We're in the midst of it the hottest, muggiest weather of the year.
As we take care of ourselves by staying in our air-conditioned homes, we must not forget that our pets need us to also provide for their needs. Unfortunately, heat can become life-threatening to pets if they are left in vulnerable situations.
Pets need three elements in order to brave the heat: air, water and shade. That sounds simple, but let's examine what these elements specifically mean.
Pets need air circulating to breathe. That means absolutely no time in a parked car without air conditioning. That means no time closed up in a garage or attic. These environmental temperatures may exceed 150 degrees on peak summer days.
Veterinarians have treated seemingly helpless heat stroke victims while upset owners observe in disbelief that the exposure happened.
Water should be a common sense item. We all know that our bodies require additional water during the summer heat, and so do our pets. Dehydration is a common problem when either too much fluid is lost out of the body, or not enough water is available to replenish the water lost from the body.
Healthy animals tend to seek in order to find water sources, but as dehydration and weakness set in, they are less able to go and find it. Therefore, caretakers must provide a readily available water source at all times.
The third item is shade. Once again, this is shade with air circulation. An enclosed fixture with a roof, walls and a locked door with no moving air will not do.
Pets must have either a climate-controlled environment or a shady spot outdoors in order to qualify for what is shade.
More than a few times, I have treated pets in shock or received them dead on arrival after they have been tied to a tree or attached to a fence, with an owner shocked to find them dead or near death on a late summer afternoon.
Even those treatable from heat stroke (those beyond heat exhaustion) may still have permanent brain damage due to their body temperature exceeding 110 degrees.
Shade must be available for a pet to keep safe in our summer months.
Panting is the first defense of both dogs and cats when they are overheated. They need all three elements spoken of here to cool their bodies once panting is noted in a hot environment.
Along with fresh air and shade, offer pets water when they are panting to cool them as soon as possible. Water consumed internally is immediately beneficial, as is a cool water bath of the body as well. Contrary to humans, dogs and cats have no sweat glands throughout their skin to allow for perspiration (except for around the paws). Therefore, it is up to us to recognize their thermoregulatory needs and address them.
As for further medical assistance, consult your veterinarian if you note your pet acting despondent, weak or overheated to an extreme degree. Prompt attention and care by pet owners can be lifesaving.
Chris Duke is a veterinarian at Bienville Animal Medical Center in Ocean Springs, Miss.