Soaring temperatures, sweltering humidity, sudden storms and power outages are a fact of life in the South, and they require special precautions to keep our pets safe and healthy. Follow our guidelines for helping your four-legged family members happily weather the summer.
Dog Playing in Water
Credit: Elizabeth Marie/Getty

Never Leave Your Pets In a Car

Repeat: NEVER leave an animal in a car. Not even for a minute. Not even with the car running and air conditioner on; your pet could easily step on the door lock and lock you out. On a hot day, temperatures inside a vehicle can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. Your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die. Learn how to help a pet left inside a hot car.

Adjust Exercise on Hot Days

As we get into the dog-days of summer, you should adjust the time of day, duration and intensity of your pet's exercise. Switch to taking your pet out in the early morning or evening hours when the heat is not as excessive. Be extra careful with pets with white-colored ears and faces, as they are more susceptible to sunburn and skin cancer, and short-nosed pets, such as pugs and bulldogs, which typically have difficulty breathing. Hot pavement can burn tender paws, so try to walk on the grass if possible. If you are out for an early morning hike, take water along to keep your animal hydrated. Don't allow thirsty animals to drink from puddles, as they may contain chemicals such as antifreeze.

Humidity Matters

The humidity can affect your pet as much as the ambient temperature does. Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels. Be mindful of those days that "don't feel that hot" but the humidity level is through the roof and exercise your pets only during the early morning or late evening hours.

Provide Shade and Water

Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she is protected from heat and sun and has a supply of fresh, cool water.  Many animals won't drink warm water, so check the water often to make sure it is cool. Tree shade, tarps, and run-in sheds are ideal because they don't obstruct airflow. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat—in fact, it makes it worse because the walls hinder airflow.

Cool Your Pet Inside and Out

Prevent your dog or cat from overheating with a cooling body wrap, vest, or mat. If he enjoys the water, treat your pet to a cooling indoor tub bath or a soak from the garden hose (run the water first until it is cool).

Watch for Signs of Heatstroke

Extreme temperatures may cause heatstroke. Some signs of heatstroke are: difficulty breathing, heavy panting, glazed eyes, rapid heartbeat, excessive thirst, dizziness, lethargy, fever, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness. Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are very young, very old, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise, or have heart or respiratory disease. As stated above, some breeds of dogs with short muzzles will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat and heavy humidity.

How To Treat a Pet Suffering from Heatstroke

Move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to her head, neck, and chest or run cool (not cold) water over her. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her directly to a veterinarian.

Prepare for Severe Weather and Pro-longed Power Outages

Southerners are no strangers to severe weather, especially in the summer months. Strong storms, lightning, and tornadoes can hit frequently and cause trouble, as well as fear, for our pets. Before a summer storm takes out the power in your home and possibly separates you from your pet, create a disaster plan to keep your pet safe.

Summer Care for Horses

While these guidelines are geared towards dogs and cats, hot weather brings special care needs for our equine friends, as well. Along with fresh water, adjustments in exercise times, and protection from heat, horses have other health concerns during the warm weather months.