The long, hot days of summer can be downright dangerous for your pet, notes Charles Harrison Chandler, a veterinarian in Chicago. The combination of high temperatures, bright sunlight and high humidity can create problems for your pet. As an owner, it's up to you to protect your furry friend from heat stroke or other heat-related illnesses.
Your pet and your vehicle
"First and foremost, never ever leave an animal in a car," Dr. Chandler strongly advises. "The temperatures inside can get boiling hot, and could injure or kill your pet."
According to the Humane Society of the United States, it doesn't take very long for the temperature in a car to reach unpleasant highs. On an 85-degree day, the temperature inside of a car can climb to 102 degrees in just 10 minutes, even with the windows open. After a half an hour, the temperature can reach 120 degrees.
Plan your trips so that your pet doesn't have to be left in the car. For example, if you are running errands after taking your pet to the vet, drop your pet at home first. If you are traveling long distance with your furry friend and need to stop at a rest area, make sure to let your pet out of the car, on a leash. Have one of your traveling companions keep an eye on him, if possible.
Animals react to heat differently than humans. While your body sweats all over to cool you off, your dog only sweats out of his paws. Dogs pant to bring their body temperature down, which can be very difficult to do on humid days. As Charles Harrison Chandler explains, "Remember, animals don't sweat like us, and they have thick coats of fur. They are more affected by the heat than people."
While you might want to go for a run or play catch with your pet on a very hot day, it's better to wait until it's cooler out. Instead of going for a walk or jog in the heat of the day, wait until the evening when things have cooled down a bit.
When you are outside with your pet, make sure he has access to shade and water. Look for area with a lot of tree cover, for example, or create your own covering by setting up a tarp. Keep a bowl full of water or a bottle of water near your pet. The Humane Society recommends adding ice to the water on days when it's particularly hot.
Know what to look for
Despite your best efforts, your pet might suffer from heat stroke. It's important that you know what to look for so that you can get your pet the help he needs. Signs of heat stroke include heavy breathing or panting, which means that your pet is unable to cool off sufficiently. A fever, meaning a temperature above 104 degrees, is another sign of heat stroke. Other symptoms include difficulty standing, excess salivation, and a bright red tongue. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, you need to contact your veterinarian right away.
Protecting your pet while you travel
If you are traveling without your pet this summer, you need to make sure he is safe and sound at home. If you need to leave your pet home alone, Dr. Chandler advises, "Make sure you have someone reliable to check in and take care of them." It's not enough to set out enough food and water for the number of days you'll be away. Hire a dog sitter or a trusted friend to check in on your pet, take him for walks, and bring him food and water as needed.
Look out for pests
The warmer months are also the key season for pests such as ticks and fleas. Dr. Chandler recommends paying "closer attention to your pet than normal to make sure they don't pick up ticks or fleas." That means doing a tick check after any time spent outdoors. You can also consult with your pet's vet about preventative treatments to protect him from fleas and ticks.
Be careful about where you and your pet spend time. You don't have to be in the deep woods to pick up a tick. Any area with grass, shrubs or other greenery can contain ticks.
Watch for hot paws
You wouldn't want to walk on the hot sidewalk or roadside on a blazingly hot day in bare feet. Imagine how your pet feels, with his perennially bare paws. When it's very hot out, it's best to keep your pet's feet off the asphalt. Try taking him for walks on a grassy area or make sure to walk on the shady side of the street, if possible.
If your pet starts limping on a hot day or seems reluctant to keep walking, it's probably because the road is too hot. Carry him the rest of the way if possible and apply first aid to his feet. Cold water or a cold compress will help soothe the pain of the burn.
Being a pet owner can be full of fun, but it's also full of responsibility. Veterinarian Charles Harrison Chandler reminds pet owners to take great care to protect their furry friends from the high heat and humidity that often accompanies summertime fun.
Amy Freeman contributed to this article.