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Protecting Pets in Extreme Heat

© FOUR PAWS | Mihai Vasile

How heat affects your companion animals


Our companion animals do not sweat like we do. Dogs and cats can only lose excess body heat by panting or drinking water. A small amount of heat can be lost through their footpads, but only if they are exposed to cool air or a cool surface.


You may have noticed your pet moves around to different parts of the house at various times of the day, and that different pets prefer different places in the house. This is an important way for them to control their body temperature: moving from warmer to cooler or cooler to warmer depending on how they feel.


It’s also important to remember that your pet walks on all four limbs, which puts him/her closer to the source of the heat, especially when walking on cement or asphalt surfaces. In direct sunlight, asphalt can reach temperatures of 158ºF and cement 145ºF. 

Should you shave your pet for the summer?


It has become common in some places for people to shave their pets during the warm weather months. But this is not always the best choice. Animals have evolved to thermo-regulate effectively with their fur intact. That coat that keeps the cold from penetrating to the skin also keeps the heat out. And a well-groomed, thick-coated dog will lose its dense under-fur for summer.


There are, however, circumstances where it might be good to cut your pet’s hair short.  A matted coat does not allow air to circulate and pets who are prone to moist skin infections (hotspots) might benefit from a shorter haircut. But if your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, it will increase the risk of sunburn. Talk to your veterinarian about your particular situation to help you make the best decision but consider leaving at least an inch of fur to protect against sunburn.


There are a number of ways to help your pet cope with the heat


Don’t get your pet completely wet to cool him/her off, particularly if they are already hot or a thick-coated breed, as this may just trap heat against their body and will increase their chance of developing moist skin infections.

    • Provide a damp towel that he/she can rest on to cool their belly and feet, or use a shallow children’s wading pool for them to lay in, keeping their belly and feet cool without getting them completely wet.


Plan walks and other outdoor exercise for in the early morning or later in the evening when it is cooler.

    • If possible walk your pet in shady and/or grassy areas where there will be less heat from the pavement.
    • Don’t take your pet for a long walk immediately after bathing or swimming.
      • Water softens the footpads, making them more prone to burning, especially when walking on hot pavement.
      • Exercising may cause their temperature to rise and trap heat against their body.


Keep pets indoors

    • It is usually cooler, particularly if you have air conditioning or fans to move the air around.
      • Provide different temperature zones around the house so your pets can determine where they are most comfortable.
      • Like us, different animals prefer different temperatures.
      • If your pets must be outside, be sure to provide plenty of shade throughout the whole day as the sun shifts.


Make sure your pets have plenty of clean, cool water

    • Some pets will enjoy having ice cubes to chew on


Never leave your pets in the car, as car temperatures rise quickly and can reach well over 100ºF in less than an hour.

    • Opening the window slightly does not help prevent this temperature rise.

Know the Symptoms of Hyperthermia or Heat Stroke


If your pet is panting excessively and seems restless, he/she may be in the early stages of overheating. This can rapidly progress to heat stroke, so get your pet to a cool place and provide cool, not cold, water. 


Signs that the problem is getting worse include:

  • Unsteady gait
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Seizures
  • Collapse

These early symptoms will lead to multi-organ failure, coma, and death if not treated promptly so get your pet to the vet if you note any of these signs.


Being prepared is your pets’ best protection against extreme heat, so be sure to have your plans in place now for the summer.