The Heat is On – Are You and Your Pets Ready?

Julie Rodger, CVT
Veterinary Information Specialist
Pet Poison Helpline

Peppermint Patty

Warmer weather is finally here!  This weather has us opening our windows, going outside more, and possibly traveling with our pets.  It is important to keep our pets in mind and be on the lookout for certain warm weather dangers.

Heat and Humidity:  If you see extreme weather advisories on the news telling you to stay inside, remember this also applies to our pets.  Brachycephalic breeds (e.g. Pugs, Shih Tzus, Persian cats) are at greater risk of heat exhaustion/stroke due to the smaller structure of their airways, which makes it more difficult to move air when panting.  Geriatrics, overweight pets, and pets with certain underlying conditions are also at a higher risk.  Signs of heat exhaustion or stroke include excessive panting, vomiting, diarrhea, discolored gums (often blue or bright red), lethargy, excessive drooling, and lack of coordination.  This is an emergency and should be treated immediately by a veterinarian.

Hot Cars:  Keeping pets out of hot cars cannot be stressed enough as heat stroke can occur within minutes.  Even warm days of 70°F or so can heat the interior of a car to over 100°F.  Cracking the windows makes little difference in how quickly cars can become hot.  If you know you must get out of the car, it may be best to leave your pet home or bring someone who can stay with them when parked, preferably in the shade and with the A/C running.

Sunlight:  Just like people, pets are at risk for sun damage and skin cancer, especially if they like to sunbathe.  Pets with sparse haircoats may be at an increased risk.  Ear tips, the nose, and the skin on the groin are common areas for sun damage.  It is best to minimize sun exposure by offering pets plenty of shade and avoiding times with a high UV index, which is typically midday.  Sunscreens formulated specifically for pets are available.  It is important to make sure it is not a human product that may contain zinc or aspirin-like substances that can be toxic to pets, even with one lick.  Clothing with UV protection is also available.

Sidewalks and Asphalt:  Many walkways have no shade which means they are in direct sunlight all day.  These areas can heat up quickly and pose a risk of burning pets’ paw pads.  One tip is to place the back of your hand on the surface.  If you cannot hold your hand there for at least 5 seconds, it is too hot.  It may be safer to walk your pet in the early morning or late evenings, if cooler.  You could also look for shaded walkways.

Open windows:  Once the temperatures warm up, we are always ready to open the windows and let in some fresh air.  Open windows, even with screens, can pose a danger for curious pets.  Cats who like to sit in windowsills are at risk for a fall.  Dogs may be more likely to jump up to see something outdoors that they would like to chase.  Make sure that all windows and screens are secure and that pets are not able to escape.

Pools:  Pets should always be supervised around pools.  It is important to assess how well your pet swims and make sure they are trained to get out of the pool in case of fatigue or an accidental fall.  Life vests are available for all sizes of pets.  Make sure your pet has plenty of fresh water available and does not drink pool water, which often contains chlorine or other cleaning chemicals that can cause gastrointestinal (GI) upset.  Be sure to rinse your pets off after swimming to remove any chemicals that they may ingest while grooming.

Oceans, ponds, etc: Pets should also be supervised around open water.  There are dangerous items near water such as dead fish that pets may want to eat and shells that can lacerate paw pads.  Pets ingesting saltwater can be at risk for GI upset or salt toxicity (hypernatremia) which can cause severe neurological symptoms.  Blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) also lurks in certain areas.  You may note thick layers of algae in the water, which can contain hepato-or neurotoxins.  Exposure can cause GI symptoms, neurological symptoms, difficulty breathing, shock, and death.

These are just a few of the dangers that lurk for pets during warmer weather.  Remember to always provide plenty of cool, fresh water for your pets and avoid any situations where they may become too hot.  Stay cool!