs don't care about arts and crafts, parades or carnivals. So why subject the animals to the heat and excitement of these human activities?”
  • Walk your dog on grass or dirt to avoid burning their paws on hot pavement.
  • Groom your pet properly and ensure they are free of mats.
  • Provide access to shade at all times.
  • Sunscreen can be used on pets depending on the location of the sensitive skin. Use care in picking the product as cats and dogs are prone to licking themselves and should not ingest most lotions.
  • If you have a rabbit, keep the hutch in the shade. In the wild, rabbits spend the hottest part of the day in their underground burrows where it's cool.

Above all, never leave your dog in the car, even with the windows open. Despite massive exposure regarding this topic, the No. 1 cause of heat stroke in dogs remains being left in a hot locked car. “Always be conscious of the effects of heat buildup in a vehicle, because it takes only a few minutes for the internal heat to increase forty degrees or more above the outside air temperature... especially in direct sunlight,” Dunn said.

Summer weather can be extremely dangerous to your pets. It’s your job to keep them safe and healthy.

Credit: Reviewed by Amy I. Attas, V.M.D.
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