Although Denver weather can be unpredictable, one thing can always be counted on—there will be hot temperatures at some point during the summer, even if that 90-degree day is followed by a blizzard. So, while you may be practicing cold weather safety for your pet, you also need to be prepared for hot weather. Read on for information from our team at Gentle Touch Animal Hospital to learn how pets cool themselves off, what happens if they can’t stay cool, and how you can help your furry pal beat the heat.

How do pets keep themselves cool?

Typically, pets cool themselves by panting. But what exactly happens when cats and dogs pant? Scientifically speaking, pets stay cool by using the heat, or energy, they’ve built up to convert water from a liquid to a gas. Put simply, when pets pant, they essentially are using a convection process to help water evaporate from their tongue’s surface. However, a pet’s tongue is not a very large surface, so it’s difficult for pets to cool down adequately through panting alone. 

What about sweating? While people and some mammals, like horses, sweat to cool down, a cat or dog’s sweat glands don’t function the same way. People have a specific type of sweat gland called an eccrine gland that allows them to cool off more than cats and dogs. A pet’s sweat glands are found only on their paw pads and serve a different purpose than thermoregulation. The sweat produced by these glands provides traction by creating a tackiness that allows your pet to better grip slippery surfaces, such as your hardwood floor.

What happens when a pet cannot keep cool?

Since pets do not have the best cooling mechanisms, battling heat can be difficult. They may pant heavily, seek shade, or drink copious amounts of water. Some pets keep going until they literally drop and must be closely monitored to prevent heatstroke. 

When a pet is unable to keep cool through panting, they can develop heatstroke. Signs of heatstroke include:

  • Excessive, heavy panting
  • Thick, ropy drool
  • Bright red gums
  • Lethargy
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Staggering while walking
  • Vomiting
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Collapse
  • Seizures

If heatstroke is left untreated or becomes too severe, it can lead to organ failure. This is why cooling measures must be taken when you first see signs of heatstroke. If you see your pet beginning to pant heavily or struggle to walk in a straight line or without their legs buckling, it’s time to head indoors. Place your pet in the bathtub and run cool, not cold, water over them, ensuring their head is kept above water. Position a fan in front of them to help with evaporation. Avoid wrapping your pet in wet towels because this traps heat. Also avoid using ice or cold water, since this will cause overheated blood to shift from your pet’s extremities to their core, essentially causing them to become hotter. Once your pet’s temperature has dropped to 103 degrees Fahrenheit, stop your cooling efforts and head to Gentle Touch Animal Hospital. We will evaluate your pet’s organ health and function, and possibly hospitalize them to monitor their recovery.

How can I keep my pet cool at home?

To prevent your pet from developing heatstroke, practice heat safety. Ways to keep your pet cool include:

  • Exercising with caution — Walk your dog during the relative cool of early morning and avoid the hotter temperatures and higher humidity levels of the afternoon. Your high-energy pet may need to burn off steam indoors if the weather is too hot for comfort.
  • Engaging in water sports — A shallow wading pool or a sprinkler are fun ways to keep your pet cool while allowing them to play safely in the heat. Be careful about letting your pet swim in your pool, since they can drink a large amount of chlorinated water in a short time, or may be unable to swim in the deep end.
  • Seeking shade and ventilation — Whenever possible, keep your furry pal out of the blazing sun and ensure they have adequate ventilation, especially when they hang out in garages or on screened-in porches.
  • Staying hydrated — Encourage your pet to drink plenty of water by tossing ice cubes in their water bowl or switching to a drinking fountain to always provide fresh water.
  • Monitoring your pet — When outdoors, keep a close eye on your pet to ensure you can bring them inside at the first hint of overheating.

If your pet struggles to keep cool this summer, they may have an underlying endocrine disorder or other medical condition that causes thermoregulation problems. Contact our Gentle Touch Animal Hospital team for help keeping your furry pal cool and comfortable.