Summertime can be lots of fun for everyone including our four-legged friends. With tons of outdoor activities, it’s important to take a few extra precautions to safely enjoy the sun and warm weather. Like humans, our pets are at risk for heatstroke, dehydration, and pesky bug bites. But also watch out for hot asphalt which can burn sensitive paws, and hot cars which can quickly overwhelm pets.

Heat Related Illnesses in Dogs and Cats

Heat stroke and heat exhaustion are related illness caused by elevated body temperature, usually due to high temperatures or over exertion. All heat related conditions are serious, and fortunately, can be avoided. Dehydration occurs as the result of lack of sufficient water, and may or may not accompany heat related illness.

There are two main reasons and one obvious reason why our cats and dogs are more susceptible to heat related illness in the summer. First, cats and dogs have fur, which obviously is like wearing a fur coat that you can never take off, even in the summer. Second, cats and dogs cannot lower their body temperature as quickly as humans. Third, cats and dogs have naturally higher body temperatures than humans, so their body temperature can rise to a dangerous level more quickly.

Heat Exhaustion Symptoms

To prevent heat related illness and dehydration, make sure to always have water available. Healthy pets will drink as much water as they need and can usually regulate body temperature that way. In the summer, especially during long periods of time outdoors, be on the look-out for warning signs. A pet that is suffering from heat exhaustion will become:

  • Lethargic
  • Refuse water
  • Show signs of discomfort

Prolonged heat exhaustion can lead to heat stroke, which is often more serious.  Symptoms for dogs suffering from heat stroke include excessive panting, drooling, and rabid heartbeat. Cats with heat stroke will have rapid pulse and breathing, redness of the tongue, vomiting and difficulty walking.

How to Prevent Heat Related Illnesses

If you notice your pet is not responsive while out in the heat, encourage your pet to drink small amounts of water, and move to a cool spot. If symptoms don’t subside, seek medical attention immediately. Early symptoms may be difficult to spot, and if you suspect a heat related illness, you should monitor your pet’s temperature with a rectal thermometer. A dog’s typical body temperature is around 101 degrees Fahrenheit, and our feline friends also have a slightly lower normal body temperature of about 100 degrees Fahrenheit. If you plan on shaving your cat or dog during the summer, consult a veterinarian first because most pet care professionals discourage shaving your pet, particularly cats. Shaving dogs, however, may be recommended depending on the breed, but never shave a dog and expose skin because this may result in sunburn.

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Dehydration Symptoms

Dehydration occurs when the body lacks fluids. Pets are at a higher risk of developing dehydration symptoms during the summer as temperatures rise and pets have to work harder to regulate body temperature. Older pets, very young pets, and pets with pre-existing kidney issues are especially prone to dehydration. Symptoms include:

  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dry mouth
  • Sunken eyes
  • Loss of skin elasticity.

How to Tell If Your Pet is Dehydrated

Checking skin elasticity is one of the easiest ways to determine if your pet is dehydrated and is done by simply pinching the skin over the pet’s shoulders, and letting go. In a hydrated pet, the skin will drop back immediately, but if your pet is dehydrated, the skin will remain arched and form a “tent,” or drop slowly. If this occurs, you must seek medical attention immediately because this is a sign of severe dehydration. Also, dehydration can be a symptom of a more serious condition, so bring your pet in for a check-up at the first sign of dehydration.

Summer Bug Bites and Stings

Summertime also brings more bugs that are eager to bite and sting you and your pets. The most common insects that bother pets include fleas, ticks, mites, mosquitoes, bees, ants, spiders and flies. Besides being pesky, insects spread dangerous bacteria and parasites so it is important to recognize, treat and prevent bug bites and stings. While insects can be a problem year-round, some insects, like fleas, have a faster life cycle in the summer. Also, spending more time outdoors, particularly in wooded areas, provides more opportunities for pests like ticks.

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While some insect bites, from mosquitoes for example, won’t result in serious problems, they do cause your pet to itch, which can cause irritation. Bee stings can cause a variety of symptoms just like humans, so if your pet is sensitive to bee stings, there could be a dangerous reaction or inflammation. For most pets, however, a bee sting will be localized, but you have to be careful that your pet does not have a more serious reaction which requires medical attention.

Bug Bite or Sting Symptoms

The primary symptom of a bug bite or sting is itching. Also, the most common place for bites is the face, head and around the mouth since dogs and cats are naturally curious and sometimes put their noses where insects are found. Insect bites on the belly are probably the result of wasps or ants. Unfortunately, some insects are so small that they are difficult to see, but look for small red bumps on the skin either isolated dots or clusters. Other signs include inflammation, rash, blisters or small traces of blood.

Treating Your Pet’s Bug Bite

For the most part, most insect bites will heal on its own, but over-the-counter lotions and medication designed for pets can help speed up the process. Some bites, however, can be poisonous, spread disease or be very persistent and medical attention is necessary. For the most part, symptoms will occur within 20 minutes of a bite; but some time symptoms won’t appear for 24 hours. As with any potential health risk, be aware of any changes in behavior such as loss of appetite, lethargy, loss of weight or signs of pain. Always consult a medical professional when your dog or cat is not acting normal because your understanding of your pet is the best prevention and important to maintain your pet’s well-being.

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Other Summer Hazards

Finally, be very careful to avoid exposing you pet to hot asphalt or leaving pets in hot cars. Asphalt can be much hotter than air temperature, and can cause harm to you pet’s paws as quickly as 60 seconds. For example, the air temperature may be a pleasant 77 degrees Fahrenheit, but the asphalt could be a scorching 122 degrees Fahrenheit which will burn paws. One way to avoid asphalt that is too hot for your pet is to place the back of your hand on the asphalt to test the surface. If you cannot hold the back of your hand to the ground for seven seconds without feeling discomfort, then it is too hot for your pet. Even if the asphalt is in the shade, or the sun has set; asphalt can take hours to cool down even after the air temperature has cooled because of its ability to retain heat.

Pets in Hot Cars

Please, never leave your pet in a parked car, especially in the summer. It goes without saying that this is a cardinal rule to being a responsible pet owner, and you should avoid this very real and often deadly risk. Air temperature of 78 degrees can reach 100 degrees inside a car in just minutes. On a 90-degree day, the temperature inside a car can reach almost 110 degrees in less than 10 minutes. Pets can suffer brain damage or death in less than 15 minutes. This is such a serious problem, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, 29 states have some type of “hot car” law that prohibits leaving a pet unattended in a parked car, and eight states allow a person to break a car window to save a pet. Some states require you to call 9-1-1 or law enforcement before taking action. As summer heats up, take extra precautions to ensure a safe summer for every family member, even those with a tail.