Heat and humidity are nothing new here in southwest Florida, yet every year the Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team and surrounding veterinary practices care for countless pets suffering from heat-related emergencies. 

Why is heat such a danger for pets? Why is it so frequently underestimated? What must pet owners do to ensure a safe and comfortable summer with their four-legged companions? Find out in this heat safety guide from your trusted Animal Medical Hospital of Naples veterinary care team. 

Hot topic: Why is heat so dangerous for pets?

Sweating isn’t usually something to brag about, but humans have an impressive advantage when it comes to cooling off. Unlike people, pets have sweat glands (i.e., merocrine glands) only in their paw pads, which provide minimal cooling benefits. Instead, our fur-clad dogs and cats rely on panting, another form of evaporative cooling, to regulate their body temperature.

As inhaled air rapidly moves across your pet’s tongue, gums, airway, and lungs, the existing moisture evaporates, which cools the air, the tissue surface, and the blood vessels beneath. Although panting is generally efficient, high outdoor temperatures and humidity can block evaporative cooling. When the pet’s body cannot keep up with the heat, internal temperatures rise and life-threatening hyperthermia and heatstroke can result.

Heat index: Increased risk factors for pets

All pets are susceptible to heat-related injury or death, but some criteria put pets at higher risk. These criteria include:

  • Age — Puppies, kittens, and senior pets are less able to regulate their body temperature and can quickly succumb to heat-related injury.
  • Health — Heart, respiratory, and hormone-related conditions reduce a pet’s ability to cool themselves.
  • Obesity — Excess fat tissue acts as insulation and traps heat.
  • Breed — Brachycephalic (i.e., flat-faced) dogs and cats have a narrow airway and shortened muzzle that reduce airflow and cooling ability.
  • Grooming — Although a healthy hair coat can aid in temperature regulation, matted hair and a dense undercoat can trap heat. Ask your groomer to trim your pet’s leg hair or abdomen and to perform a deshedding treatment.
  • Enclosed spaces and poor ventilation — Unventilated shelters (e.g., garages, sheds) and parked vehicles can act like greenhouses and rapidly reach dangerously high temperatures. 

Heat warning: How to recognize a pet in heat distress

Although heat safety precautions should limit your pet’s risk for heat-related emergencies, knowing how to recognize heat distress could save your pet, or someone else’s, should the unthinkable occur.

Heatstroke warning signs in pets can progress quickly, so you must immediately remove the pet to a cooler location. Signs, from mild to severe, include:

  • Excessive panting
  • High heart or respiratory rate
  • Drooling
  • Unusual gum or tongue color (e.g., brick red, blue, purple, grey)
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Mental dullness or confusion
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse
  • Seizures
  • Unresponsiveness

Transport comatose or seizing pets to the nearest veterinary emergency center. If your pet is responsive, wet them down with cool or tepid water or wet towels applied to the abdomen, chest, and head. Contact Animal Medical Hospital of Naples for further instructions. 

Chill out: Help your pet beat the heat no matter where summer takes you

Naples residents know you can’t always hide from the heat, but you can outsmart the hot sun and stay safe with thoughtful planning and preparation.

Here are some tips from our experts on helping your pet stay cool this summer:

  • Around the house — Your home is your pet’s sanctuary from the sizzle, so ensure they will be comfortable and content in their area. Provide a cool but supportive resting place (e.g., cool mat, mesh cot), fun indoor activities (e.g., puzzle toys, enrichment games for exercise), and unlimited fresh water. Ask your groomer to remove your pet’s dead undercoat or to trim your pet’s hair to increase airflow to the skin.
  • On the road — Car travel is a summer rite-of-passage for many families. If your pet is tagging along, ensure you pack plenty of water and let them drink at each rest stop. Ensure your pet’s crate or car seat is adequately ventilated and block the sun’s warm rays with a window shade. Never leave your pet in a parked vehicle, no matter how briefly you’ll be gone. 
  • In the yard — Your yard may seem safe, but unsupervised pets frequently succumb to heatstroke when their owners forget their pet needs constant shade and water. Keep your pet safe by limiting their outdoor time and providing regular or continuous supervision. Frozen pet-safe fruit and treats (e.g. pupsicles) can be a fun way to help your pet stay hydrated and cool. 
  • At the park and around the neighborhood Exercise your pet in the morning or evening when temperatures are cooler and lower their exercise intensity (e.g., walking instead of jogging). Monitor your pet’s behavior to prevent overexcitement, which can accelerate hyperthermia. Finally, avoid heat-retaining surfaces, such as asphalt and artificial turf, which can burn paw pads.
  • On the water — Water-related activities can be a great way to beat the heat with your pet, but they’re not risk-free. Always supervise your pet, take plenty of breaks, and ensure they wear a life jacket to prevent exhaustion and possible drowning. Provide fresh clean drinking water and discourage your pet from drinking the pool, lake, or ocean water while they play or swim, which can lead to water intoxication

Heat is an invisible but rapidly fatal threat to pets and humans. Fortunately, you can limit its powers by staying informed and taking proactive steps that protect your four-legged friend. For additional heat safety information or to discuss your pet’s veterinary care, contact the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA)-accredited Animal Medical Hospital of Naples team.