How To Keep Your Pet Cool in Warm Weather

By: Michael McLaughlin, DVM

TVMA Member
Dallas, TX

Published February 2017

Misconception #1

Short Haircuts Keep Pets Cool in Hot Weather

Truth: Dogs and cats do not have sweat glands all over their bodies, as we do. They have sweat glands on the tips of their noses and footpads. So essentially, they have fewer sweat glands than other species. For humans, wearing less clothing exposes sweat glands, allowing for more evaporation. For dogs and cats, there are no sweat glands to uncover so short fur is not cooling. However, short haircuts do serve a purpose: they make it easier to identify and treat the numerous skin problems that arise in hot weather.

Misconception #2

Fans Help Keep Pets Cool

Truth: For the same reason mentioned above, air moving over human skin with sweat glands supports the evaporation process and heat loss. Since pets don’t have any significant sweat glands, fans will do nothing to help keep them cool.

Misconception #3

Pets Cannot Stay Outside All Day During Hot Weather

Truth: Healthy pets that spend the year outside acquire and build their tolerance to the summer heat by first acclimating to the spring heat. Pets that lacked the opportunity to acclimate to high temperatures are at risk during hot weather. They must be in good health, have large amounts of fresh drinking water daily, protection from the elements, shade and a parasite-free environment. It will help if there is a shallow kiddie pool where they can lie, because when the skin gets wet, it can lose excess heat. Pets with heart or breathing problems, kidney or liver disease, advanced arthritis or vision problems should not be outside from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Also, keep pets with health problems inside during the part of the day when you wouldn’t even venture outside and cut the grass unless it was absolutely required.

Misconception #4

Outside Pets Just Need a Big Container to Catch the Rain for Water

Truth: Without adequate water, a pet will die. Rain is not regular or consistent and cannot be relied upon for a life-saving water supply. Water left standing in a container is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and all the diseases they carry. Any bowl or bucket of water can be knocked over and spilled or develop a leak. The water bowl must be stable and solid, of generous size and checked daily with frequent refills of fresh, cool water. Keep it in the shade for less evaporation.

Misconception #5

Pets Need Less Food When the Temperatures are High

Truth: Eating and digesting food produces a lot of heat that the body must dissipate. If anything, the extra heat increases a pet’s nutritional requirements. Plan to feed your outside pet in the early morning before 9 a.m. or in the relative cool of the evening after 8 p.m.

Misconception #6

Breathing and Panting Accomplish the Same Goals

Truth: Pets pant to remove excess body heat, but panting only moves air to the back of the throat to evaporate water from the tongue. On the other hand, breathing (oxygenating red blood cells) requires the air to be moved all the way into the lungs. The two functions are mutually exclusive. A pet cannot breathe while panting, and proper breathing is much too slow to control body temperature. That is why it is important for pets with breathing problems to stay out of the heat. If they are already concentrating on getting enough air to breathe, there isn’t time to stop and pant. They are the poster-children for heat-related deaths. This is true for both dogs and cats.

If you suspect your pet has become overheated, run—do not walk—to the nearest hose or faucet and soak them thoroughly. Especially wet the belly area and get that soaking-wet pet to the veterinary clinic or the emergency veterinary facility immediately. Heatstroke can usually be treated successfully, but the clock is definitely not your friend.

Michael McLaughlin, DVM, is a graduate of University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine who lives in a northeast suburb of Dallas. Dr. McLaughlin practices at Panther Park Animal Hospital in Plano, Texas.