More than likely, you’ve heard the phrase “the dog days of summer.” But are you aware of how that phrase came into being? According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, the days between July 3rd and August 11th are considered some of the hottest days of the year in the Northern Hemisphere.
The Ancient Greeks and Romans connected the rise of the constellation Canis Major with the arrival of summer. Canis Major, which means “Great Dog” in Latin because it resembles a dog, has the brightest star in the sky aside from the sun, called Sirius (see Sources below for a graphic of the constellation, and note that Sirius is the “collar” of the dog). Since the period of summer correlated with the simultaneous appearance of the sun and the rise of Sirius, the two brightest stars, the ancient people decided that this was the cause of the hottest days of the year. Hence, the dog days of summer.
Though we now know there is no correlation between the rise of Canis Major, Sirius, and seasonal weather, the lore of the phrase stays with us.
But what about cats? Glad you asked. We’ll talk about them, too.
We’re in the dog (and cat) days of summer right now. It’s hot! Here are some tips for you to help keep your fur babies comfortable and safe.
How can I tell if my pet is overheated?
If your pet has been outside for a while, or inside where there is no airflow and you start seeing these symptoms, it’s time to treat them for hyperthermia, which is when the animal’s body temperature reaches dangerously high levels:
-Excessive panting without closing their mouth
-Bright red tongue, pale gums, or gums that start turning purple or blue
-Unresponsive or altered behavior patterns
-Sweaty paws – note if they leave damp pawprints on the floor
-Bright pink or red gums
What can I do for my pets if they get overheated?
If your pet exhibits symptoms of heatstroke you need to get them to your veterinarian immediately because hyperthermia can cause your pet’s organs to shut down.
In the meantime, help the animal by using these measures.
The first thing to understand is that you need to cool the animal down gradually, not suddenly and all at once (do not put them in an ice bath). That could lead to other medical issues.
-A dog’s normal body temperature is usually around 99.5F - 102.5F.
-A cat’s normal body temperature is between 99 – 102.5F.
A good thing to have on hand in case of emergency is a thermometer for your animals. The best way to get an accurate reading is by inserting the thermometer in the rectum, using petroleum jelly (Vaseline) to lubricate it. Make sure to insert the thermometer just past the tip, don’t go too far, you don’t want to risk injury.
There are ear thermometers as well that work as well, but their accuracy isn’t as reliable.
Heatstroke occurs when the body temperature reaches 103F. Immediately start these potentially life-saving procedures:
-Get the animal out of the heat and lay them on a cool tile floor if possible. You can put a fan on.
-Give cool water. If they won’t or can’t drink it you can dampen their lips, gums, and tongue. Or try squeezing water from a clean cloth into their mouth if they will take it. You can also give them low-sodium chicken or beef broth, cool or at room temperature. Do not give dogs human sports drinks.
-With cool water, not freezing because you don’t want to cool them too quickly, dampen their paws, head, and tail. Also, you can dampen between their hind legs and armpits.
-Wipe their paws with rubbing alcohol which helps draw heat out. Make sure paws are exposed to cool air.
-Wipe your dog down with a cool cloth, but don’t cover them with a wet towel. Keep your pup exposed to the cool air.
-Call your veterinarian even if your dog seems to feel better. You need to get a professional to assess whether the animal has incurred any internal damage.
-Get the animal out of the heat and into a cool, calm room.
-Give cool or room temperature water to the cat. If they won’t drink, you can use an eyedropper or syringe to drop beads into their mouth a little at a time. Don’t squirt water into their mouth as it may cause choking and more stress.
-You can wipe the cat’s paws and coat with a wet cloth. Again, no ice or freezing water. You want to cool them down gradually.
-Call your veterinarian even if your cat seems to feel better. You need to get a professional to assess whether the animal has incurred any internal damage.
What if I want to take my dog out for a ride or a walk?
If you want to take your pet on outdoor adventures, make sure you pack the necessary items to take with you to make sure your fur baby stays cool and safe. Number one on the list is water. Bring a lot of water. There are a lot of products on the market for adventurous pets like water bottles, collapsible water bowls, and tents. It would be wise to bring rubbing alcohol wipes as well for dogs who get overheated. And pack cloths that you can wet down to cool your pup with.
As for car rides…
Here’s the thing. If you want to take your pup on a car ride just for the sake of the ride, go for it! A lot of dogs love going on rides. But if you need to make a stop somewhere that you can’t take your dog (or cat), leave your pet at home. It doesn't matter if you just want to make a “quick stop.” Do not, under any circumstances, leave an animal in a car unattended. The rise of temperature in a car is quick. Studies have shown over and over again that, even with windows rolled down, car temperatures rise 20 degrees in ten minutes. It is not worth the risk. Keep your pet safe. Take it from the ASPCA:
What if I have outdoor pets?
If you have pets that are strictly outdoors, it is your responsibility to make sure they have plenty of water and shelter available to them. If you do not take that responsibility seriously, you run a very high risk of harming or killing your pet. There are laws that protect animals from such abuse, and you run the risk of being fined or jailed if you have not taken the necessary steps to ensure that your pets are safe when outdoors. Please, if you have outdoor animals, make sure you give them every opportunity to stay safe during the hottest (and coldest) times of the year.
TERMS TO KNOW:
Hyperthermia: This is another name for heatstroke, and means the body temperature reaches dangerously high levels