Q:Can you give me some advice on the dangers of heat as it pertains to my pets. I have a dog and cat plus an 8 year old rabbit that we keep in a hutch outside. What can I do to keep them safe during the hot summer months?
A:The heat of the summer can have devastating effects, not only on dogs and cats, but also on small pocket pets such as rabbits, gerbils and hamsters. The heat that exists during the summer months is much more detrimental to our companion animals than it is to us humans. Heat can cause pets to become dehydrated, overheated (hyperthermia), and even sunburn. The temperature inside a car can raise 20 degrees in less than 10 /15 minutes, even if the windows are cracked and the car is parked in the shade. Signs of heat exhaustion include panting, increased heart rate, lethargy, dark, red gums, hyperventilation (increased respirations), increased body temperature, .and anxiety. Some pet’s exhibit anxiety by pacing, sometimes back and forth across the back seat of the car, others will repetitively stand from a lying position and walk a few steps then quickly sit down again. Some pets may salivate or show signs of wetness around their muzzle. If your dog or cat is home it would be helpful to get an accurate body temperature measurement. This can be done with relative ease and minimal discomfort to your pet. It is easier if a second person can help by petting the animal and helping restrain while you insert the thermometer. A digital thermometer is the easiest since it will beep when finished and you only need to insert the very tip of it into the rectum. Vaseline helps the instrument slide in easily. If you are using a rectal thermometer shake it down below 98.6 degrees first, place some lubricant on the end, raise your pet’s tail to visualize the anal opening and gently slide it in about ¼ to ½ inch. Wait two minutes and then take the reading. The general normal body temperature for dogs and cats is between 100 and 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Any pet over 103 degrees should be taken to the veterinarian immediately. Older pets, overweight pets, short-nosed pets (Lhasa Apsos, Shih Tzus, Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, for example), and pets with heart or lung disease are particularly sensitive to the heat of summer. Black dogs are at higher risk as well because their black fur absorbs the heat more readily. These animals should be kept indoors in a cool and preferably air-conditioned home. Long walks outside should be avoided. Minimize outside exposure to brief periods necessary to do their “business.”
Many pet owners like to take their dogs to the beach, lake or swimming pool to cool off. This is fine under certain circumstances. Most dogs can swim but not for long periods of time. Never leave your pet unattended in any body of water. They can become exhausted and drown. Make sure your pet has a floatation device on, especially if out on a boat. Accidents can happen at any time and it is best to be prepared. Do not allow your pet to drink pool water. It contains chemicals like chlorine which can be harmful. Drinking from a lake, pond or river can very easily result in diarrhea and dehydration.
Rabbits are especially sensitive to the heat, particularly the heavily furred breeds and overweight ones. Temperatures above 80 degrees and 70 % humidity can easily cause heat stroke in bunnies. Signs of heat stroke in rabbits are panting, salivation, wetness around the muzzle, weakness, refusal to move, reddened ears, delirium, convulsions and death. If you notice any of these signs apply cool running water to the ear flaps, gently spray their body with cool water and get to the veterinarian immediately. Bunnies that are kept in hutches outdoors are at much higher risk. These pets should always have an area of shade and good ventilation to retreat to if they become uncomfortable. A light fan blowing over a chunk of ice in the direction of the hutch is a great way to provide a cool area. Many rabbit owners I know will freeze water in a Tupperware container, remove it and place the ice block in the hutch to provide some relief from the heat.
Contrary to popular belief, pets with heat stroke should not be placed in ice water baths. This action causes the blood vessels to constrict which decreases blood flow to the skin. It is best to spray the pet with cool water and place them in front of a fan, then call your veterinarian immediately. At body temperatures of 105 degrees brain damage occurs, at temperatures above 109 degrees severe organ damage occurs and frequently death. Preventative measures are best taken by keeping alert to weather conditions and acting appropriately to keep your pets safe.