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It’s been a brutal summer. In early July, the earth experienced what scientists believe to have been the hottest three days in modern human history. After massive Canadian wildfires poisoned the air in June, scorching heat waves in July broke records across the U.S. and the globe. About one-third of Americans were under heat wave warnings. According to CNN, El Paso, Texas, saw over 30 days of 100-plus degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, and Phoenix experienced a record 19 straight days of temperatures over 110 degrees. Unrelenting heat continues to sweep the country this week.
And such extreme temperatures seem to be the new normal. Due to the return of El Niño, a cyclical climate pattern associated with warmer sea surface temperatures in the Pacific, experts believe that next summer may be even hotter. Such high temperatures are dangerous not just for humans, but also for our pets.
“Just like people, cats and dogs can be at risk of heat exhaustion as well as heat strokes on hot days,” explains Dr. Amy Fox, a small animal veterinarian in New York City. Dr. Fox adds that symptoms of these conditions can include “everything from feeling uncomfortable to becoming disoriented, vomiting, and having more serious effects including seizures, multi-organ damage, and even death.”
Extreme heat can be especially dangerous for pets, Dr. Fox points out, because unlike humans, they can’t verbalize when they’re feeling overheated, and because they may not be able to cool themselves down right away if humans don’t provide them with a cool, covered space and water.
Below, some ways to keep your pets safe in this heat.
Limit their outdoor time.
The best and most effective way to keep your pets safe when it’s boiling out is to keep them inside. As Dr. Fox puts it, “this means indoors with a fan or air conditioner on as much as possible.” This goes for both cats and dogs, Dr. Fox says, especially those with underlying medical issues that put them at a higher risk of overheating, like being overweight, elderly or very young, brachycephalic (having a smushed face) or having respiratory problems.
If you care for outdoor cats, Fox says to make sure that they have access to cool spaces with plenty of fresh water.
When you do take your pet outside, make sure they’re protected.
For most dog owners, keeping your pup inside all day isn’t an option because they need to relieve themselves and to get some exercise. If going outside can’t be avoided, keep it brief, stay in the shade, have water on hand, and don’t take them out at the hottest times of the day.
“Even a short walk can cause heat stroke on a summer day,” says Dr. Rachel Warnes of the Oregon Humane Society. If you have a dog who has a lot of energy to burn, Dr. Warnes recommends “short, frequent walks and also walking early in the morning or in the evening.” If you’re in a city and your dog has to walk across hot, rough surfaces like pavement or sand that can damage your pup’s paw pads, Dr. Fox suggests protecting their feet with booties and/or paw balms (though it’s important to note that paw balms require multiple applications before they start to take effect.) Sunscreen can also be useful, especially for dogs with short coats, but it’s important to check that the sunscreen doesn’t contain zinc oxide (desitin) or salicylates (aspirin), both of which can be toxic to dogs if they’re licked off and ingested in large amounts.
To take their cooling up a notch, you can stock up on gear like cooling vests or bandanas, which cool your dog by evaporation (just like how human sweating works), and cooling mats and freezable toys to help bring their temperature down when they get back home.
Keep an eye out for signs of overheating.
Though ideally one’s pet would not get overheated in the first place, it’s important that pet parents be able to recognize the signs of overheating in animals, because the sooner overheating is recognized, the sooner it can be treated.
“Any dog that is panting heavily, restless, laying down and/or reluctant to continue on a walk should be moved to a cool space immediately and offered cool water,” says Dr. Fox. More severe symptoms to watch out for include disorientation, vomiting, unresponsiveness, having a temperature greater than 104 degrees, and seizures. If these happen, take your dog to the vet immediately.
Fox adds that no pets should be left alone in a car during periods of extreme heat. “Even on days that don’t feel as hot to us, a car can heat up very quickly and sadly this can be deadly for dogs and cats.”
Know how to cool them down.
If your dog does show early signs of overheating, the best thing to do is to get them out of the heat and into a cool space with cool water. If they continue to pant, you can speed up the cooling process by wetting them down with cool water and aiming a fan at them.
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Madeleine Aggeler is a freelance journalist and copywriter in Washington, D.C. Previously, she was a writer at New York magazine’s The Cut. She lives with her dog, Cleo, who works primarily as a foot warmer.