For much of California, the arrival of September has brought extreme, scalding temperatures.
Sept. 5 was the hottest day in Los Angeles in nearly 11 months, according to AccuWeather. Temperatures in the Inland Empire and the Sacramento region soared into the triple-digits over the long weekend. And in the next few days, dangerous heat waves are projected for large swaths of the state, weather officials warn.
Across California, September tends to be warmer than we might like. It’s usually the hottest time of the year in the Bay Area and when temperature records are most likely to be broken in Southern California.
Animal experts offer advice about how to care for your pets when it’s really hot out. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimated in 2016 that 57% of California households have a pet, though that number has likely risen since so many people adopted pets during the pandemic.
Gagandeep Kaur, a veterinary medicine professor at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, said that pet owners needed to help their animals avoid heat stroke, a potentially fatal condition in which body temperature rises beyond a healthy range. Though humans can also get heat stroke, animals are more susceptible because it’s harder for them to cool off.
“Local emergency clinics, they’ve seen hundreds of cases this summer,” Kaur said. “It’s not something that’s rare.”
But it is preventable. Here’s what to know:
Be aware of risk factors. Dogs and cats are generally comfortable in the same temperatures as humans. But your pets are at higher risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, or have lung or heart disease.
Dogs with short snouts, such as bulldogs, pugs and Shih Tzus, are particularly vulnerable because they tend to have breathing problems.
Provide water and shade. Always.
Dogs are more at risk than cats. Cats are usually better about keeping themselves cool by limiting their movement when it’s hot, said Steve Epstein, chief of emergency services at the University of California, Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.
In Epstein’s home in Davis, the air-conditioning doesn’t turn on until around 29 degrees Celsius (85F), but he doesn’t worry about his cat becoming ill.
Dogs, however, may chase after a squirrel or want to go on a walk even when it’s unsafe for them. Epstein said he recently treated a dog with heat stroke that had been racing around in a backyard when it was 32C (90F).
Think twice about walks. If you put your hand on the ground and it’s too hot to leave there, skip the walk, Epstein said. Dogs can unknowingly burn their paw pads on asphalt or concrete.
“If it’s uncomfortable for your hand then it’s probably uncomfortable for their feet,” he said. “They’re out on the walk, they’re like, ‘I love doing this,’ and often it’s not until the next day that we see the injury.”
Never leave your animal in a parked car. “Not even for a minute,” warns the Humane Society of the United States. When it is 29C (85F) outside, the temperature inside a car with the windows cracked can reach 38C (102F) in 10 minutes and 48C (120F) in 30, the organization warns.
Know the signs of heat stroke. In humans, early signs of heat stroke are dizziness and muscle cramps, which can be difficult to notice in pets. So owners often don’t realize pets are sick until they collapse, Epstein said.
Other signs in animals include heavy panting, glazed eyes, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst and vomiting.
Hose down an overheated pet. If you think your dog is suffering from heat stroke, hose it down as soon as possible, even before taking it to the vet, Epstein said.
Doing so limits the damage to overheated organs, and can save the dog’s life.
“The sooner they get their temperature down, the better,” he said.
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