Hot Topic: Keeping Your Pet Safe As Temperatures Rise

Texas is known for hot summers that leave many residents ready for air conditioning and a cool drink. Because their bodies expel heat less efficiently and generate more heat pound-for-pound than humans, our furry friends can be even more impacted by rising temperatures.

Pug playing in a kiddie poolDr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, discusses the dangers that summer heat may present to animals, including heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“Heat exhaustion is the feeling of lethargy, discomfort, or weakness that is experienced when the body gets too hot,” Rutter said. “Heat stroke is an actual illness that occurs from increased body temperature. It can be life-threatening and cause permanent damage.”

Heat-related issues are prevented through a process called evaporative cooling, which is one of the most efficient ways for an animal to expel heat, Rutter explains. Humans accomplish this largely by sweating, but dogs and cats can only sweat through the bottoms of their feet, so they must expel heat by panting.

“Very young, geriatric, brachycephalic (short-nosed breeds), and pets with heart, respiratory, or endocrine disease are at higher risk for heat injury,” Rutter said. “Obesity and respiratory noises can also identify at-risk groups. While it’s harder to pin down, pets that aren’t acclimated to hot environments will heatstroke more easily.”

Humidity plays an important role in how efficiently an animal can expel heat. As humidity increases, water evaporation and the resulting heat exchange decreases. Once the humidity in the air reaches about 85 percent, evaporative cooling is almost totally inhibited. For pets, this can have serious consequences.

Pet owners should keep a keen eye on their animal when the weather is hot and when the humidity is high; even if you feel OK, your pet might be affected.

“Any dog that wants to take a break or is panting heavily should be given fresh, cool water and a shady spot to rest until their breathing normalizes and they want to return to activity,” Rutter said. “Motivated dogs will return to activity as soon as it is physically possible, which may not be the best plan. Owners have to make some dogs stop and cool off fully.

“As heat stress worsens, pets may have GI signs (vomiting and/or diarrhea), lethargy, weakness, red gums, and coagulation (blood clotting) changes that can cause small, red bruises to form (most commonly in the mouth, whites of the eyes, and the skin of the abdomen).”

Rutter says that cats tend to limit their activity and seek shade when heat becomes an issue, but they still should also always have access to fresh water and be in a familiar environment.

“To cool an animal, I recommend wetting the pet down with cool (not cold) water, turning a fan on high over them, and putting them in a shaded, air-conditioned environment,” she said. “If your pet is displaying signs of heat stress, you should wet them down, crank up the AC, and head directly to your veterinarian’s office. It is most definitely an emergency.”

When walking a pet in the heat, owners should also consider whether the pavement temperature is appropriate for their pet’s paws. Rutter recommends feeling the pavement with your hand; if the pavement is too hot for you to touch it, it’s too hot for your pet.

Vehicles parked with no air conditioning also can be a serious threat during warmer months.

The temperature in parked cars rises quickly even with the windows “cracked.” Rutter says that cars can become lethally hot in as little as 15 minutes, but that time is shorter for animals prone to heat injury.

“Always have your pet inside the vehicle with the air conditioning on if the temperature is 85 degrees or greater,” she said. “Even at temperatures below 85 degrees, never put your pet in the bed of a truck and never, ever leave your pet in a parked car.”

Rutter recommends that pet owners see their veterinarian with any concern for heat stress or heat stroke.

Heat injury becomes a serious condition very quickly; luckily, however, these precautions are usually effective at preventing heat stress, and a mindful pet owner should have few worries as they enjoy their summer with a furry friend by their side.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Hobby Hazards: Maintaining a Pet-Safe Environment

After spending part of March and all of April at home, many people are finding that their television queues are watched, their video games are won, and their chores are done (or avoided!). As they search for more creative ways to pass the time, hobbies like painting, embroidery, and jogging are making a resurgence.

dog running with ball in mouthThough finding fun and productive ways to pass time is important for wellbeing, Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor and emergency and critical care specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, says that pet owners should be cognizant of any hazards these new hobbies might introduce into their pet’s environment.

“I’m seeing a very different variety of injuries at the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital,” Rutter said. “I’m seeing a lot of pets eating a sewing needle because their mom is home and sewing, something that she wouldn’t normally do, or ‘I took the puppy fishing and now there’s a fishhook in his paw.’”

If pet owners are learning a hobby like sewing, knitting, crocheting, fishing, or another activity that relies on sharp tools and supplies, it is important that they keep potentially dangerous equipment stored out-of-reach from their pet. Other craft supplies, like some paints, modeling clays, and glues, can also be dangerous if ingested.

“Decrease opportunities for environmental injury,” Rutter said, “If you’re trying out new hobbies or activities, make sure that you’re keeping the things (tools, etc.) associated with those hobbies safely away from your pets.”

Pet owners exploring more physical hobbies, such as jogging, should also be mindful of how a change in routine affects their animal.

“Whenever you’re starting a new exercise routine with your pet, you want to do the same thing that we would recommend for any human starting a new exercise program,” Rutter said. “Talk to your veterinarian; if your dog has co-morbidities—things like underlying chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, chronic coughing, if they’ve had any changes in their bark or difficulty breathing, or if your pet has an orthopedic disease, a history of limping, history of joint issues or replacement—you really want to make sure that you start off slow.”

