A man carries his dog as he and other passengers disembark from a ferry on Peaks Island, Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Portland, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty

With the dog days of summer quickly approaching, there’s a few things you should know about keeping your pets from overheating and getting sick.

A good rule of thumb to go by is if it feels too hot outside for you to be doing strenuous activity, then your pets are most likely feeling the heat more intensely.

Many common pets, like cats and dogs, don’t regulate their body heat the same way that humans do. And even if they did, they have a coat of fur they can’t shed as easily as we can shed our T-shirts and jeans in the summertime.

How to prevent heat stroke

Dogs have fewer sweat glands than humans, and pant to regulate their body temperatures, according to the American Kennel Club. Dogs can increase their breathing from 40 breaths per minute to up to 400 breaths per minute when they are panting.

Because dogs pant to regulate their body heat, they will need adequate access to water throughout the day. Dogs’ airways can dry out from panting, and they can also become dangerously dehydrated on hot days.

Some breeds with shorter faces — such as pugs and Persian cats — cannot pant effectively, so keeping an eye on any signs they may be overheating is a must.

It is suggested to give your dogs and cats room temperature or cool, but not ice cold, water, to keep them hydrated on warm days.

One way to prevent heatstroke is to avoid leaving your animal unattended in a hot car. Cars, even with their windows rolled down, can get dangerously hot in a matter of minutes. If you do need to leave your pet in your vehicle, slightly crack a window and leave the air conditioning running. Don’t leave the vehicle for any extended length of time.

Any animal should be supervised when outside on hot days, and have adequate access to cooler, shaded areas. Buildings with poor ventilation, such as outdoor dog houses, can overheat easily, so keeping an eye on your pet’s behavior is the best way to help them avoid heat stroke.

Another thing to keep in mind is that if your animal has a darker coat, such as dark brown or black fur, they are more likely to overheat quicker than animals with lighter colored fur.

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How to tell if your animal may be overheating

When dogs’ temperatures rise, blood will rush to the surfaces of their tongues, gums and other mucous membranes to help transfer extra heat, according to the AKC. Your dog may be overheating if they start panting frantically, produce excess saliva, have bright red gums, tongue or whites of their eyes, and appear to have a hard time breathing. A dog’s mouth will turn grayish or purple from lack of oxygen if they cannot breathe correctly.

A dehydrated dog will have thicker saliva, as well as possible vomiting or diarrhea. Dogs may also have seizures, be unable to stand, become lethargic or comatose and die.

Dogs may have a metabolic breakdown if their temperature rises above 106 degrees Fahrenheit. If your dog is showing signs of extreme heat exposure, they should be taken to an emergency vet immediately. Even if your pup cools down and starts acting normal, prolonged high body temperatures can cause severe damage to your dog’s organs.

Cats will show similar symptoms of heat stress, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

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How to react if your pet has heat stress or heat stroke

If you think your dog or cat is overheating, the first thing to do is to move them to a cooler place.

To help your pet cool down, you can spray cool — but not cold or icy — water onto your pet’s fur, making sure that the water soaks into their coat down to the skin. If the water is too cold, it can actually restrict blood vessels at the skin’s surface, which can hamper heat regulation in your pet.

You can also place your pet in an area with a fan, or fan them yourself. Pets can also be provided with a cool, damp towel to lay on as an option to help keep their body temperature cool.

Other things that you can do to help your pet keep cool is to wipe their face and head with a cool washcloth.

If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heat stress, the best course of action is to get your pet to an emergency vet who can provide the specific care that your animal requires.

If you’re unsure whether your pet has heat stroke, calling your vet is the best way to receive adequate care for your furry friend.

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Leela Stockley

Leela Stockley is an alumna of the University of Maine. She was raised in northern Maine, and loves her cat Wesley, her puppy Percy and staying active in the Maine outdoors.