Protect Your Pet from Summer Heat and Fourth of July Fireworks

by Bruce W. Little, DVM


Summer has arrived early this year in many parts of the country, especially the west and southwest where temperatures have set daily records in excess of 100 degrees F. Summer brings with it many issues that must be taken into consideration with regard to the family pets. Both dogs and cats are vulnerable to many things that come with the summer heat. As pets welcome the warm weather with more frequent trips outside where summertime insects and parasites dwell, they are exposed to increasing numbers of fleas, ticks, mosquitos, flies, mites and other insects that not only cause skin irritations and allergies, but can serve as vectors that carry disease to both the pets and their human family members. Keep your pets protected against these parasites by using flea and tick preventatives or repellents. These products can be purchased through your veterinarian and serve you well as prevention is much more effective and less expensive than treating the condition once it takes over.

Pet owners should be advised to never, ever leave their pets in parked cars during any season, but especially during the summer months. The temperature inside a car rises exponentially and can increase by dozens of degrees Fahrenheit in less than an hour. Do not leave your pets in the car! The most common finding for animals left in a hot car is heat stroke. The signs of heat stroke in dogs can include panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst and fever, lack of coordination, vomiting, seizure and unconsciousness. Heat stroke constitutes an emergency for the dog, and it should be placed in cool water and given small amounts of water to drink, and as quickly as the dog is stabilized taken to an emergency animal hospital for veterinary care. It has become customary for people who see a dog or cat confined inside a car during the hot summer months to call police or to break into the car to give the pet relief from its heated confinement. In New York State a bill has recently been introduced into the Legislature to make it legal for a Good Samaritan to break the window of a closed and locked car to remove a pet from danger. I suspect this trend to cross the country in the near future.

Hot concrete and asphalt can burn the pads on the feet of your pet. Before you take your dog for a walk, place your hand on the concrete or asphalt surface. If it is too hot for your hand, then it is too hot for your dog to walk on. Seek out grass in your own yard or at the dog park for your dog to attend to its Mother Nature duties. Be sure to pick up after he does his duty! Try to pick the coolest time of the day to take the dog for a walk or let him out into a closed yard. You can buy booties for dog’s feet, many with rubber knobs on the soles that imitate the pet’s own paws at most pet supply and outdoor stores. It may take some time to get the dog accustomed to the booties so that he will not attempt to remove them by pulling on them with his teeth. Practice that at home in the controlled environment before venturing outside together. Check your dog’s paws frequently while outside to ensure there is no damage from crossing superheated surfaces. While outside, supply ample fresh water for your pet by dumping any leftover water in the bowl and adding fresh water. Never fill the dog’s water bowl with the first water out of a garden hose. Let the water run for a few minutes to pass all the heated water out of the hose before putting it in the dog’s bowl. It is very important that dogs and cats maintain adequate hydration during these times in the excessive heat. Apply sunscreen to the muzzle and any other bare spots where the hair does not cover the skin. Exposed dog skin will burn in the sun much the same as it does in humans.

Cats pose a slightly different need for care in the heat. Yes, they will find shaded and the coolest place possible to hide out during the heat of the day; however, they can sunburn as well so place sunscreen on bare spots on their exposed parts as well. Create a cool retreat by moving the cat’s bed into a dark and secluded spot so they can keep calm. When cats are running around and stressed out they seem to get hotter. Keep them cool by letting them relax and sleep in a quiet place. If it is especially hot in the cat’s favorite hanging out space, put chilled or cold water dampened towels in his bed to cool his body. Rub cold water on the tips of his ears and paws to help dissipate heat in his body by cooling the blood in the veins and arteries that pass through the ears and paws thus cooling down the organs as this chilled blood passes through them.

In general, take the same precautions with your pet during spells of intense heat as you do with other family members. Stay in the shade and keep as cool as possible. It might mean the difference between a good day and a trip to the animal emergency clinic.

Each year at this time, dogs and cats are faced with a barrage of fireworks, both of the loud booms and flashes variety that are orchestrated by municipal government programs, and the lesser nuisance fireworks of the neighborhood pyrotechnics shooting off cherry bombs and those that make hissing as well as booming sounds. Although many dogs and cats are not bothered by these tributes to American Independence, an increasing number of pets become anxious or even terrified during these celebrations. For those dogs and cats that suffer mild anxiety, it is sufficient many times to simply place them in a quiet, darkened room with the blinds drawn to keep out the flashes of light, while playing music on a stereo or loud activities on the television. This level of entertainment may not pacify all dogs, although cats will usually rest comfortably through most fireworks displays if they are distracted by the music. For those dogs that insist on raising their levels of anxiety regardless of the precautions of a dark room and music playing, you can purchase several products at most pet stores that may help in your pet’s individual case. A Thundershirt that fits over the dog’s body or a Calming Cap that fits over their head can be purchased and helps in many cases. There are various calming sprays and hormone solutions that may lessen the fear in these situations.

In cases where dogs exhibit severe anxiety and fear during fireworks displays, it may be necessary for you to consult your veterinarian for recommended remedies to that specific dog’s fear. Remember that dogs hear with a much greater efficiency than humans and what sounds loud to us may be magnified multiple times through the dog’s ears. For this reason, ear plugs may have limited effect on calming the dog. A very good source for a training guide can be found at dogsandfireworks.com. A free training guide and MP3 recording of the sounds and sights of a fireworks display can be downloaded to use on a frequent basis to train the dog to the sounds and acclimate him to those loud and flashing, although harmless sounds. These training sessions should be initiated long before the Fourth of July celebration begins in order to gain a measure of success.

The above tips may or may not help your dog or cat in your personal circumstance. If that is the case, consult your veterinarian about the use of antianxiety drugs that are available for use. There are a variety of drugs that are tailored to prevent various degrees of anxiety including tranquillizers and herbal medicines. Your veterinarian will be able to determine which drug is best suited to your dog or cat’s condition.

It is never a good idea to leave your dog at home by himself during the fireworks display if he shows severe fear and anxiety during these times. If fear overtakes them, they will many times go to great lengths to escape their lodging and run away, either by jumping fences or chewing out of enclosures. It is best to have a sitter with them to help calm them down. And, always make sure your pets have microchips in case they do escape their enclosure and run away. Microchips work when looking for a lost dog or cat. Talk to your veterinarian to learn more about microchips if you have not already done so.

Have a fun, exciting and safe summer! The entire family will appreciate it.

Thanks for reading, and be sure to check back for more articles from Bruce W. Little, DVM on Veterinarians.com, and follow him on Twitter @DrBruceLittle!