How to Keep Your Pet Safe in Hot Climates

As we move into summer, the majority of the country is experiencing warmer temperatures that could potentially cause harm to our pet’s health.

Of course, some of us live in a climate that’s generally balmy on a year-round basis, like my native Los Angeles. Therefore, we warm-weather dwellers must always be prepared to reduce the chance that hot and sunny weather will sicken or injure our pets.

Are pets more-prone to heat-related illness than humans?

Yes, pets are more prone to heat-related illness than humans. Unlike people, cats and dogs aren’t able to evacuate heat in a manner permitting the body to cool to a safe degree when exposed to indoor or outdoor climates above room temperature (68-77 F).

The respiratory tract (lungs, trachea, and nasal passages) is the primary means by which dogs and cats lose heat, so pets do so less efficiently than humans who sweat through their skin. Such is why dogs and some cats may pant when exposed to warmer weather.

Pets lose some heat through their paw pads and the skin’s surface, but not in an efficiently-broad sense like we humans. Plus, most dogs and cats have a thicker and widely distributed coat of hair as compared to people. As a result, heat gets trapped inside pets’ bodies and can lead to an elevation in core body temperature above the normal range (100-102.5 +/- 0.5F).

Brachycephalic (short faced) dog and cat breeds and their mixes are especially prone to suffering from heat-related illnesses, as they don’t move air through their respiratory tracts as well as their longer-faced counterparts. Kittens and puppies, pets greater than 7 years of age, sick, obese, and mobility-compromised animals are also more prone to heat related health problems.

What happens when a pet’s body temperature elevates?

The normal canine and feline body temperature is higher than people, who tend to hover around 98.6 F. Expected mild increases and decreases are associated with activity, stress, or illness. Hyperthermia becomes dangerous when body temperatures rise above 104 F, as normal mechanisms of thermoregulation are overwhelmed.

As your pet’s temperature nears 106 F, heat stroke occurs and causes vomit, diarrhea, collapse, seizure activity, multi-system organ failure, coma, and death. Such problems don’t immediately occur and can be reversible with the appropriate precautions and treatment.

How can owners keep their pets safe during summer’s warmth?

During summer’s warmth, many owners remove their companion canines from the safe confines of their well-ventilated and air-conditioned homes to outdoor environments that put themat risk for exposure to heat, sun, and other environmental stressors. Most cats tend to stay inside, but traveling or indoor/outdoor cats can also experience heat-associated stress.

©istockphoto/jon kauffeld

Yet, any time our pets leave climate-controlled environments they are potentially put in harm’s way. Here are my top five tips to keep your pet safe despite summer’s heat.

1. Never leave your pet in a non-climate controlled car

One of the deadliest heat hazards for pets is the elevated temperature experienced inside cars. The vehicles on which we so depend on during our day-to-day lives have the unfortunate nickname of ‘glass coffins’ in relation to the potential they harbor to severely sicken or kill a pet, or person, stuck inside.

Even on what feels to be a cool day never leave your pet inside a non-climate controlled car. A Stanford University Medical Center study (published in Pediatrics magazine) determined that the temperature inside a vehicle can increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 minutes regardless of the outside temperature. That’s a staggering per-minute increase of over half of one degree. The hotter your car the more likely your pet will also experience a comparable increase in body temperature.

Although your schedule may only plan to have you away from the car for a few minutes, unforeseeable circumstances can delay your return. As a result, your pet will suffer and potentially die inside the ‘glass coffin.’

2. Keep your pet well-hydrated

A dog or cat’s body mass is composed of 70-80% of water. Remarkably, losing only 10% body fluids can cause serious illness.

Breathing causes insensible body water loss to occur, where water is expelled from the body through the respiratory tract. Elevated respiratory rate, like panting, increases insensible body water loss and the body can also lose hydration through the muscles, skin (paw pads), digestive tract, and other organ systems during times of activity, illness, and when exposed to heat.

Owners can be proactive in hydrating pets by always having fresh water available both indoors and out and frequently offering sips of water during activities. One of my favorite hydration tips is to pre-hydrate your pet on a continuous basis by feeding fresh, moist, and whole-foods like the canine and feline diets from The Honest Kitchen instead of kibble.

3. Restrict activity during the warmest hours of the day

Avoid exercising during the hottest times of the day, between 10 AM and 4 PM, and instead get your activity fix during cooler early morning or evening times. Non-peak-heat hours are also typically less sunny, so your pet will also be avoiding problems related exposure to solar radiation. Humidity reduces our pets’ ability to effectively clear heat, so keep activity to a minimum during warmer and more humid times.

4. Take frequent Breaks and Seek Shade

Even if you feel your pooch is capable of doing activities of challenging intensity and length, make sure to stop and rest on a frequent basis. Taking breaks every 15 minutes to seek shade and hydration is my recommendation, but less-physically-fit pets exercising in hotter and humid climates should stop as often as needed.©istockphoto/jon kauffeld

Why expose your pet to the heating and damaging rays of the sun when you can still achieve the positive health benefits of exercise active while being shaded? As often as possible, avoid being active in locations of full sun, find locations that are partially to fully- shaded.

Ideally, we owners would keep our pets healthy enough for physical activity on a year-round basis. Before partaking in outdoor activities, especially during hotter months, schedule an examination with your veterinarian.

Underlying illness or injury could make your companion canine or feline less able to exercise or evacuate heat. Arthritis, degenerative joint disease (the progression of arthritis), cancer, metabolic illnesses (kidney and liver disease, hypothyroidism, etc.) and others could have a negative impact on a pet’s ability to exercise.

When exposing your pet to summertime’s warmth, always prioritize safety to prevent potentially catastrophic health hazards. Have a safe, active, and fun summer!

Meet the Author: Patrick Mahaney

Dr. Patrick Mahaney VMD, CVA, CVJ is a veterinarian and certified veterinary acupuncturist providing services to Los Angeles-based clients both on a house call and in-clinic basis. Dr. Mahaney’s unique approach integrating eastern and western medical perspectives has evolved into a concierge house call practice, California Pet Acupuncture and Wellness (CPAW), Inc. Additionally, Dr. Mahaney offers holistic treatment for canine and feline cancer patients at the Veterinary Cancer Group (Culver City, CA).

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