If you're finding these record-breaking "dog-days of summer" uncomfortable, think how much worse it is for your pet, who must endure these triple-digit days while covered in fur or feathers.
A dog, cat or bird can't grab a cool drink from the fridge or turn on the air conditioning to beat the heat. Domestic animals lack the ability to sweat as we do to regulate their own temperature, so they depend on you to keep them cool, hydrated and most of all, safe.
As a veterinarian, I've treated far too many pets for heat-related conditions. I offer these "made-in-the-shade" tips to keep your pet cool and safe:
Know what's normal. Healthy noses should be cool or warm, wet or dry. Gums should be bubble-gum pink. Gently press your finger against the gum and the color should return to pink within two seconds. Pets suffering from heatstroke display dark red gums.
Pay attention to panting. Cats, dogs and birds naturally pant to help regulate their body temperatures. Be on the alert, however, if you start to detect a noise each time your pet inhales and exhales air or worse, displays difficulty breathing. And know the early signs of overheating: rapid panting, glassy eyes, drooling, acting confused, seeking shade, pacing and lying down frog-legged.
Keep your home cool. Close your blinds during the day to block the sun — this keeps the house cooler, saves energy and protects pets from the hottest rays.
Stay close to home. Resist taking your dog any place where the asphalt can burn their foot pads and there is little access to cool water. If you're not comfortable putting your hand on the sidewalk or street, it's too hot for your dog's paws, too. Let your dog chill on the couch while you run errands because the temperatures inside a car can quickly soar to sizzle even on a merely "warm" day — even with windows rolled down.
Slow it down. When the temperatures are high, tone done the exercise routine and conduct dog walks and play time during early morning or evening hours to avoid the heat.
Give TLC for these VIPs. Pets with dark coats (Black Labradors and Dobermans), thick coats (Huskies and Collies), pushed-in faces (Persians, Pugs, Boxers and Bulldogs) and hairless breeds (Sphynx and Chinese Crested) are more susceptible to heat-related issues — and the hairless ones need to wear sunblock! Place cool, not ice cold, wet towels on their bellies to help them cool down.
Ice, ice, baby. Place ice cubes in water bowls and locate the bowls in a few places inside your home away from sunny spots. Or provide access to automatic water fountains that deliver cool, fresh water.
Make a (safe) splash. Transform your backyard into a water wonderland for your dog. Consider converting your outdoor garden hose into a fun water fountain. Some fountains allow your dog to step on the paw pedal to get a cool drink. Or, let them frolic in a kiddy pool in your backyard. The One Dog One Bone website offers paw-shaped and bone-shaped pools that are as durable as truck bed covers, capable of holding up to 20 gallons of water and purposely white in color to absorb less light and stay up to 10 degrees cooler than black pools. For dogs who love to swim, fit them with life vests that come with handles to keep them afloat and prevent them from sinking when they get tired. Some vests also can be used as a rain coat.
Go for a summer 'do. Have a professional pet groomer give your pet a crew cut by cutting his coat about 1 inch long to help him keep cool in the hot months. Do not give a buzz cut because the hair acts as a natural sunscreen. And, brush your pet a few times per week because a well-groomed coat with no mats enables air to circulate between the hair and the skin.
Have a place to chill. Pets who seek out tile floors to sleep and stay cool are at risk for joint stiffness and muscle stress. Make their pet beds more appealing by filling gallon jugs with water, freezing them and placing them in your pet's bed draped by a towel. This homemade ‘refrigerator' will keep snoozing pets cool.
Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian," is the resident veterinarian for Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show. His latest book, Your Dog: The Owner's Manual, became available this spring. Find him in the AARP PetPals forum of AARP.org.
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