How To Keep Pets Safe In The Summer Heat, According To Experts

Forbes June 5, 2024


How To Keep Pets Safe In The Summer Heat, According To Experts

Summertime may mean more outdoor adventures for your pets—think going on hikes or splashing around in the water—but that kind of fun can also be hard on them if you aren’t careful. Keeping your dogs, cats and small animals cool when the temperatures rise may seem like common knowledge for most pet owners, but signs of overheating also may not always be obvious—and you may not realize how much more sensitive your furry companions are to hot weather than you are. To help ensure they stay healthy and happy even during a heat wave, I consulted veterinarians and animal behaviorists for their top summer safety tips for pets.

Some breeds are more prone to heat-related stress than others, for instance, and products that provide protection against the elements (like paw balm or even doggie sunscreen) can be important to keep in mind during the summer. As someone with a brachycephalic dog, an American bully who gets winded once it’s more than 70 degrees outside, I’m particularly attuned to keeping him comfortable in warmer weather and making sure he doesn’t overheat. I also lived with indoor rabbits for about 15 years, and keeping them cool during New York City heat waves became second nature to me. Ahead, some expert-backed tips, tricks and products, along with advice from my firsthand experience, for a safe summer for all your pets.

Keep Your Pets Protected (And Hydrated) When They’re Outside

Short walks are key when you’re taking your pet out on a warm or hot day. While a dog’s propensity to tolerate heat depends on many factors, some may be at risk for heatstroke at temperatures as low as 70 degrees. And remember that even if the air temperature is in the 70s, pavement or asphalt can be much, much hotter.

“Cats and dogs don't sweat—aside from a very small amount between their toes—so they rely on panting for cooling,” says Dr. Rebecca Shumaker, a Connecticut-based veterinarian with Monarch Veterinary Services. “I typically recommend short walks in the early morning and after dusk…especially for the very young and very old, overweight pets and the brachycephalic breeds—for example, French bulldogs, English bulldogs, pugs,” who are more susceptible to heatstroke. If it isn’t possible to keep walks closer to dusk and dawn on hotter days, be mindful of walking your dog in the shade and on grass where you can, and always bring along some water (and a travel water bowl) for them, even if you’re just taking a short one. You can also try a cooling bandana, which works simply by wetting it and snapping it on your pup.

If you can’t avoid pavement during your walks, you might also want to consider a balm or booties (if they’ll tolerate wearing them) to protect your dog’s sensitive paw pads. “Rule of thumb for pavement: If you can't walk on it in bare feet, neither should they,” says Dr. Laura Greene, a North Carolina-based veterinarian with Merck Animal Health. “So if you put your hand down on the pavement or sidewalk and you can’t leave your hand there comfortably, there's the possibility that they're going to burn their feet.”

If your pet is spending more time in your yard, you want to make sure there aren’t any poisonous plants or flowers that they can access. (The ASPCA has a handy list of common plants and their toxicity to dogs, cats and horses.) And if your pup enjoys water, you might want to invest in a doggie pool, splash pad or sprinkler toy. That said, you never want to leave pets unsupervised around a human pool, and avoid letting them drink from it.

It’s also worth a reminder that you should never, under any circumstances, leave a pet in a car without air-conditioning unattended. “If you wouldn't sit in the car under those conditions, chances are your dog won't be able to either and will likely be even more sensitive,” says Dr. Greene. It’s also illegal in several states to keep your animals alone in a parked vehicle. Consider investing in a dog stroller if you’re looking for a convenient way to tote them from one place to another; strollers also provide a good respite if your pup gets tired during a walk on a scorching day.

And finally, summertime, as we all know, is often accompanied by celebratory fireworks. This may go without saying, but make sure your pets are never exposed to them. Lit fireworks can cause burns and injuries, and unlit ones may contain hazardous materials as well. Additionally, since the noise of fireworks can trigger a fear response in animals, it’s best to keep your pet indoors in a quiet place (with something like a fan or white noise machine running) where they can’t escape.

Consider Sunscreen For Your Dog

That’s right: If your pup is spending a significant amount of time lying in the sun, they can benefit from sunscreen just like you can. Make sure, however, that you use a sunscreen formulated specifically for dogs, since human sunscreen can contain zinc oxide or para-aminobenzoic acid (PABA), which are toxic to dogs. “It's not going to be something that's necessary for every dog,” says Dr. Greene, but if you have a short-coated breed or, of course, a hairless dog, “sunscreen is going to be an important thing to consider if your dog's going to be spending any real time outside.”

Because most dogs like to lie on their side when lounging in the sun, you want to apply it to their belly, groin and flank regions, which are the most likely places to get burned, along with the bridge of their nose and their ear tips. Ideally, you want to use SPF 30 (or more) and “leave it for 10 minutes without the dog licking it off,” advises Dr. Greene. That can be easier said than done, but that's really important. “And then reapply every three or four hours if they're going to be out there.” While dogs generally don’t tend to get sunburns like humans do, chronic sun exposure can lead to skin cancer just like it can in people. Dr. Greene also recommends looking into doggie rash guards for pups who like to sunbathe during a little part of the day.

