Imagine this scenario: You’ve been out to the dog park on a cool summer day with your dog. On your way home, you decide to stop at the store for some groceries. Your car thermometer reads just 75 degrees Fahrenheit, so you figure your pet will be fine for the few minutes it’ll take to grab your items. While shopping, you bump into a friend and stand there chatting and by the time you get out to your car, you’ve left your pet for 10 minutes in a 94 degree car. Just 10 minutes is all it takes for your car to climb from 75 degrees to 94 degrees. Just 20 more minutes and your car is a sweltering 109 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dogs cannot cool themselves by sweating like we do, and they also wear their fur coat year round, so it is important to recognize signs of overheating and to follow some precautions to keep your pet safe. In honor of National Heat Safety Awareness Day, which occurs on May 23 this year, here are some prevention tips and what to do if your pet gets overheated:
How can I prevent my pet from becoming overheated?
- Never leave your dog in a car. The National Weather Service urges all pet owners to “Look Before You Lock” to prevent accidentally leaving your pet behind.
- Avoid walks during the hottest part of the day. In her blog post, All Dogs Are at Risk in the Hot Months, Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, DVM, urges dog owners to allow their pets to acclimate slowly to the hotter weather, gradually increasing the length of walks.
- Make sure to provide plenty of water and shade for animals who spend most of their time outside.
- Apply sunscreen to your pet’s ears and nose at least 30 minutes before going outside. Dogs with short hair, white fur, or pink skin are much more susceptible to sunburn.
- Know the signs of overheating so you can help your pet cool off before it is too late.
What are the warning signs of overheating?
- Dogs pant to eliminate heat, but excessive panting is a sign of being overheated.
- Elevated temperature can occur if a dog fails to cool off by panting. Take your dog’s temperature rectally. Body temperatures above 103 degrees Fahrenheit are abnormal. You can read more about the warning signs and treatment of hyperthermia in PetMD’s blogpost, Heat Stroke and Hyperthermia in Dogs.
- Bright red gums and tongue can indicate heat exhaustion.
- Fatigue or resistance to walk are also signs of overheating.
I suspect my pet is overheated. What should I do?
- Cool him off immediately. Dr. Vogelsang suggests spraying your pet with cool water to bring his temperature down.
- Offer plenty of water to drink. You can find more tips on what to do immediately if you suspect heat stroke on PetMD’s blog post, Heat Stroke in Dogs.
- If your pet is not able to cool himself or he seems to be getting more lethargic, take him to the vet immediately. Heat stroke can cause a host of other problems for your pet.
Be smart this summer. Remember that your furry friend’s body doesn’t work like yours, and he needs special consideration in the hot summer months.