Dear KWC readers,
“It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity” is something you hear all the time. Per the National Weather Service, that’s partly valid, but in actuality, it is both.
The heat index, also known as the apparent temperature, is what the temperature feels like to a pet’s or human’s body when relative humidity is combined with air temperature. This has important considerations for the body’s comfort.
For instance, as I am sitting here writing this, the thermometer on the porch is reading 89 degrees F with a humidity of 99%. But, the heat index is 125 degrees! I’m wearing shorts and a T-shirt. Imagine what it feels like if you are a dog with a thick coat of fur.
High temperatures can be dangerous to pets in many different ways — not just those being left in a car. If any animal is exposed to direct sun with no access to shade, it will rapidly overheat, dehydrate and die — in just a few hours. Even pets housed indoors can succumb to heat exhaustion if they do not have adequate ventilation and the room gets too hot.
Certain pets, like rabbits, chinchillas and pot-bellied pigs, are extremely sensitive to heat stress. For example, in the northern parts of the country, rabbits can be housed outdoors all year long. They handle the cold weather well as long as they are not exposed to a draft or allowed to get wet. However, if the outdoor temperature rises above 90 degrees in the summer, they will rapidly die from heat stress.
Pets in poor health, obese animals, senior pets and those that have recently been stressed, such as pets which have had surgery, are more susceptible to the dangers of heat stress.
Dogs (as well as other animals) that live outside every day get acclimated to the heat and don’t seem to show the same discomfort that an indoor dog may feel when acutely exposed to a hot day. If an outdoor pet has access to shade, ventilation and plenty of fresh water, it should be fine. Consider placing an outdoor fan either above or at ground level with any dogs left outside during the hottest part of the day.
When you take your dogs for walks, do so in the early morning or evening hours (before 9 a.m. and after 6 p.m.), doing your best to avoid the direct sun. Consistent with those times, the asphalt gets extremely hot when baked in the direct sun and can easily burn a dog’s feet. The temperature of the asphalt midday can exceed 140 degrees! Use the 5-second rule when walking your dog: If you can’t hold your hand flat down on the road for more than 5 seconds, don’t walk you dog on that road.
Excessive panting, panting without drooling, pink skin, red mucous membranes (gums), purple splotches on the skin, red-wine-colored urine or passing out are all signs of acute heat stress. This is an emergency and needs to be aggressively treated by a veterinarian with IV fluids and supportive care. Even if caught in time, in certain conditions, like when you see red-wine-colored urine, there can be permanent kidney damage if the pet survives the initial crises.
Again, if you see an animal, or if your pet appears to be in danger, please act on it. Don’t wait to see what happens. Seconds matter.
If you are in doubt, err on the safe side. HEAT KILLS!
Dr. Doug Mader is an ABVP board-certified veterinary specialist practicing in the Keys. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.