Looking back over the decades, it’s easy to tell how climate change has affected the planet, particularly during the summertime. With an increase in wildfires (both in severity and numbers) and an increase in temperature, summers can bring potential dangers to you, your family, and any animals in your life. Like humans, our pets can suffer from heatstroke or exhaustion if they spend too much time in hot weather and in the sun. Animals are also affected by wildfires and rising summer temperatures, as the health risks posed by both impact all living creatures and wildfires have also destroyed hundreds of acres of wild habitat.
Heat Stroke and Heat Exhaustion
In hot and sunny weather, two potential dangers to people, dogs, cats, and other animals include heat stroke and heat exhaustion. These conditions can be dangerous and even fatal when severe and prevention is by far the most important thing you can do to keep you and your pets safe. To avoid these issues, don’t do heavy exercise during the hottest parts of the day, do not leave pets in the car, and avoid having dogs on hot asphalt or concrete for long periods of time. Additionally, if your dog spends time outside, make sure they have access to shade, are not muzzled (so they can pant), and have constant access to fresh, clean water.
Some dogs are more prone to either heat stroke or exhaustion. Those with thick coats or long hair, who are very young or very old, are extremely active, or brachycephalic, working, or hunting breeds are the most at risk. Environmental factors can also increase a dog’s risk, like areas that also have high humidity. Dogs left in hot cars or in yards without access to shade and water are also more at risk for heatstroke. Even for just a few minutes in a hot car can cause problems!
Symptoms of heat exhaustion include heavy panting, weakness, confusion, and/or vomiting. Dogs do pant cool down but dramatic, excessive panting for extended periods is concerning. Other signs include their gums or tongue turning blue or bright red, glazed eyes, and being less responsive to you calling their name or giving commands.
According to James Barr, an assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, “a heat stroke occurs when the body’s ability to rid itself of heat is exceeded by the heat that it is generating… This results in an increase in body temperature to the point where damage to the internal organs occurs.” Symptoms of a heat stroke in dogs include anxiety, excessive panting (more than the usual panting that helps cool them down), vomiting, diarrhea, confusion, pay gums, shallow/labored breathing, and an inability to settle down after exercise. More severe symptoms include lethargy, muscle weakness, and seizures.
For cats, symptoms of heat stroke are similar to what dogs exhibit but it doesn’t happen as often as dogs. Symptoms include rapid pulse and breathing, redness of tongue and mouth, vomiting, lethargy, a rectal temp of 105°F+, and a stumbling or staggering gait. According to PetMD, your cat will need immediate care in a couple situations. If your cat is unconscious and it’s hot out, soak them in cool (but not cold) water while keeping their head elevated, place a bag of ice between the legs, and get them to the vet immediately.
Quick treatment for a heat stroke/exhaustion is vital. At the first sign of overheating, you should immediately move your pet to a cooler area, like inside, in the shade, or near a fan/air conditioning. If possible, carefully use an appropriate rectal thermometer to check their temperatures. Heat exhaustion and problems happen when a dog’s temperature is between 103°f and 106°f or when a cat’s body temperature is 105°F+. You can often find thermometers at pet retail stores and the average body temperature for dogs is right around 101.5°f and for cats, their average is right around 100°F.
If you’re near a body of water (like a lake or kiddie pool), let your pup take a dip to help cool down! For those not near water, cool, water towels on their neck, armpits, and hind legs can help cool your dog down. You can even put a damp washcloth in the freezer for a bit before putting it on your dog. Offer fresh water but don’t force your dog to drink, as that could cause other issues like the water accidentally ending up in their lungs. If their temperature is very high and they’re not cooling off, getting them to the vet as quickly as possible is important.
How To Keep Your Pets Cool And Safe
The good news is that there are plenty of ways to keep your pets cool during the summer months. Summer treats like pupsicles are easy to make and can be fun and consistent access to cold water and shade is vital. For any pet, shade in any environment is vital, as escaping direct sunlight can help them avoid other issues like sunburns (which, yes, is possible). Brushing can also help get rid of excess hair and help your pets cool down. Avoid exercising in the hot parts of the day by going on walks in the mornings or evenings. With the longer days, there are more opportunities to walk during cooler moments of the day without walking in the dark!
Also make sure there is consistent access to clean, fresh water at all times. Some pets might even appreciate ice in their water! Water is incredibly important for all animals and plants and that’s particularly true during hot weather. But if possible, avoid forcing your pet to drink. Similarly, it might be fun to go swimming at a lake, river, or even in a kiddie pool. Like with exercise, it’s also important to avoid any sort of excessive movement in the hottest parts of the day so while it seems counter-intuitive, go swimming in the morning and if possible, hose your pup off in the front yard with cold water.
