How to keep pets safe during a heat wave; know signs of heatstroke

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As extreme heatwaves blanket large swaths of the world, pet owners have special cause for concern.

“If you’re too hot, it’s even worse for your pet,” said Sarah Hoggan, medical director at the California Veterinary Specialist in Murrieta.

Heat stroke can be fatal for dogs, cats and other animals, but simple precautions can help them get through the heat. Here’s what you need to know to keep your pets healthy.

Keep pets indoors as much as possible.

Ideally, leave your pet in air-conditioned spaces for as long as you can during the day. If you don’t have air conditioning, place your pet near a fan. In general, it’s best to keep pets in an area that’s no hotter than 26°C, Hoggan said.

If you must leave your pet outside, make sure it has enough shade and fresh water. Don’t leave him unattended for more than a few minutes and don’t leave him in direct sunlight, said Jerry Klein, chief veterinarian for the American Kennel Club.

For animals that live in cages, like rabbits, placing a small fan next to them or a bottle of frozen water in the cage can help keep them cool, Hoggan said.

Time your rides

Especially in cities, where hot sidewalks and asphalt can burn and blister your paws, try to avoid the midday heat spike. Set your alarm clock and walk your dog early in the morning, following the shadiest route possible. Or, prefer to take the tour at dusk.

You might also consider purchasing booties to protect your paws, said Lori Teller, new president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Make sure you don’t over-exercise your dog and take frequent breaks and don’t forget to bring water.

Another important point is not to leave the pet alone in the car, even for a few minutes.

Hundreds of animals die of heat exhaustion every year after being left in parked vehicles. It doesn’t matter if you open the windows or park the car in the shade. The interior of a vehicle can still reach nearly 50°C in a matter of minutes, said Katie Wilkes, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross.

“Every year we say it, and every year people forget,” Klein said.

Find out which animals are most at risk.

An animal that is very old, very young or has underlying health issues is at greater risk for heat stroke and exhaustion when temperatures rise, Hoggan said. Dog and cat breeds with thicker coats, such as huskies, golden retrievers, and Siberian cats, are also at greater risk.

Animals with shorter snouts and “squeezed” or flattened faces — such as pugs, English and French bulldogs, Boston terriers, Persian and Himalayan cats — are extremely susceptible to heat, Teller said.

These pets cannot pant as effectively and therefore may have difficulty regulating their temperatures. Make sure they spend as little time outside as possible, she advised.

Know the signs of overheating

If your pet is panting excessively, has thick, sticky saliva, is acting lethargic, is vomiting, or has diarrhea, seek help immediately.

In dogs, signs of heatstroke also include a dark red tongue and orange gums. For cats, open mouth breathing can indicate that they are too hot.

Animals with heat exhaustion or heat stroke can also be confused, Teller said. Dogs and cats may not respond to your names or simple commands. Some also stagger. “They may appear not to be fully awake,” she said.

Don’t delay taking care of your pet if he shows these signs. Dampen towels with cold water – not icy water, which can cause blood vessels to constrict – and wrap them around your pet.

You can also buy cooling vests at pet stores, Teller said. Take your pet to a veterinarian or veterinary hospital as soon as possible.

“You don’t want to make a mistake that could cost your best friend his life,” Wilkes said.

Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves

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