By Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT
Originally published in the May 27, 2022, edition of the Valley Advantage.
It’s a beautiful summer day and you are thinking: Do I go for a car ride, take a walk, or even stroll on the beach? As a responsible pet owner, there are some things to consider before you choose.
Leaving your pet in a hot car may lead to deadly heat stroke, and, in several states, it may be illegal. A quick stop with the windows cracked open can become deadly quicker than one may think.
According to aldf.org, as of 2019, 31 states and the District of Columbia have some form of law against leaving animals unattended in a hot car. These laws vary from state to state, involving legal action against the car owner, while other states have laws to protect a person who may use forcible means to rescue a vulnerable animal. It’s recommended that you review your state laws on this topic.
How hot is too hot for my pet? Temperatures in vehicles can rise very quickly. A lovely 70 degrees outside the car changes to 89 degrees within 10 minutes inside the car, and within 30 minutes, may reach 104 degrees. As the temperature increases by 5-degree increments, the vehicle’s inside rises exponentially.
What does heatstroke look like in a pet? The clinical signs of a pet overheating include excessive panting, increased heart, and respiratory rates, difficulty breathing, mild weakness to stupor, and collapse. If your pet’s internal body temperature approaches 104 degrees, the clinical signs might include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomiting.
Dogs and cats both have sweat glands in their feet but utilize a second method for cooling down as they do not sweat like humans. Dogs pant to cool themselves down, while cats lick their hair coat. However, brachycephalic breeds — those with a flat snout like boxers, pugs and Persian cats, for example — are more susceptible to heatstroke because they can’t pant as effectively as other breeds.
When it comes to taking a walk down the road, or on the beach, not only is heatstroke a concern but there is another danger to watch out for: burned paw pads. Asphalt, pavement, artificial grass, sand and even dirt can become so hot that it may cause blistering and burning of an animal’s paw pads. Puppies and kittens are at a higher risk of damage because their paw pads are still very sensitive.
When outside temperatures reach 85+ degrees and remain constant throughout the day, even a short stroll may cause serious injury. According to the American Medical Association, if the air temperature is 86 degrees, the asphalt temperature is 135 degrees. The general rule of thumb for determining if the surface is too hot for your pet is to either place your palm or barefoot on the surface for 5 seconds. If it’s too hot for you to handle, it’s too hot for your pet.
How do you recognize injury to the paw pads? If your pet limps, is reluctant to walk or stand, licks or chews their feet, or if the pads are darker in color than usual, you will want to examine further. There may be visible signs of a burn, such as blisters. Bring the pet to a cool location and flush the feet with cold water or cold compress. Try to keep them from licking and seek veterinary care as burns will need to be addressed to help prevent further damage or infection.
There are a few things you may try to help reduce the chance of paw pad burns and injury:
Paw wax: This is a wax created explicitly for pets and designed to help protect the pads from hot surfaces in the warmer months and potentially harmful chemicals such as rock salt and anti-skid when it’s colder.
Dog shoes/boots: If your dog will wear them, this is one of the best ways an owner can protect their pet’s feet from injury. These may come in a variety of styles and materials, but you will want to make sure that the bottom of the boot has a rubber sole. Please understand that not all pets will tolerate wearing them or be comfortable walking in them. Be sure to work with your pet well in advance of the day you want them to wear them for protection.
During the hot months, it’s a good practice to check your pet’s paw pads regularly. This will train your eye to what is “normal” for your pet and allow you to apply a pet-safe moisturizer to keep pads soft and healthy and help to prevent injuries.
This information should help you keep your pets safe this summer season.
Kimberly Konopka, BS, AS, CVT, ESMT, is the program director of the Veterinary Nursing Program at Johnson College. She has been in the field of veterinary medicine for 15 years.