How to keep pets safe in extreme heat

July 17, 2019

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Dog in pool
Adoptable Cambridge beats the heat with a dip in the AWLA dog pool. (Courtesy Animal Welfare League of Alexandria)
Dogs in pool
Sharing space in the pool is an important skill. Dogs like these, with shorter muzzles —the technical term is “smushed-up” faces, we are told—are very susceptible to heat related illnesses. No long walks for these dogs in this weather, say animal welfare advocates. (Courtesy Humane Rescue Alliance )
Dog in pool
Adoptable Rico knows how to stay cool during the dog days of summer. (Courtesy Animal Welfare League of Aleandria/Janet D'Angelo)
Dog in pool
One of the adoptable dogs at Humane Rescue Alliance showing how to stay chill—note his cool pool is in a shady spot too. (Courtesy Humane Rescue Alliance )
Dog in pool
Dogs in pool
Dog in pool
Dog in pool

It’s already been a busy summer season for the animal advocates at the Humane Rescue Alliance — and many of the calls are heat-related.

Dan D’Eramo, director of field services for HRA, said the number of calls for help rises with the temperature. They’ve seized animals that have been exposed to extreme heat.

“We’re taking dogs out of hot cars; we’re taking dogs that have been left out on balconies in direct sunlight when the owners are at work,” D’Eramo said.

Often, D’Eramo said, owners believe their pets are happier outside. But the reality is, without adequate shelter and access to fresh water, dogs are highly susceptible to suffering from a heat-related illness.

Owners also believe a dog’s willingness to go for a run in the heat means the animal can tolerate the stress of exercise in hot weather. D’Eramo said that’s just not the case.

“A dog would love to eat a big, chocolate cake, too, but that will probably kill them,” he said. “You can’t always go off what the dog wants to do; you have to make smart decisions for them.”

The officers who work in field services at HRA do a lot of educational work. They visit homes and businesses where dogs are kept outside, and they explain how owners can provide the best shelter and bowls that hold plenty of water and won’t tip over.

But in extreme weather, with high temperatures coupled with high humidity, they will often work to persuade a dog-owner to keep a dog indoors as long as a heat wave lasts.

“There are definitely people who we have spoken to that have benefited from the education that we’ve given out,” D’Eramo said. “Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who aren’t making those smart decisions.”

As a result, his officers have been very busy.

Gina Hardter, senior manager of public relations at the Animal Welfare League in Alexandria, said her organization works hard to educate people on the laws regarding pet care.

For example, an animal cannot be left in a car without air conditioning if it is 70 degrees or warmer, and if the temperature inside the car is 80 degrees, she said.

Like D.C. and most other area jurisdictions, Alexandria has minimum standards of care for animals that are kept outside. Those include a requirement that they have shelter from the sun and access to clean, fresh water in a quantity that’s great enough to keep the animal hydrated.

“Even that may not be enough for certain animals, and most of the time an animal is going to be happier in a house where it’s air-conditioned,” Hardter said.

While most dog-owners understand that dogs pant to keep cool, excessive panting is a sign your dog is in trouble.

“If they have increased heart or respiratory rates — and that’s something you can actually feel in your dog or even your cat — that’s a warning sign,” Hardter said.

She said excessive drooling, along with panting, is another signal that your dog may be struggling to keep its body temperature regulated. A dog that stumbles or collapses should be rushed to get immediate medical care.

Animal welfare advocates said that if you’re suffering in the heat, so is your pet. So take steps to make sure you’re both cool, comfortable, and safe.

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