Keep pets safe in the dog days of summer

Consumer Reports News: July 17, 2013 09:08 AM

A heat wave is hard enough to take as a human, but it can be just as dangerous—or more so—for pets, as I was reminded in a recent e-mail alert from my vet. Cats and dogs lack the sweat glands we upright creatures rely on for cooling. And some dogs may keep running and playing right into the advanced stages of heat stroke, which can cause brain damage, organ failure, and even death.

So it's up to pet owners to take steps to protect our furry companions during hot, humid weather. These tips come from the American Red Cross and my own excellent vet in Brooklyn, N.Y. (who reports having already treated an unusually large number of pets for heat-related illness this year):

  • Never leave pets in the car. As with children, it's unsafe and potentially deadly to leave an animal in the car—even for a few minutes—on a hot day. The inside temperature of the vehicle can quickly reach 120 degrees, regardless of whether the windows are cracked.
  • Avoid activities (even long walks) during the hottest time of the day.
  • Know the signs of heat stroke, including heavy panting, brick red gums or tongue, rapid pulse, staggering, seizures, bloody diarrhea or vomiting, and an inability to calm down, even when lying down. If you suspect your pet has heat stroke, take his or her temperature rectally. If it's above 104 degrees, cool the animal using a water hose or by applying wet towels to the paws and neck. Avoid using ice water, which can constrict blood vessels and impede cooling, but do offer your pet ice cubes to lick. Get to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
  • Be extra cautious with high-risk pets. Dogs with short noses or snouts, like bulldogs and pugs, are especially prone to heat stroke. So are any pets who are obese, have very thick coats, or have upper respiratory problems such as laryngeal paralysis or collapsing trachea.

Learn which cars are safest for road tripping with pets.

I'm lucky to have a retired racing greyhound who's long of nose and would rather snooze the day away in front of the air conditioner than set one paw outside in a heat wave, let alone chase a ball. But even on our brief daytime walks I can see the toll the heat takes, leaving him panting and exhausted. So I've been restricting our longer jaunts to early morning and late evening, keeping the AC cranked all day despite what it will mean for my electric bill, and avoiding the dog park until milder temperatures return. You can't be too careful with your best friend.

"Keep Your Pet Safe As Temperatures Rise" (American Red Cross)

Jamie Kopf

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