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Keeping your animals safe during the summer heat

By Joe Elmore


We all know that Charleston summers are some of the most ferocious in the country. As temperatures are projected to soar during the next three months, heat emergencies will occur in abundance involving both animals and humans. What makes this summer different and perhaps more dangerous than previous summers is that most of us, including our animals, have been enjoying mild temperatures for the past nine months and may not be as physically resilient as we were last summer.


We must be more vigilant than ever in summertime with our own health along with the health of our animals. Keep in mind, animals depend on us to keep a careful eye on the dangers of heat and humidity. Pet owners and all animal owners should be aware of the imminent dangers they face to avoid heat related injuries. It’s not only the heat, but other factors such as humidity, solar radiation, dehydration and general health that could create a perfect storm for a needless tragedy.


With these factors in mind, there are a few simple steps for helping animals beat the heat and have a happy and healthy summer, even in the soaring heat and humidity of the Lowcountry.


Thunderstorms are scary! Just like the loud bang of a noisy set of fireworks, the crash and boom of a summer thunderstorm can have your animals running for cover. In advance of a rolling mid-summer storm, be prepared to soothe an anxious animal. Dogs in particular can be severely frightened by the clap of loud thunder. In severe cases, the comfort of a thunder shirt can often help to calm a nervous dog.


Keep them cool and provide shade to protect both domestic and farm animals. Dogs and cats can become dehydrated quickly, so it is imperative to provide them with plenty of fresh water, and electrolytes for livestock, when it is hot outdoors. Pets should also have a shady place to escape the sun if outside and they should never linger on hot asphalt during periods of extreme heat as this will burn their sensitive paw pads. Make sure shelters, such as barns, are well-ventilated and keep the outside half-doors to the stalls open so that air can det through. Remember, pigs can’t sweat so they’ll need a nice cool mud hole to wallow in.


Never leave your animals alone in a parked vehicle. Pet owners should never leave their animals unattended in a parked vehicle. Even with windows open, parked cars become very hot in a short amount of time and can quickly lead to heatstroke or death. When it’s hot outdoors, just say no to bringing your pets along for a car ride.


Watch for heat distress. Signs of overheating in pets include increased heart rate, excessive drooling and panting, difficulty breathing, weakness, elevated body temperature (over 104 degrees), and even seizures. Elderly, overweight and pets with heart or lung diseases are especially at risk for heatstroke. Pets with short muzzles like pugs, bulldogs and Persian cats become overheated because they cannot effectively pant and should be kept in air conditioning to stay cool.


Visit the vet. A visit to the veterinarian for summer check-up is a must. Make sure your pet is up to date on all necessary vaccinations. If you did not have your pet tested for heartworm disease the early spring, you should have them tested now. The deadly parasite is transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito, and dogs and cats should be on preventive medication year-round.


Pest-free pets. Commonly used flea and tick products, rodenticides, insecticides and many lawn products can be harmful to your pet if ingested. Citronella candles, oil products and insect coils should also be kept out of their reach. Some flea products that are safe for dogs can be deadly to cats. Read the directions on all flea and tick products carefully and follow the label instructions to the letter.



Be careful with sunscreen or insect repellents. Ingestion of sunscreen products can result in drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, excessive thirst and lethargy. The misuse of insect repellent that contains DEET can lead to neurological problems.

Never use fireworks around pets. More animals are lost on July 4th than any other time of the year. Likewise, any festivities involving fireworks are a threat to pets. If fireworks are going to be nearby, keep your little guys safe from the noise in a quiet, sheltered and escape-proof area of your home.


Summer cookouts, barbecues and tailgating can be poisonous to pets. Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets, as they can cause intoxication, depression and comas. Snacks intended for humans are often risky for pets as changes in diet, even for a single meal, may give your dog or cate severe digestive ailments. Avoid raisins, grapes, onions, chocolate and products with the sweetener xylitol.


Please be vigilant about the health and safety of animals just as you would about children. If you see a pet in an unattended car or any other animal in distress, don’t second guess what to do, call 9-1-1 immediately. Lest we forget, hundreds of local animals need homes during the “vacation” months, nor should we forget that hurricane season began on June 1.


It truly takes all of us in the community to band together and provide homes for these innocent creatures who bring immense happiness to us by way of their unfaltering loyalty and companionship. Here’s to wishing you and your loved ones a safe, healthy and enjoyable summer.


Joe Elmore is executive director of the Charleston Animal Society.

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