Heat safety for pets: Veterinarian discusses tips on how to keep pets cool during summer season

We’re already feeling the extreme heat! If you have pets, it’s important to make sure they get what they need to survive the hot weather.

Houston SPCA veterinarian Dr. Roberta Westbrook said if your pet is outside, they need to have access to shade, have cool, clean water, and a way to get rid of that heat they’re sitting in. Bringing them into the air conditioning can help prevent heat-related illnesses.

“Dogs release heat through panting, so if you don’t give them access to cool air and fresh water, they can overheat,” she said. “The temperature around them becomes higher than they’re able to release from their body.”

As for signs of heat stress, look out for heavy panting for more than a few minutes. Heavy drooling, and unsteadiness or signs of lethargy. Seek emergency veterinary care if your dog appears to be in distress. While trying to cool them down, it’s important to remember to never use ice on the body to lower a dog’s temperature.

“If we take something very cold like ice and we put it directly on the skin, the blood vessels say ‘oh it’s cold, and the vessels shrink up and they become more narrow,” Dr. Westbrook said. “When that happens, you’re not able to release heat as well. We don’t want to put ice on them and we don’t want to submerge them in an icy bath.”

Instead, soaking a large towel in lukewarm water and draping that over your dog can help cool them down safely. Wiping them down with that same towel can help, as well.

Caring for your dog’s coat also plays a big role – brushing them daily will help encourage airflow between the skin and the fur, and it just helps your dog feel better, according to Dr. Westbrook. She says while a trim at the groomers is okay, it’s not a good idea to shave your dog down.

“Their coat is designed to not only keep them warm during the winter but cool during the summer,” she said. “So what happens is, if we shave those dogs down, we may be doing more harm than good. Now their skin is going to be exposed to sunlight and it could put them at risk for sunburn.”

Sunscreen is recommended for dogs who have light-colored fur, have a thin coat, or are hairless. Make sure you’re using a sunscreen that is free of Zinc Oxide and Para-Aminobenzoic Acid, or PABA. Both of which are toxic to dogs if ingested. Pet stores carry specially-formulated brands just for your pup.

For daily walks, it is best to do so early in the morning or later in the evening.

“Even in the 80s or 90s, the concrete can reach up to 140 degrees. That means your pet can suffer burns between seconds.” Dr. Westbrook said.

For more pet safety tips during the summer, click here.