For the hottest moments of the day, take the time to rest and save your energy! Some stores (particularly pet retail stores) have cooling mats, vests, and bandanas. But if you don’t have one (or stores are all momentarily sold out), you can also drape a damp, cool towel over your dog but as mentioned, pay close attention to their necks, armpits, and feet.
Wildfire Evacuation Plan
If you live in an area that’s at risk for wildfires, make sure to have some sort of plan for you, your family, and your animals if you need to evacuate. During wildfire season, it’s so important to have some idea of what you need to do if your area ends up in an evacuation zone, particularly if you have animals. These plans should include a designated emergency meeting point if you have multiple people living in the house, a family communication plan that designates an out of town friend or relative that can act as a point of contact, and know several different escape routes.
An emergency supply kit can be really important and should include things like extra face masks/coverings, non-perishable food and three gallons of water per person, prescriptions and medications, extra clothes and eyeglasses, a first aid kit, flashlight, battery-powered radio, extra batteries, copies of important documents, and pet food/water.
- Animal Evacuation During a Wildfire: How to Plan And Where To Go by Alice Woelfle, KQED
- Wildfires: Preparation and Evacuation Tips for Horse Owners by Rebecca Gimenez Husted, Ph.D
Wildfire smoke can also be a health concern for many folks, as this smoke significantly decreases air quality and contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other volatile organic compounds. When there’s wildfire smoke in your area, keep your pets inside as much as possible and keep all the windows and door closed. Litter boxes and very short walks can allow your pets to go to the bathroom without spending too much time outside and there are plenty of ways to keep everyone happy and engaged! Puzzle toys, feather wands, and treats like catnip and pet friendly popsicles are all great ways to spend days inside.
For farm animals, regularly make sure they have clean water, as outdoor water sources can often get ashes/particles from the smoke. Like dogs and cats, limit the exercise of farm animals when smoke is around and allow for 4-6 weeks of recovery after the air quality returns to normal. In addition to clearing dead trees and brush, also make sure that the barns and fields are well maintained and stable.
- Difficulty breathing
- Unusual or excessive coughing, sneezing, vomiting, or appetite loss
- Swelling or inflammation of their mouth, eyes, or skin
- Open-mouthed breathing (esp. in cats) but not panting
- Uncoordinated walking or an inability to stand
- Increased salivation
How To Help Your Community During The Summer
In the United States, the homeless population, unfortunately, deals with all sorts of problems. From a lack of affordable, long-term housing to people being needlessly rude to a lack of resources, being houseless during the summer can bring other problems, like not having a way to escape the summer heat, the smoke from nearby wildfires, or other extreme weather events.
And the Covid-19 pandemic hit many folks hard, from creating long term health issues (particularly respiratory issues) after recovering from the illness to depleting resources. Mutual aid groups have popped up over the last 16 or so months and some have started to raise funds to help folks find shelter or to pass out resources like water and face masks/filters to help those living in areas most likely to be hit by wildfire smoke.
If you want to support mutual aid groups or organizations or personally need some help, here are some resources (and please share any more in the comments!):
- Pasado’s Safe Haven – Pet Food Bank
- The Growing Mutual Aid Groups of Whatcom County By: Emily Coulter & Grace Taylor | KZAX Press
- The Blanchet House
- Street Roots
- The Pongo Fund
- Pet Bloc PDX – a mutual aid group that has, in part, helped pass out face masks/filters to houseless folks and their dogs.
- Mid-Valley Animal Rescue Organizations Offer, Seek Help During Oregon Wildfires by Virginia Barreda, Salem Statesman Journal (Sept 12, 2020)
- How To Help Wild Animals in Oregon’s Wildfires from Cascade Business News (Sept 17, 2020)
- The Humane Society’s Pets For Life Program
- How to Help Wildlife Affected by Fires from KATU2 (Sept 17, 2020)
- Pets in Poverty: How To Help Poor Folks And Their Pets
As summer progresses, remember to care for yourself, your pets, the animals around you, and the people in your community. This season brings all sorts of concerns but planning, knowledge, and prevention can help folks survive the heat and possible wildfires. High temperatures and an increase in wildfires can be stressful, frustrating, and possibly even fatal so please take care of yourself, your community, and your pets!
Stay hydrated and stay safe!