As the weather warms up, it is also important that owners consider how the heat may affect their pet, especially during exercise.

“In Texas, heat and humidity are a big deal,” she said. “You probably should not go out and exercise your dog a lot when it’s very humid; with humidity over about 60 percent or temperatures over about 80 or 85, we start worrying about heatstroke. Also, keep exercise sessions short when you can’t stay underneath those environmental restrictions.”

Heatstroke is a very serious condition that requires emergency veterinary care.

“If you suspect your pet has heat stress at any time, that is not a time to wait and see what happens. If your pet seems exhausted on a walk, has trouble breathing, is panting and can’t stop, vomits, or seems dazed or can’t stand up, those would be emergencies,” Rutter said. “You should not feel at all bad about going to your veterinarian’s office immediately.

“It can also be helpful to cool your pet down by wetting them,” she said. “However, you should not put them in ice water—just lukewarm water, wet their fur, and head to the closest veterinary hospital because heatstroke is a huge emergency, and dogs die of it every day.”

Though it is important that pet owners are mindful of how changes in activity might affect their furry running partner, Rutter says that most dogs would benefit from being included in this new hobby.

“I wouldn’t want to dissuade people from exercising their pets or having a good walk, because they need ways to get out their frustration and their anxiety,” she said. “They need a way to get that out, and a walk is a really great way to provide them not just the physical exercise, but also that social structure.”

A new hobby can be a healthy outlet and productive way to pass the time at home. There are plenty of activities owners might wish to pursue while sheltering in place, and many can be done with a cat in your lap or a dog by your side, provided owners make the correct adjustments to keep their furry friend safe.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Keep Pets Cool in the Summer Heat

Summer brings with it an expectation of sweltering temperatures, sometimes to the point of danger.

As temperatures climb, remember that if you are hot, your pet is probably feeling even hotter. Dogs and cats generate more heat than people and usually also have a thick layer of fur to trap that heat inside.

Pug in a mini pool

Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, has some tips on identifying signs that your pet may be too hot and suggestions on ways to keep them safe and cool on hot summer days.

While people sweat all over to get rid of excess heat, dogs and cats are only able to sweat through their paw pads.

Most pets rely on panting to cool down, but animals with shorter noses, like Bulldogs and Persian cats, tend to be less heat tolerant, meaning they have a harder time getting rid of excess body heat.

“Very young and older animals, especially those with underlying conditions, are also less heat tolerant than healthy adult animals,” Rutter said. “If you hear snoring, coughing, or gurgling when your pet tries to pant or gets excited, it’s not going to be heat tolerant.”

Factors such as obesity, long hair, and medications can also make pets more sensitive to heat. If any of these apply to your pet, Rutter advises talking to a veterinarian about increased heat sensitivity.

Luckily, there are many things people can do to help their pets cool down on hot days. The simplest solution is to keep pets inside an air-conditioned building, but there are other options if the pet will be spending time outside.

“Shade, cool water to drink or play in, a fan, and a cool surface such as grass help pets cool down–just like how we seek out a glass of lemonade, a shady spot to rest, and a breeze when we are too hot,” Rutter said.

Cats usually limit their own activity and seek out shade if they get too hot but should still be provided a fresh source of water and should be not be put outside for the first time during the summer.

Working, agility, and motivated dogs, like retrievers or game dogs, however, may not slow down when they get too hot, so owners should be mindful to limit their activity as the temperature rises, according to Rutter.

“Any dog that wants to take a break, doesn’t want to walk, or is panting heavily should be given fresh, cool water and a shady spot to rest until their breathing normalizes and they want to return to activity,” Rutter said. “Avoid exercise during the heat of the day and take a 10- to 15-minute break to cool down every 15 to 20 minutes when the temperature is over 80 degrees.”

If an animal cannot get rid of excess heat, it may develop heat exhaustion or heat stroke; environmental temperature, humidity, and the pet’s activity level can all play a role in developing these conditions.

“Heat exhaustion is the feeling of lethargy, discomfort, or weakness that is experienced when the body gets too hot,” Rutter said. “It’s the body’s way of saying, ‘slow down!’”

In comparison, heat stroke is an illness caused by increased body temperature. According to Rutter, it is much more serious and can even be life-threatening if not caught early.

If a pet is showing signs of heat exhaustion, it should be wet down with cool (not cold) water and be put near a blowing fan in a shaded, air-conditioned area.

If the pet vomits, acts lethargic, has red gums, or seems to have small, red bruises on its mouth, eyes, or abdomen it should be taken to a veterinarian as soon as possible. If you are unsure of whether it is an emergency situation, it is better to have the pet checked out just in case, because heat stroke can cause serious damage very quickly.

Rutter also reminds pet owners that it is dangerous to leave a pet inside a parked car during any time of the year, but especially during the summer; in as little as 15 minutes, the inside of a car can become lethally hot.

The best way to avoid heat exhaustion and heat stroke is to be aware of the amount of time a pet spends outside in the summer and to watch for any symptoms of these conditions. With these simple precautions, pet owners can ensure that their dogs and cats stay safe during the worst of summer.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.