The dog days of summer are just around the corner, and we must take precautions to ensure our pets do not suffer heat-related injuries. Remember that dogs and cats stay cool by evaporating heat between their foot pads and by panting, so they easily can get overwhelmed by heat. It is always best to keep your pets in an air-conditioned environment during the hottest part of the day and limit the amount of strenuous exercise during this time. If your pet gets over exerted, that may lead to heat stress or stroke.
If you suspect your pet is exhibiting signs of becoming overheated (increased panting, lethargy, drooling excessively), get them to a cool resting spot and apply cool or room temperature water to their body. You may also use a fan to assist in the cooling process. Avoid using ice cold water, as this can decrease blood flow to the skin. That can make it harder for heat to escape the body and will make heat exhaustion symptoms worse. If your pet does not normalize quickly, then it will need emergency attention; prolonged overheating can cause organ failure or life-threatening bleeding disorders. Heat stroke is always a medical emergency, so if your pet has collapsed, has dark red gums or is panting uncontrollably, then take the animal to your veterinarian immediately.
Like humans, a pet should have sunblock applied if he or she spends a good amount of time outside in the hot summer sun. Pets with short hair or light skin are especially prone to sunburn or developing skin cancer. Sunscreen should be applied to exposed areas such as the tips of the ears, base of the nose, skin on the abdomen, etc. Pets have the tendency to lick off topical lotions, sprays, or creams so the sunscreen you choose should be a pet-specific product; human products can be toxic. The sunscreen should contain UVA and UVB barriers and be fragrance free and non-staining. UV-protective clothing and sun suits also are available for pets.
Water and shade
Dehydration always is possible in the summer months, especially if your pet loves to run and play for extended periods without drinking water. Dry gums, excessive drooling and loss of skin elasticity are some signs that your pet may be dehydrated. Make sure there is plenty of shade and access to fresh water at all times and encourage your pet to take breaks during playtime.
Don't leave them in car
Many people still think that leaving an animal in a car on a warm day with the windows left open or parked in the shade is OK, but it's not and is still a very dangerous situation. Don't leave your best friend in the car even for a few minutes. You may think it's not a big deal, but even a 70-degree sunny day can heat your car up to over 100 degrees in minutes.
For a lot of us, our pets are a part of our family. Taking the extra step to keep them safe and happy is priceless. Hope y'all have a cool, safe and fun summer with your pets.
Dr. Felicia Burdick-Aysenne, a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, encourages questions for this column. Write to South Mississippi Veterinary Medical Association, 20005 Pineville Road, Long Beach, MS 39560, and include a self-addressed, stamped envelope.