Extreme heat and pets: How to keep your furry friends cool 

Click to play video: 'Keeping pets cool in the heat'
Keeping pets cool in the heat
WATCH: Keeping pets cool in the heat – Jul 30, 2022

Scorching temperatures have prompted Environment Canada to extend heat warnings across the country — and it’s not just humans feeling the heat.

Dogs, cats and other furry friends can easily overheat under the same circumstances that are unhealthy for their owners, according to veterinarians.

“Pets don’t have sweat glands in their body the way humans do,” Dr. Sarah Machell, Vetster medical director, told Global News’ Your Morning late last month.

“The only place that they have sweat glands is actually in the pads on their feet. And so to evaporate fluids, to help keep them cool, the only way they can do that is through those little paw pads or through panting.”

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Environment Canada’s broad heat warning — which forecasts maximum temperatures of the low 40s when combined with humidity — includes parts of southern Ontario, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia.

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Humans and their pets can expect temperatures to cool off on Monday night or Tuesday, but the heat is set to return to parts of Alberta on Wednesday.

Here’s how to tell if your pet is overheating — and what you can do to keep your companion cool.

How to tell if your pet is too hot

Pets are very good at hiding their distress, according to Machell — making it important for owners to be stay vigilant during high temperatures.

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Sign of heat-related discomfort include excessive panting or irregular behaviour. For example, if you say your pet’s name and they don’t stop panting to look at you or come over to you, that might be a sign they’re overheating, according to Dr. Shane Bateman, a professor in the Ontario Veterinary College’s department of clinical studies.

“You know your pet’s behaviour very well,” Bateman said.

“Can you see that their attention is really focused on panting, or just trying to cool themselves off? (If) they’re actively seeking cool areas and pulling you in those directions — those are warning signs for you.”

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If their tongues look very long and there’s lots of a drool, that can also be a sign that they’re overheating, he added. Their gums might also look quite red.

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More serious signs of heat-related issues are vomiting and diarrhea, according to Bateman.

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If your pet exhibits any of these symptoms, you’ll want to cool them off right away. Get them somewhere cool and offer them water. If you have air conditioning or a fan, turn it on, too.

You can also fill a bathtub with cool water — not ice-cold water, Bateman said — and fill it up to chest height while splashing your pet. The water evaporating off their bodies can help to quickly cool them down.

If your cooling methods don’t work within the first few minutes, he added, it’s time to call a vet and get professional help for your pet.

Preventative measures for pets

The best way to keep your pets safe on hot days is to prepare in advance for potential sweltering temperatures, according to some veterinarians.

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“The most important advice I would have is to plan ahead,” said Bateman.

Air conditioning is an excellent way to keep both humans and pets cool, he said. But if you don’t have air conditioning or can’t afford the cost of turning it on, there are other steps you can take to inoculate your home against the perils of hot days.

Owning a fan can be very helpful for cooling off your pets, Bateman said. There are also things you can pick up at the pet store or online for those extra hot days.

“There are some newer products on the market that can be frozen or cooled with water,” said Machell.

“They’re called cooling bandanas and cooling vests, and they can be really helpful for some pets.”

If you have a basement or a tile floor, Bateman added, those are both environments where your pet might be able to find some relief from the heat.

Making sure those “nice, cool tile floors” are accessible for your pets “to rest their non-furry bellies on” can be helpful, he said.

If your home isn’t a friendly place for an overheating animal, make sure you know where you can take them.

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Find out whether cooling centers or splash pads in your neighbourhood are pet-friendly, or look up the nearest pond or stream where your dog, cat or other furry friend could take a dip.

“Try and get them to parts of the region where they can get soaked and (where) there’s a nice breeze or fan blowing to help them get cool,” Bateman said.

“That evaporation that takes place when their fur is wet — that is the thing that helps the most, really, in trying to keep them cool.”

What can you do now?

While veterinarians recommend you prepare in advance to be able to keep your pet cool, the heat is already here — so here’s what you can do today to keep your pet healthy now.

It’s vital to keep fresh water accessible at all times, Machell said. You can use tricks like putting ice cubes in the water to make it “cooler” and “more appealing,” she added.

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It’s also a good idea to change up your daily routine if you tend to vigorously exercise your pet in the middle of the day.

“Really vigorous aerobic activity — that should absolutely be planned for the very early morning or the very late evening when the air is cooler,” Bateman said.

If you do take your dog on a walk, you’ll want to modify your route to make sure there’s water and shade nearby, he added, and stop for breaks so your pet can cool off. Even an animal’s normal walk can “push them over the edge” if it’s too hot outside, Bateman warned.

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He said you’ll also want to watch where you walk with your pet. If your route takes you over sidewalks, concrete, asphalt or other easily-heated surfaces, your animal’s paws could get hurt.

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“If we were to walk on our in our bare feet on those very hot surfaces, we would know how uncomfortable it can be for pets,” Machell said.

Stick instead to grass or dirt paths, she said, that don’t get as hot.

Finally, whatever you do, don’t leave your pet alone in a car — even if you have the air conditioning on, or won’t be gone for long, Machell said.

“Hopefully everyone at this point is clearly aware that dogs and cats — or any animal — and hot cars do not go together,” he said.

What species are at risk?

While dogs are “the species that are at highest risk” of heat-related health issues, Bateman warned that other animals — including farm animals, such as horses, could also face an elevated risk of getting ill during the heatwave.

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Owners of farm animals will want to ensure these species can access shade, water, and bodies of water they can walk into to cool off, he explained.

Similar to other pets, owners of farm animals will also want to keep an eye out for irregular behaviour.

Even wild animals can suffer in the heat, Bateman added. Deer or other wildlife will likely find a shady or cool spot to beat the heat.

If you startle them, Bateman warned, they might leave their safe resting location.

“You don’t want to disturb those animals,” he said.

— with files from The Canadian Press

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