Dawn, dusk or leave them at home: How to keep pets safe in hot weather

Over the next couple of days, the D.C. area is in for some weather-alert days due to high temperatures, and a veterinarian has some tips to keep your pets safe during a heat wave.

Dr. Christine Klippen is an urgent care veterinarian at Friendship Hospital for Animals in D.C., and she said that prevention is first and foremost when it comes to dealing with heat stroke in dogs.

“For these red-alert days, pets really should not be outside when it’s hot out. And so if that means that we are making sure that we’re doing our walks at dusk and dawn, it’s a much safer alternative than getting out into the heat and humidity,” Klippen said.

And before taking your pup out, test the surface of the asphalt or concrete with the palm of your hand.

“If it’s too hot for your hand to touch the asphalt or the concrete then it’s going to be too hot for your pet to be able to walk on that area,” Klippen said.

Consider walking on dirt or grass, or wait until the sun starts to go down.

In a “concrete jungle,” such as the D.C. area, animals are likely going to be walking more on hot pavement than dirt and grass, and those pavements can heat up very quickly to the point where it can “cause pretty significant burns and discomfort,” Klippen said.

Another thing pet owners should not do is to leave pets in the car. Some 31 states, including Maryland and D.C., have laws that prohibit animals being left in vehicles. In Virginia, law enforcement, emergency and animal control personnel are not liable for property damage in an effort to remove an unattended animal companion that’s at risk.

Temperatures in vehicles that are enclosed and locked can go upward to over 100 degrees even in a matter of 30 minutes, Klippen said, and that can become very dangerous to the animal.

What about if the air conditioner is on?

“Well, I think that you are relying upon technology, and technology can always fail,” Klippen said.

Some vehicles have features that let people outside know what the temperature is inside, but Klippen said that gives owners a “false sense of security.”

“Prevention is key. Please just leave your pets at home. That is where they need to be,” she said.

If you suspect that your pet is experiencing heat stroke, it’s not a wait-and-see situation, Klippen said.

Start cooling your pet using lukewarm water, get them into an air-conditioned vehicle and then get them to the veterinarian.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Panting vigorously. Like they can’t seem to catch their breath;
  • You may see your pet having a “spade-like” tongue, where their tongue is sticking out extensively;
  • You may notice that their gums or tongue are very red;
  • Some animals can develop vomiting and diarrhea;
  • Some can appear “drunk,” such as having difficulty walking before collapsing.

“Unfortunately, the mortality rate of heatstroke is upward of 50%. So it is a very, very serious condition. If an animal starts developing signs of heatstroke, they need to get cooled … and get to a vet, pronto,” Klippen said.

All animals can experience a heat stroke, but she said there are breeds that are going to be more predisposed.

“These are going to be the dogs that with big, heavy, shaggy coats, coats that are dark in color. If you have what’s called a brachycephalic dog. So these are our pugs, our French bulldogs, our English bulldogs. Because of their conformation, they are not going to be able to pant effectively and be able to blow off that amount of hot air. And they’re going to be much more susceptible to heat stroke even in cooler temperatures,” Klippen said.

Some of the more serious types of heat strokes Klippen has seen are during the early stages of summer, when the temperature may be 75 or 77 degrees but the humidity may be starting to get over 80%.

“If you have a breed that’s predisposed to heat strokes … be cognizant of that. And the days that starts to get well over into the 80s, you need to be much more careful,” she said.

And with some red-hot days coming, Klippen said, “People shouldn’t be outside, children should not be outside. And animals should not be outside.”

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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