7/23/2021 | By Annie Tobey

If our pets could speak, they would agree heartily with the descriptor “dog days of summer.” Dogs and cats dislike the stifling heat and humidity as much as we do – sometimes even more. And because they can’t speak up to express their discomfort, heat can be devastating to their health and even their lives. Here’s what you need to know for your cats and dogs to keep pets safe in the heat – and comfortable, too!

1. Know thy pet.

How well does your furry pal cope with rising temperatures?

Animals cool themselves differently from humans, whose sweat acts as AC. Dogs’ and cats’ natural cooling mechanisms include panting, vasodilation (blood vessel expansion, especially on the face and ears), and sweating on their paw pads.

However, if your pet has a double coat or shorter nose (called brachycephalic), staying cool may be a greater challenge.

  • Double-coated dangers. Consider the double coat and thick fur of Siberian huskies, Pomeranians, Corgis, Australian shepherds, Cavalier King Charles, and others. Most experts agree that shaving these breeds doesn’t help with cooling because their double coat insulates, even in hot weather. On the other hand, keeping their coat clean and detangled, free of dead and loose hair in the undercoat, enables efficient insulation. You may, however, trim the hair on the paws, legs, and stomach.
  • Single-coated dogs. On the other hand, your single-coated, long-haired dog, such as a poodle or Maltese, may benefit from a trim. Keep at least one inch of hair to protect from sun and bugs.
  • Brachycephalic pets. Short-nosed dogs such as pugs, Pekingese, and Boston terriers have small nose openings and shorter air passages. This makes panting less efficient, so they are at greater risk for heat-related illnesses, including heatstroke. Some felines, including Persian and Himalayan, have both thick coats and short faces.

2. Seek the heavenly indoors.

Whenever possible, let your buddy spend the dog days of summer inside, basking in air-conditioned comfort for optimal pet heat safety.

  • Naturally cool surfaces. Even with the AC creating a little slice of heaven, you’ll notice that your pet gravitates to floor air vents and hard floors, like tile or wood. Cats might even take comfort in a bathroom sink! If your home has such cool spots, make them available to your pet.
  • Chill beds. Get your buddy a portable cool surface that can be used wherever the two of you hang out. Two examples are a cooling mat and a cooling blanket to supply the comfort they seek.

3. Exercise with caution.

Both you and your pup benefit from regular walks together. A few simple precautions can keep you counting your mutual steps all season long.

Humidity matters in addition to temperature. If the humidity is too high, animals are unable to cool themselves and their temperature can skyrocket to dangerous levels very quickly. When you go out for exercise, consider the time, duration, intensity, and place in order to best keep pets safe in the heat.

  • Time: Choose early morning or dusk.
  • Duration: Shorten summertime walks and runs.
  • Intensity: Slow the pace.
  • Place: Avoid asphalt in favor of grass. Walk by streams and other water sources and let your dog wade or swim.
  • Hydrate: Carry water and a collapsible water dish.
  • Strap on a cooling vest. The Ruffwear vest, for example, combines a wicking outer layer that facilitates evaporation with a middle layer that holds water and an inner layer that transfers the cooling effect to your dog.
  • Stay tuned in to your dog’s comfort, and don’t push her.

If you have brachycephalic dog, be especially mindful! Also, use a harness for walking, because a collar can pull up on the throat, further constricting the airway.

4. Have water, water everywhere, with plenty of drops to drink.

Hydration matters when it comes to hot weather pet safety, and is an easy way to keep pets safe in the heat.

  • Keep it flowing: Pet watering fountains and automatic waterers ensure plenty of fresh, clean water. A fountain’s free-falling stream seems to encourage drinking, which helps prevent urinary and kidney diseases, too.
  • Offer frozen goodies. Hand out ice cubes, pupsicles, or catsicles! Use popsicle molds or small cups to freeze chicken broth or freeze a bit of meat or a treat inside for a pleasant surprise. Experiment with tasty ingredients that will keep Scruffy and Fluffy happy and hydrated.

5. Thou shalt never leave your pet in a parked car!

The temperature inside a vehicle can rapidly rise to extremely dangerous levels. “On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes,” reports the American Humane Society. “After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die.”

So just don’t!

6. Avoid the outdoor torture chamber.

How to keep pets safe in hot weather? Keep them out of the hot weather! When he is out, take steps to protect him from heat and direct sunlight.

  • Provide shade with ventilation. Think hanging tarp or a deck, not a doghouse or other enclosed space that traps heat.
  • Offer a cool resting spot. Smooth surfaces – including bare dirt – feel cooler and more comfortable.
  • Get a cooling pool. Pools aren’t just for people! Look for a pool that’s sturdy enough to withstand dog toenails and small enough to empty and refresh regularly.
  • Provide lots and lots of water. And always, be sure to provide plenty of fresh drinking water. Refresh it regularly to keep it clean of insects and larvae, including mosquitoes.

7. Be aware. Be very aware.

Besides being traumatic, heat stroke can cause long-term health issues and even death – making it even more important to keep pets safe in the heat.

  • Look for the signs. Anytime you’re with your pet in the heat, be alert for signs of heatstroke: heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness.
  • Susceptible pets. Take special care with pets that are very old or very young, overweight, out of shape, or have heart or respiratory disease.
  • ACT! If you notice any of these signs, move your pet quickly into the shade or air conditioning. Get her to a vet within 20 to 30 minutes. In the meantime, you can wrap her in a cool, wet towel. Offer her small amounts of water and ice cubes. You can also dab her paws with alcohol, which evaporates rapidly.

Related: 10 Pet Care Products for Seniors

Annie Tobey

Annie Tobey has been a professional writer and editor for more than 30 years. As editor of BOOMER magazine, she explored a diversity of topics of particular interest to adult children of seniors. When she’s not writing, she can be found running the trails or enjoying a beer with friends.

Annie Tobey