Companion Veterinary Clinic wants you and your pets to be prepared for the red-hot weather this summer. Whether you are trekking to the stars or to the backyard, your entire crew should be on red alert to recognize, manage, and prevent pet heat risks.

Monitor the National Weather Service’s heat red alerts to protect your pet

The National Weather Service (NWS) issues warnings and watches when heat and humidity, which factor into the heat index, become dangerous:

  • Excessive heat outlook — Issued when an excessive heat event is expected in the next three to seven days
  • Heat advisory — Issued up to 12 hours of the onset of extremely dangerous heat conditions
  • Excessive heat watch — Issued with increased heat wave risk, but unclear timing
  • Excessive heat warning — Issued when extremely dangerous heat conditions will occur in the next 12 hours.

Monitoring these NWS alerts will make you and your “starfleet” aware of bad weather and when you should take immediate action.

Plan ahead—the best pet defense against the heat is a good offense

Attack the heat with these pet precautions to help ensure your summer missions go well:

  • Always have plenty of fresh pet drinking water available—a cooler with ice packs is best.
  • Take frequent indoor breaks from the heat, especially for pets not used to the heat.
  • Clip, but do not shave, your pet’s thick fur, especially pets with dark hair coats.
  • Keep pets in good body condition, because overweight pets suffer heat stress more.
  • Seek or create shade wherever you go (e.g., pack a collapsable tent).
  • Apply a pet safe sunblock, a high SPF baby sunscreen without zinc, or a UV-protective pet sunsuit to pets with thin hair or light-colored skin. Pets with lightly pigmented skin are at risk of sunburn and possibly skin cancer later in life.

Never leave a pet unattended in a vehicle

Whether you are traveling in the Starship Enterprise or the family minivan, never leave pets unattended in a vehicle, because: 

  • The temperature in a parked car can rise 20 degrees in only 10 minutes.
  • Parking in the shade or cracking the windows does not help significantly enough to prevent heat stress.
  • Dark-colored metal or plastic surfaces, such as the dashboard, steering wheel, or seats, can quickly reach higher than 200 degrees.
  • In less than two minutes, a car’s interior temperature can rise from a safe to unsafe level for pets. 

If you must take your pet with you in the car, ensure the air conditioning is working properly, and remember that your pet can die in a hot vehicle in only 10 minutes.

Know if your pet is more susceptible to heat stress

Although any pet can develop heat stress, some pets are more susceptible, including pets with underlying respiratory disease (e.g., a collapsing trachea), congestive heart failure, or laryngeal paralysis. Brachycephalic pets (i.e., pets with short noses and flat faces) have increased heat risk, for reasons including:

  • A decreased ability to pant
  • Increased tongue and palate size relative to their small mouth
  • Small nostrils
  • Small windpipes

In hot conditions, all pets, but brachycephalic pets in particular, benefit from wearing a harness instead of a collar—especially a too-tight collar.

Watch for pet heat stress and heatstroke signs

Many active or excitable dogs won’t slow down in the heat. They will gladly “go where no dog has gone before” to please their owners, or from FOMO (i.e., fear of missing out). Watch your pet carefully for the following heat stress signs:

  • Distressed, loud panting
  • Labored breathing
  • Restlessness, agitation
  • Bright red gums
  • Drooling, gagging, or vomiting
  • Unsteadiness, weakness, collapse
  • Heat prostration, inability to rise
  • Bloody diarrhea

Heatstroke is less common in cats, but can occur if they are trapped in a small, hot space, such as a vehicle or clothes drier. Cats rarely pant, and they need emergency veterinary care if they are open-mouth breathing. 

Helping overheated pets

The summer heat is a fact of life—we can’t ask Scotty to beam us up away from the weather. If your pet becomes dehydrated or overheated, take the following steps:

  • Move them to a cool, shaded, or air-conditioned area.
  • Direct a fan or moving air toward them, if possible.
  • Frequently offer small amounts of room temperature or slightly cool drinking water.
  • Mist your pet with room temperature water.
  • Take their rectal temperature, if possible—higher than 102.5 degrees is not normal.
  • Bring your pet to Companion Veterinary Clinic as soon as possible, first calling to let us know you are on your way, so we can be prepared. Pets who suffer heat prostration or heatstroke can develop multiple organ system failure and have a guarded to poor prognosis, with only 50% survival rate.

Avoid overcooling your pet

First science officer Mr. Spock might find it illogical, but excessive rapid cooling measures can make your pet worse:

  • Never apply ice packs, which can constrict or damage blood vessels in the skin.
  • Never apply cold water directly to your pet.
  • Never use wet towels, which can trap body heat.
  • Never apply rubbing alcohol to your pet’s skin or paw pads without veterinary direction, because your pet can absorb harmful levels into their bloodstream.

The heat may make this summer feel like more of a Sun Trek than a Star Trek, so follow  Companion Veterinary Clinic’s heat safety tips, and stay on “Red Alert” so that your pet “Live(s) Long and Prosper(s)” in the summer heat. However, do not hesitate to contact us should your pet be affected by the heat.