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Your Happy Pet: Keep your pet cool in hot weather

Original Publication Date: April 21, 2014
By C. Sue Furman, Ph.D.

It may feel like spring has just arrived, but temperatures are already in the 80s.

That means it is time to start thinking about summer safety tips for your pets because they can become overheated and dehydrated very quickly during the warm-weather months.

Water makes up 80 percent of your dog's body and is essential to maintain a proper amount of circulating blood to supply tissues with oxygen. Dehydration or inadequate levels of water in the body leads to an abnormally low total volume of circulating blood, so tissues are deprived of adequate oxygen.

The loss of water also involves the depletion of potassium, sodium and chloride. Imbalance of these and other electrolytes can disrupt the normal function of virtually every bodily organ.

The general symptoms of dehydration in pets include sunken eyes, lethargy, loss of appetite, dry mouth and depression. You can assess hydration in your dog or cat by lifting the skin over his shoulder, releasing it and watching how fast it goes back to its normal position. In a healthy animal, the skin will pop back to its normal position immediately.

There will be a definite time delay if your pet has lost 6 to 8 percent of his normal fluid. The skin will remain in a tent-like position if it is 10 to 12 percent dehydrated.

Dehydration can be fatal, so take your pet to your veterinarian immediately if the condition is even suspected.

Some simple precautions will safeguard your pet against overheating and dehydration.

Plenty of fresh, clean water should always be available. Pets also need a shady area to escape the direct rays of the sun and should be kept indoors when temperatures soar into the 90s and above.

Like you, your pet needs exercise even in the summer, but too much exercise can become uncomfortable for both of you. It is a good idea to limit the length of time for romps in the park, games of fetch and walks. Early-morning or late-evening temperatures are usually better suited for outside activities.

Does your dog love to go along when you run errands? Having company is great, but only let them accompany you if they are welcome to go inside at your destination. Never leave any animal - dog, cat, rabbit, whatever - alone in a parked car.

Quickly rising temperatures can be fatal. A daytime temperature of 85 degrees may not seem too hot to you; however, the temperature inside a car, even with the windows cracked open, can reach 102 degrees in 10 minutes.

After 30 minutes, the temperature will climb to 120 degrees. It is much better to leave your pet at home than risk losing it.

Overheating and dehydration are serious summertime threats to the health of your pet. Be sure to provide plenty of fresh, clean water, shade or a cool spot inside, limit strenuous outdoor activities to early-morning or late-evening hours and never leave your pet alone in a car.

A few precautions can keep your pet healthy during the hot summer months.

Sue Furman, Ph.D, has published two books and a DVD on canine massage and teaches classes in pet massage, acupressure, first aid and CPR. See her schedule and submit questions at