By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
As the temperature continues to climb throughout our famously hot southern summers, we need to not only think of ways to keep ourselves comfortable, but also our pets. While people complain about the heat, dogs and cats have much more to complain about! While heat is an issue for all animals, senior pets are much more sensitive to the heat and extract precautions need to be taken to keep them cool. With aging animals, that are not as able to handle warmer weather, days where the temperature is only in the low 80s heat still poses a threat. On those more mild summer days younger animals and most people are happy for the break from the heat, but it is still hot enough to negatively affect our geriatric dogs.
As humans we can always do things to avoid getting too hot. We can always adjust what we are wearing or just stay in the refreshing air condition until it cools down. This makes the risk of humans overheating very small. However, as owners it is our duty to ensure our senior pets can also avoid the heat. Animals depend on us to keep them comfortable and healthy. If we do not protect our senior pets from the heat, the risk of overheating is tremendous since our pets are helpless to do very much to get cool on their own. That is why it is so important to educate ourselves of potential heat risks and what we need to do to protect our senior pets from the summer heat.
When trying to best accommodate our aging pets and keep them safe from the summer heat adjustments are necessary. The best way to ensure the safety of your pet is to keep him inside the house, in the safety of the air conditioner and plenty of cool water to drink. You should make a grooming appointment before the temperatures start to climb to get your pet totally shaved down and keep up with this grooming as needed (wearing a “fur coat” in the summer heat is bad enough, so eliminating as much hair as possible is vital), brush your pet one to two times a day to continue to decrease thickness of fur (I recommend the Furminator), and only go on walks in the early mornings or evenings making sure to avoid the pavement.
Do not worry at all about upsetting your aging pets’ routine by changing when you walk. You do not want to stop going for walks because the walking is an important way to keep dogs stimulated, avoid becoming overweight (or help to lose weight which will help decrease the risks that come with high temperatures), and improve overall health, especially when it comes to heart health. Walking when it is cooler helps senior pets to not overheat since the outside temperature is cooler, but avoiding the pavement is just as important, despite what the outside temperature is, in order to avoid contact burns on the pads of the paws (the pavement holds heat well and will always be a potential hazard). If you must walk at another time, make sure that you walk on grass to protect the pads since the pads are one of two ways that an animal can help cool themselves. Wherever you and your older dog plan to go, always have a collapsible water bowl with you so you can offer water frequently.
It is never safe to leave your pet in the car for any length of time regardless of his age, but especially not with our senior dogs. Temperatures inside parked cars can quickly rise to over 100 degrees causing serious, often fatal, consequences. As stated earlier, senior dogs should stay in the house at all times since they do not handle heat or cold well. This is the only way to ensure there is no risk from the summer heat. However, if you absolutely have to leave your senior dog outside during the hot months be aware you are taking a risk of causing health issues that could have severe, even fatal consequences, such as heat strokes, seizures, etc.
The best thing to do, if you know your senior pet will be facing the heat, is have a full physical exam and blood work done by your veterinarian to screen for any underlying diseases. Make sure that your pet is totally shaved down so there is no extra hair adding to the heat. There are precautions that should be taken for any age dog that is in the heat to decrease health risks. These include providing ample shelter in a cool place (a large dog house under a tree), placing a fan or small air conditioner that will blow on your pet throughout the day (the air conditioner/heater can be mounted in the dog house to help improve safety year-round), providing as much drinking water as possible with ice cubes replaced daily and placed in the shade, and providing a swimming pool filled with water that is out of the sun, with the water changed daily, that your pet can lay down in the water if he gets over-heated. It is important with our senior pets that the pool have very low sides so they can get into the pool easily even if they are suffering from arthritis. Also, it is important to have the water at a level where your dog can lay down and be covered in water without having to swim. These extra safety precautions with the pool are so important in our older animals because they are more likely to drown if the water is too high and are more likely not to be able to use the pool due to health issues than a younger animal.
The very best thing for our senior dogs is to stay in a climate controlled environment at all times because the consequences from over-heating are so severe and they just can’t handle the heat as well as they age. Pets do not sweat to cool themselves, so keep this in mind at all times when dealing with the summer heat. They can only pant and use the pads of their feet to stay cool, which is why a water source is so important. A pet can actually cause himself to become dehydrated from panting to try to cool off. Always remember we are happy to day-board your pet while you are not at home so that you do not have to leave him outside. Everyone at Elgin Veterinary Hospital will be sure to love on your baby while in daycare with us and we will keep him safe and sound!