Maintain A Comfortable Temperature Indoors

During the warmer months, you want to make sure the temperature is around 70 degrees (or even a little cooler) for optimum comfort and that your pets always have access to fresh water; staying hydrated during a heat wave is crucial. Cat water fountains can encourage your kitty to drink up, and having multiple bowls or fountains is also important if you have a multi-pet household. If you have a pet or breed who is particularly sensitive to heat (think flat-faced dogs and cats), consider a cooling mat, blanket or bed for them to lounge on inside. You can also give them freezable toys to help them stay cool if they’re exerting some energy playing.

Keeping the air conditioner running even when you’re not at home is ideal for all pets when it’s a scorcher outside, but particularly for rabbits. “Rabbits are more prone to heat-related illness than cats and dogs,” says Thea Harting, a New York-based rabbit behavior consultant. “Overheating can quickly kill rabbits, so vigilance and regular interaction are essential.” She suggests using a digital indoor thermometer to monitor the temperature in their space, and adds that senior rabbits (those over five years old) and those with limited mobility or underlying medical conditions are all at increased risk of overheating. Long-haired and lop breeds are at a higher risk, as well.

You can help ensure your indoor rabbits stay cool and comfortable by freezing 2-liter water bottles and putting them in their enclosures or living spaces to lean against. (I would always make sure to have a few extras in the freezer and rotate them out during the day.) Dr. Greene additionally suggests giving them a ceramic tile that they can use to lie on if they’d like to cool their bellies.

“Keeping the rabbits out of direct sun and providing plenty of ventilation with fans also helps,” adds Harting. And for those who keep their rabbits outdoors, she advises bringing them in once the temperature starts to rise. “There are too many hazards outside, including viruses and parasites that thrive in warmer weather.”

Be Aware Of The Symptoms Of Overheating

If you notice any signs that your pet might be overheating, it’s wise to call your vet immediately. These symptoms include excessive panting (“when you can tell that the primary thing that your dog is thinking about or concerned about is panting,” says Dr. Greene), restlessness and gums that are tacky or sticky to the touch as well as brick or dark red instead of pink. “If you are concerned that your dog is starting to overheat, number one first thing to do: shade and water,” says Dr. Greene. So bring them inside, get them on some tile or another cool surface that they can lie on, and blow a fan over them where possible.

If symptoms don’t improve, and if your pet seems wobbly, collapses onto their side, vomits or has diarrhea, it’s imperative to seek medical attention. What you don’t want to do is “place your pet in an ice bath, as this will cause their body temperature to drop too quickly,” adds Dr. Shumaker. “You can start by pouring cool water over your dog and give them a cold bowl of water to drink. But really, your best bet would be to soak a towel or two with cool water, lay it over your pet and get right to the closest veterinary hospital.” (And if the ride is long, you should change out the cool towels often to not trap more heat underneath.)

When it comes to rabbits, “seek emergency veterinary help if you see signs of lethargy, loss of appetite or rapid breathing,” says Harting.

Make Sure They’re Protected Against Fleas, Ticks And Heartworm

If you have cats or dogs, “regardless of where you live, flea and tick preventatives need to be administered year-round,” says Dr. Greene. “The reason for that is that both fleas and ticks are remarkable opportunists that find a number of ways to overwinter successfully either on your pet, if they are not actively on flea and tick preventatives, or in your home.” Ticks, Dr. Greene, explains, are actually happy to come out in daytime temperatures as low as 40 degrees. “That's particularly true of the blacklegged tick, which is one of the ticks that we worry about for transmitting Lyme disease,” she says. (Blacklegged ticks are also known as deer ticks.)

Even if you have an indoor-only cat, you’d be wise to make sure their flea and tick prevention is up to date as well—especially if you have a dog in the home, as they can expose cats to ticks and fleas. In fact, humans can, too: A flea can jump on you in passing, and then jump onto your cat—a host they’d much rather prefer to a human, since their fur provides a warmer environment and place to hide. (Technically, humans can’t host fleas, but they can be bitten by them.)

There are a variety of flea and tick preventatives, oral and topical alike, available for both cats and dogs—and many vets argue that the best choice is the one you remember to use regularly. “My personal feeling is that they haven't proven one type of product to be better than the other,” says Dr. Shumaker. “I think about it on a case-by-case basis. For example, I typically try to avoid topicals in homes with young toddlers since they will pet the animal and possibly put their hands in their mouth, which is not ideal.” Talk to your vet to figure out what’s best for your particular pet, of course, but some common oral vet-recommended products include Bravecto, Nexgard (both also available in topical formulas) and Simparica/Simparica Trio. And for topical products, Frontline Plus, Advantage/Advantix II and Vectra are some options.

Those with rabbits and other small pets, however, should not be treated with the same types of products. “Generally, indoor rabbits do not require preventative flea and tick treatment,” says Harting. “If rabbits have fleas, you can treat them with Selamectin, a prescription product from your vet.”

The last insect- or parasite-related condition you need to be concerned about is heartworm—and again, not just in the summer. Despite heartworm being a mosquito-transmitted disease, preventatives should be given to dogs and cats year-round, recommends the American Heartworm Society. I typically use Heartgard Plus for my dogs, but again, talk with your vet about what’s right for your pet; there are many preventatives to choose from.

We are Your GPS to Success Let’s Get Started

We Guide Homeowners through the complicated process of selling their home using our 4 Phase Selling Process and 3 Prong Marketing Strategy that alleviates their stress and moves them effortlessly to their next destination. Schedule a 15 Minute Complimentary Strategy Session Today

Follow Us On Instagram