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How Pet Owners Can Keep Their Animals Safe During Hot Weather

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By Zach Lovatt

The weather is heating up around the country, and as the temperature and humidity levels persist, it’s expected that there will be an uptick in hospital visits for heat-related illnesses.

For your lovable pets at home, being unable to cool down as humans do can lead to a heat stroke, which can lead to organ failure and even death.

Warning Signs for Pets

It will not always be obvious, but increased temperatures can severely affect your pets, whether you have a dog, cat, rabbit, rodent, reptile or bird. Each animal will exhibit signs of overheating in different ways. The general warning signs to look for include excessive panting, lethargy, prolonged lack of appetite, purplish-gray gums and tongue, shaking, drooling, excessive restlessness, vomiting, diarrhea and inability to stand up.

Excessive panting is one of the first signs you may notice. It’s easy to spot this symptom in dogs and cats. If you have a small mammal for a pet, such as a rabbit or a hamster, look for signs of labored breathing. You can place your hand on the side of their body to feel the rise and fall of their breathing.

Take note, all pets are susceptible to heat stroke. However, some types of pets are at higher risk. This includes brachycephalics or short-headed dogs, such as bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers and French bulldogs. Other types of pets include cats with short muzzles, overweight pets, very young or very old pets and those with cardiac issues.

Helping Pets Deal With Heat

To know how you can help your pets cool down in this extreme heat, you should know about animal physiology. Your pet will deal with heat differently than you do; you sweat through your skin and as the sweat evaporates, you cool down. Both dogs and cats sweat through their noses and paws. Panting is a dog’s way of cooling itself down because it allows water to evaporate across the moist surfaces of the mouth, lungs and tongue.

Cats groom themselves because their saliva evaporates off their fur. But unlike cats and dogs, other mammals don’t sweat at all, such as rabbits and birds.

To help your pets go through these waves of dangerous heat, you need to keep them out indoors and out of the sun. This especially applies to pets that live in terrariums or cages.

You should also make sure that your pets have unlimited access to water. You can apply ice packs or cold towels to their head, neck and chest; if this isn’t possible, you can run them over cool water. For rabbits, however, only dampen their ears using a cool washcloth. Don’t bathe them because it can lead to shock and death. If it’s too hot outside, try to leave ice packs or frozen water bottles for strays.

As much as possible, avoid shaving your pet’s fur. Their fur acts as an insulator so it keeps them cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Fur also acts as their protection from sunburn.

Of course, NEVER leave any pets in a closed car unattended.

Animals Trapped in a Hot Car

In 31 states, it’s illegal to leave an animal in a vehicle under dangerous conditions, which includes extremely hot or cold temperatures, lack of adequate ventilation or failure to provide proper food and drink. States with such laws usually allow the rescue of the animal inside the vehicle. More often than not, a person who rescues a distressed animal from a motor vehicle may get civil immunity or protection from being sued.

In some states, however, only allow authorized personnel may perform rescues. For example, New Jersey and Virginia criminalize the act of leaving a pet unattended under dangerous conditions without providing civil immunity for the rescuer.

If you see an unattended pet in a parked car on a hot summer day, observe the condition of the pet. Look for signs of dehydration and heat stroke. If the pet is looking out the windows, wagging its tail or barking, move away from the vehicle. Any excitement or agitation can cause the pet’s temperature to increase, instantly putting it in danger.

Next is to figure out if the car is running and if the air conditioning is on. It’s easy to figure this out on standard vehicles but can be a challenge if you’re looking at an electric car because you can’t hear them run. If this is the case, move away and try to see if there’s condensation under the car from the air conditioner.

The next step is to consider what action to take. If it’s highly necessary to remove the pet from the vehicle, you could either try to enter the vehicle (but try to avoid causing property damage) or call police for help.

Using AC for Pets Has Limits

One of the things you can do to help your pet cool down in hot weather is to put them in a cool room or a room with air conditioning. However, you need to remember that you need to choose the best temperature for your pet. You shouldn’t just blast the AC because extremely cold temperatures are as dangerous as extremely hot weather. Choosing the most suitable temperature depends on different factors.

For instance, your pet’s breed and size can affect their comfort level. You should also consider the amount and type of coat your pet has, as well as their age and weight. Generally, the best temperature for summer is 75 to 78 degrees Fahrenheit.

As a pet owner, you have a huge responsibility to keep your pets safe. Remember that heat stroke can happen anywhere; even normal activities can lead to it. With warming temperatures ahead and more frequent extreme weather events, stay educated and vigilant about the effects of climate change on animals.

Zach Lovatt is a research fellow on animal behavior, a pet advocate and an expert in pet care. He also maintains the website The Pampered Pup (, which provides informative and entertaining tips on how to care for pets.

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