Clinicians at North Carolina State University’s Veterinary Health Complex remind owners that summer sun, soaring temperatures, and high humidity levels can be dangerous to companion animals.
“If you are uncomfortable, it’s safe to say that your pet is as well,” says Dr. Rita Hanel, assistant professor in emergency and critical care. “Pets can suffer from heat stroke, dehydration, and even sunburn. While you can lower your body temperature by sweating through numerous pours in your skin, your pet has limited sweat glands—found mostly on the nose and the pads of the feet. It does not take long for a pet to become dangerously overheated.”
(The NC State Small Animal Emergency Service is available throughout the long Fourth of July weekend if your veterinarian is not available).
While all dogs and cats are at risk, older or very young pets, overweight pets, pets with heavy coats, short-nosed dogs and dogs and cats with preexisting disease may need extra care. Limit exercise on hot and humid days to early morning and evening, remember asphalt becomes very hot, keep the water bowl cool and refreshed, and ensure that cooling shade is always nearby.
Of course, never leave a pet in a parked car—not even for a minute when you run into the dry cleaners. On a pleasant 85-degree day, the temperature inside a car with the windows rolled down can still reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. Dehydration, heat stroke, and even brain damage to the dog or cat can occur.
Dr. Hanel advises owners to take immediate action if the pet is panting excessively or has difficulty breathing, has an increased heart and respiratory rate, glazed eyes, drools, appears weak or in a stupor.
“Place the pet in the shade or air conditioning immediately and apply cool—not cold—water to reduce the animal’s core body temperature,” says Dr. Hanel. “Get help from your veterinarian as soon as possible.”
A check-up visit with the veterinarian is a good way to begin a healthy and safe summer. Here are some basic tips to keep the summertime living easy:
- Exercise—adjust intensity and duration based on temperature and humidity, perhaps limiting activity to early morning or evening hours. Remember asphalt gets very hot and your dog is close to the ground and has sweat glands on the pads of the feet. Pets can dehydrate quickly, carry water with you;
- Staying cool—when outside make sure your dog has ample shade and a constant source of cool water. Consider an inexpensive child’s plastic pool as a quick cool down for your pet or a refreshing spay from the garden hose;
- Vacations—summer trips with a pet requires preparation and appropriate arrangements for travel, lodging, food, plenty of water as well as appropriate observation to ensure the pet is comfortable in new environments;
- Kennels—an option to taking the pet on the road is a recommended vacation kennel. Be sure all vaccinations are up-to-date at least a week before boarding the pet;
- Preventive medicine—summer is high season for fleas and ticks of all kinds and the appropriate application of veterinarian-recommended tick medication can help keep your pet free from these pests and maintain recommended heartworm medication since the potentially deadly heartworm disease is transmitted by mosquitoes;
- Backyard hazards—Beware of toxic agents such as plant food, insecticides, fertilizer, coolants, citronella candles, oil products, and insect coils that may be around the home and yard. A compost bin or garbage can is a common yard element that may result in an emergency visit to the veterinarian with your pet having uncontrolled, non-stop shaking, symptoms of potentially lethal tremorgenic mycotoxin intoxication from ingesting fungus found on decomposing objects;
- Party animals—your pet may not be one, confusion of crowded summer events can stress pets and is not an enjoyable experience for them. Make sure your pet has a microchip and wears a identification collar.
As a resource for pet owners, the Veterinary Health Complex at NC State provides a Small Animal Emergency Service weekdays from 5 p.m. to 8 a.m., weekends from 5 p.m. Friday to 8 a.m. Monday, and 24 hours a day on legal holidays.
Call 919.513.6911 if you have a small animal emergency. For large animal emergencies, call 919.513.6630.