Protect pets during the dog days of summer

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Texas A&M AgriLife experts share considerations for summer heat safety.

With the sweltering dog days of summer fast approaching, Texas A&M AgriLife experts encourage Texans to incorporate precautions to protect pets from heat stress.

“Much of the advice we give pet owners is common sense, but there are definitely special considerations depending on the animal’s age and breed, as well as the activity you are engaged in,” said Catherine Campbell, DVM, veterinary diagnostician with the Texas A&M Veterinary Medical Diagnostic Laboratory, Bryan-College Station.

Water, shade and ventilation are key

Proper hydration is vital for animal health, but it is just one component of ensuring proper thermoregulation.

“Access to cool, clean water is critical, but it is also imperative that they are given shade with adequate airflow,” Campbell said. “This can be provided by trees or a structure like a patio, but I don’t recommend a confined doghouse as that environment can become stagnant.”

The same principles also apply to livestock animals that may be confined to a structure, such as backyard chickens.

“I’ve actually assembled a water misting system in my chicken run that comes on during the hottest parts of the day,” Campbell said. “It significantly drops the temperature, and the chickens love it.”

Another backyard-friendly option is to use the shallow, hard plastic children’s pools sold at retail stores. Campbell said these are a great option for dogs as long as they can safely exit the water. Frozen plastic jugs of water that an animal can lie against also provide relief.

Limit pet activity based on temperature

While exercise is important for pet health, Campbell recommends avoiding strenuous activities during the heat of the day.

“Limit walking pets to the early morning or late evening hours,” Campbell said.

In urban areas that contain more pavement, ambient temperature isn’t the only concern.

“Pavement and blacktop can easily be 30 or more degrees hotter than the surrounding air temperature,” she said. “Paws exposed to hot concrete or asphalt can easily burn.”

One way to test pavement for heat safety is to place the back of your hand on the surface for 7-10 seconds. If the pavement temperature is uncomfortable or too hot for your skin, it is too hot for your pet.

Although owners can purchase protective shoe-like covers to protect paws, Campbell recommends leaving pets at home if attending events where this exposure is possible, such as summer festivals.

Needs vary based on age, breed

Even in the safety of a backyard, some pets require extra consideration.

“Heat index and humidity are a special concern, especially with older pets, those with heart conditions or brachycephalic breeds,” Campbell said.

Brachycephalic animals are characterized by wide heads and shortened or snub-nosed snouts. This includes popular dog breeds such as French bulldogs, English bulldogs and Boston terriers, as well as cat breeds like Persian and Himalayan.

“These animals are not able to tolerate heat very well,” Campbell said. “They have a very shortened airway, small tracheas, and they cannot adequately transfer air to drop their body temperature.”

Humid conditions can exacerbate this difficulty breathing.

“They are very susceptible to heat stress and heat stroke, even with temperatures in the upper 80s,” she said. “You’re better off leaving them inside of your house when possible.”

Recognizing the signs of distress

Campbell said while heavy breathing is a normal response among dogs and cats attempting to cool off, excessive and prolonged panting is a certain sign of stress.

“A very rapid respiratory rate, rapid heart rate, staggering or drooling are definite signs that your pet is very distressed and requires attention,” Campbell said. “Immediately take them indoors or in the shade, provide water and try to keep them calm and still.”

If the animal’s condition does not improve or deteriorates, seek medical attention from a veterinarian.

Cyanobacteria awareness

Although natural waterbodies provide respite from heat for both animals and humans, fatal cases of cyanobacteria exposure among dogs have caused many pet owners to think twice before allowing their pets to take the plunge.

Brittany Chesser, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service aquatic vegetation management program specialist and lead diagnostic scientist at AgriLife Extension’s Aquatic Diagnostics Laboratory, said while the presence of bright green or blue mats is an indication of cyanobacteria presence, it should not be the only characteristic pet or livestock owners look for when assessing a waterbody.

“Cyanobacteria can appear in many shades, including purple or red,” she said. “Depending on species, they may exhibit as different colors, an oily sheen on the water, or have no color at all.”

Aside from color, the presence of dead or dying aquatic organisms such as fish, frogs or turtles should raise concern.

“You may see fish die off in a localized area of more shallow, stagnant waters,” Chesser said. “That could be an indicator that a bloom may be present.”

Chesser and Campbell said while they don’t want to impart unnecessary fear regarding the possible presence of cyanobacteria, sickness and mortality can occur in pets and livestock, so it is best to be aware of potential indicators or news reports of blooms in your area.

“It’s important to remain mindful of your pets as well as potential environmental dangers wherever you go this summer,” Campbell said. “Pay attention to the signs your pet is giving you, use common sense and seek medical assistance for your animal when needed.”

Pet safety tips

  • Pet-friendly sunblock, ultraviolet protective clothing and life vests help prevent sun damage and drowning when on the water.
  • Secure home pools to prevent pets from accidentally falling in.
  • Proper brushing and grooming improves coat condition cooling efficiency.

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