Extreme heat often means increased demand for emergency medical services. This goes for animals, too.
When the temperature creeps upward, the field operations team at the Arizona Humane Society in Phoenix receives call after call about dogs and cats (but mostly dogs) left outside or in other unsafe conditions. On a recent Monday, the six-person team began the day with 55 non-emergency calls to investigate, left over from the day before. That’s nearly twice the usual number of calls than in cooler months.
The calls are mostly from residents reporting dogs found without water, without shelter, or tethered by a rope or leash to a fixed object or structure, which is illegal in the state’s major cities when the temperature hits 100 degrees, said Director of Field Operations Tracey Miiller. “People think it’s okay to still take their dog for a walk in the middle of the day, and it really isn’t,” she says of Phoenix’s the 110-degree heat.
As the highest temperatures of the summer spread across the country, rescue organizations and shelters nationwide are taking precautions to protect the animals they house and help those they don’t. For a stray cat or dog, a heat wave can turn even stable conditions deadly. For those we keep as pets, understanding the risks that heat poses can help minimize risk and prevent overloading already-stressed response teams.
The consequences of hotter summers are evident in the death rates of animals, says Miiller. It used to be rare that a domestic animal would be killed by heat, but in the two-and-a-half month period from May 1 to July 12 this year, her team has found seven, up from three in the same period last year. Most of these deaths aren’t pets that were mistreated intentionally, and the increase is a good reminder of how quickly something can go wrong when it’s hot.
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Know the signs
Most pets, even indoor/outdoor cats, can easily be kept inside on hotter days. But for others—primarily dogs—that’s not an option. Though heat can be just as dangerous for dogs as humans, “I don’t know that people always recognize the signs of heat stress in dogs,” says Miiller.
Lauree Simmons, the founder and president of Big Dog Ranch, a no-kill rescue shelter with locations in Florida and Alabama, agrees. “Dogs can easily become overheated within 10 minutes,” she says, “especially the short-nosed dogs, like boxers, bulldogs, and French bulldogs.” Early signs of heat exhaustion in dogs include redness around the eyes and darkening of the gums and tongue, often to a deep dark red or purple (gums that are too pale, however, can also be a sign of heat exhaustion). Excessive salivating or panting is another key sign.
Most importantly, Simmons and Miiller say, never ever leave animals other than livestock unattended outdoors or in a vehicle in the summer (or ever, ideally). “We recently had a gecko that died in the front seat of a U-Haul truck because of the heat,” Miiller says. When it’s hot out, “normally people just think of dogs and cats, but all animals, even reptiles who love the heat, can only take so much.”
Change your walk routine
Walks should stay on the shorter side while it’s hot out—at Big Dog Ranch, outdoor play and walks are limited to 15 minutes at a time during a heat wave. As important, says Simmons, is the time of day. “It’s not a good time to go out and play ball or frisbee in the middle of the day,” while the sun is at its hottest,” she says. If it’s too hot for you to walk around comfortably, your dog is probably having a hard time too.
If you live in a city without grass to stroll on, consider investing in booties to protect the pads of your dog’s paws. Common sense should be able to tell you if the pavement is too hot, says Joe Elmore, president and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society in South Carolina. Though it may sound silly, “if you take your shoes off and put your bare foot on the pavement, if it’s hot to you, it’s hot to the dog.”
Put out plenty of water
At shelters and rescues, dogs have ready access to water for splashing and swimming. “We have plastic pools all over the place,” says Elmore. “Whenever the animals are outside, we have those available to them.” Volunteers and staff regularly refill the pools with cool water and even ice, ensuring that resident dogs always have an easy way to cool down during play. A hose, a sprinkler, or even some buckets can do a great job of providing the same relief during playtime. At Elmore’s home, where he has a swimming pool in his backyard, his own dog is allowed more extended time outside in heat for the same reason—it’s all about providing tools that can put the animals in control of their own temperature regulation. “He uses the pool a hell of a lot more than I do,” Elmore says of his dog Boo, a Great Pyrenees and Golden Retriever mix. “Sometimes I feel like he’s expecting me to bring him a cocktail.”
But as with humans, drinking water is the most important solution for animals fighting the heat. It’s also the easiest resource to provide for pets and strays in your area. Keep plenty of cool water available for pets while outside, and if you have animals that hang around your neighborhood, consider putting out bowls for them—particularly plastic ones. “If you’re giving them water in metal bowls out in the sun, that metal is going to heat up just like if it were on a stovetop,” says Elmore.
“If you can do multiple water bowls, that’s even better,” he adds. If you have cats in your neighborhood, be sure to also put the bowls in shady, tucked away places where they’ll feel comfortable sitting to drink.
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