Protecting Our Cats and Dogs from Heat Stroke
In late June and early July, major media outlets reported that U.S. temperatures this summer were expected to break records nationwide, including in metro Washington. Pet lovers are used to accommodating their animals’ changing needs and protecting them no matter what the weather. When it’s hot out, we know to keep our pets in cool, shaded spaces; to give them tepid water; to help them relax; and to not leave them in parked cars. What else should we be more aware of this year as we head into midsummer?
Vets recommend following established guidelines for enjoying summer with your pets safely. Think of safety rules for pets as being even more souped up than those for humans, and often specific to species or breeds. Handling our pets’ particular needs becomes even more important during intensifying heat waves.
A good rule of thumb is to be even more careful for our pets (and our kids and other humans!) than we would be for ourselves. During a heat wave, experts recommend that humans stay indoors, drink lots of water and electrolytes, keep out of direct sunlight, and avoid exercising outside. Similarly for our animals, this means keeping them cool, calm, hydrated, and inside.
Tracking the Heat Index
First, track your heat index online, which projects what heat feels like for humans by measuring the air’s temperature and relative humidity. Humid heat is more dangerous than dry because of that relative humidity. Levels range from Caution (80° to 90°F), which can make people feel fatigue; to Extreme Danger (125° or higher), which can cause heat stroke and death.
Please check out the links for heat index trackers/apps and other hot-weather information from the CDC, the National Weather Service, NOAA, and the American Veterinary Medical Association at the end of this article.
Walking Our Pets Safely
Any animal spending time outside needs to have access to shade, plenty of water and food, and a kiddie pool to cool off (as an extra bonus). Getting our indoor dogs (or leash-trained cats) outside poses particular concerns. Walking them at cooler times of day and on more shaded routes while bringing their water kits, or just letting them out briefly to do their business, is one way to meet their needs and keep them safe.
Vets ask us to remember the 7-second rule: if the back of a hand on that pavement is too hot to handle, it’s scorching for paws. Another rule is to add temperature (°F) and humidity level (%): if this exceeds 150 (say, 90°F and 70% humidity), keep dogs and other critters inside.
Treating Our Cats and Dogs for Heat Stroke
If a dog or cat is overcome by the heat, it’s important to act quickly. Animals bred for their flat noses and short heads and faces find it even harder to breathe in intense heat and can’t cool their bodies as effectively. These breeds include pugs, Boston terriers, Shih Tzus, some bulldogs, and Persian cats. But other dog and cat breeds can also succumb in a heat wave.
Dogs with heat stroke may become disoriented or have no energy. Other symptoms in dogs might include panting, vomiting, or heavy drooling; their gums could turn a different color or seem sticky or dry. Move the dogs to shade and give them a little cool (not cold) water, placing them on a wet towel and using more cool water on their fur and skin. Place them under a fan or turn the AC on if they’re in a vehicle. Then call the vet.
Researchers have known for decades that cats respond to slight changes in air temperature of 2°F or even less. Signs of heat stroke in cats often follow less intense heat exhaustion. A cat might first drool or dribble, pant, even foam at the mouth, and appear exhausted and not move. When this intensifies, a cat’s gums might turn bright red, and the kitty might be unable to move or stand. This is heat stroke. Treat this immediately as you would for a dog, but don’t force water on a cat. Instead of laying the cat down on a wet towel, place it over the kitty’s body. Change the towel frequently after adding cool water. As with heat stroke in dogs, call your vet right away.
Visiting and Calling the Vet
The internet offers us a wide range of useful and even lifesaving information about all our beloved animals. But nothing tops being able to trust an experienced vet when we’re worried about our pets. If you have a question about how to help your buddy beat the heat or need help in an emergency, call your vet’s office. They’re there to help.
About the Author: Steph volunteered as an adoption counselor at King Street Cats in Alexandria for seven years and is a regular contributor to this column.