With Memorial Day having passed, we pet owners must prepare for the numerous hazards and stressors typically associated with warm weather and summertime activities. These include climate changes, sun exposure and exercise.
Increased heat, both outdoors and in, poses a variety of health risks for pets. Cats and dogs primarily get rid of heat through their respiratory tract (trachea and lungs) and skin. They lack the ability to sweat like humans. As a result, most pets don’t acclimate as well as humans do to climates that are hot and/or humid. Geriatric, juvenile, brachycephalic (short faced, like the English Bulldog, Pug, or Shih Tzu for dogs and the Burmese, Himalayan, and Persian for cats), overweight/obese, and sick pets can have an especially challenging time coping with a hot environment.
Properly caring for your pet’s coat is also essential to maintaining normal body temperature. A well groomed coat and healthy skin permits circulation of air at the surface and a transfer of heat out of the body. Underlying metabolic diseases (canine hypothyroidism and Cushing’s disease, feline hyperthyroidism, etc) and skin allergies and infections can also negatively impact an animal’s skin and ability to regulate body temperature. The addition of an omega fatty acid supplement (fish or flax oil) can improve the overall health of your pet’s skin and coat and potentially increase its resistance to heat and sun damage. Omega 3 and 9 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect on the skin and benefit the joints, nerves and cardiovascular organs (heart, lungs, blood vessels, etc).
Exposure to heat and the sun also puts your pet at risk for hyperthermia and sunburn.
Hyperthermia is a dramatic elevation in the body’s core temperature. As dogs and cats have a higher resting temperature (100-102.5 +/- 0.5 F) than humans, health issues can occur when the body temperature increases above the normal range. This can occur within minutes or may take up to several hours depending on the pet’s ability to acclimate. Prolonged hyperthermia can cause lethargy, vomiting, diarrhea, multi-system organ failure, prolonged blood clotting times, seizures, coma and death.
During warm periods, adjust your home and car climate to better suit your pet’s needs. Provide air conditioning and well circulated air to keep your pet cool indoors and during car travel.
Despite the thick hair coat that adorns most dogs and cats, sunburn is a real risk during summertime months or for pets in perpetually balmy climates. Pets having pink skin (often paired with light or white hair) should wear some form of sun protection or at least be confined to the shade. The nose, ears, and other areas having exposed skin can be covered with a pet-specific sun screen free from salicylates and zinc oxide, both of which are toxic if ingested. Epi-Pet Sun Protector Sunscreen is the only product currently on the market that meets the Food & Drug Administration’s standards of safety for dogs. The American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends sunscreen application at least 30 minutes prior to sun exposure.
Exercising a pet in the heat creates a challenge due to the negative health implications associated with heat and sun exposure. Schedule an examination with your veterinarian to ensure your pet is healthy enough for a summertime fitness program. Never exercise your pet in an excessively hot or humid environment. Dawn, dusk, and evening hours are the best from a temperature perspective, but avoid these times in areas having a heavy mosquito or other biting insect population. Provide rest, shade and voluntary or administered hydration at least every 15 minutes to ward off hyperthermia and dehydration. If your pet refuses to run or walk, never force them to continue.
When warm weather arrives, be proactive to ensure your pet does not suffer ill health effects from the dog days of summer!
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Copyright of this article (2012) is owned by Dr Patrick Mahaney, Veterinarian and Certified Veterinary Acupuncturist. Republishing any portion of this article must first be authorized by Dr Patrick Mahaney. Requests for republishing must be approved by Dr Patrick Mahaney and received in written format.