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Tips on how to keep animals comfortable and healthy during heat waves

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

When I walked into NPR headquarters, about 4 o'clock this morning, it was 80 degrees in Washington, D.C. Yesterday afternoon, the thermometer on the car said 100. It's a little warm in many places. And if it's hard on you, consider what it's like for your pets.

Dr. Sandra Faeh is president of the American Veterinary Medical Association and has news that animals can use to get through the heat. She is in Austin, Texas, where there's a forecast for 94 degrees today. Good morning.

SANDRA FAEH: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Do pets have more trouble with heat than people do?

FAEH: Absolutely. So if it's hot outside for you, it's most likely even hotter for your pet. And when in doubt, leave them at home. I know we love having them with us, but we'd rather have them healthy at home.

INSKEEP: Why is it worse for the pet? I don't understand.

FAEH: So, you know, they have different - there's different factors. Age can be a factor. The older your pet, the more they struggle. The more overweight your pet, the more they struggle. And, you know, anatomically, they're all a little different. So those pets - whether it's a dog or cat - with a short nose, a pushed-in face, they definitely have more trouble managing the heat.

INSKEEP: Ah. Now, there are things that people, maybe, imagine that they can do. Should you, for example, shave your dog's thick fur, thick hair in summer?

FAEH: Yeah. So it sounds like that would make sense, but it actually doesn't help. Their fur does help protect them and also protects them from sunburn. They can get sunburn just like we can. So shaving them puts them more at risk.

INSKEEP: Oh, this reminds me of something. When I am in an extremely hot environment - I mean, I go out sometimes; I'm reporting in, like, desert or arid areas - I will tend to wear long sleeves and long pants. I don't want to have exposed skin. It's the same with a pet is what you're saying.

FAEH: Absolutely. So there are specific suntan lotions for pets. But again, it's so better to leave them inside. If you need to take them out, give them a walk in the morning. Give them a walk in the evening when - before it's super, super hot, and keep them inside and cool in that air conditioning or in front of a fan during the day.

INSKEEP: I'm just guessing you're a pet owner.

FAEH: I am. I have two dogs with lots of hair. They're more winter dogs. They're actually mountain dogs.

INSKEEP: Oh.

FAEH: (Laughter) So they hate this.

INSKEEP: Oh. So how they been doing?

FAEH: They hate this. And, you know, one of the things that has really helped is really brushing them out. So you mentioned shaving. It's much better to brush out that hair - the - you know, get all the hair that they would have shed so that they have their normal coat, and that makes them so much more comfortable.

INSKEEP: What are the signs that I should look for that the dog or cat is just getting too hot?

FAEH: Yeah. Well, first off, you know your pet best. So anything out of the ordinary, you really need to take note of that. But they'll often get - so this is dogs, actually - they'll often get anxious or restless. Dogs normally pant, but they'll excessively pant or be drooling. And when it gets real severe, you might see some vomiting, diarrhea and then even collapse.

Cats are a little different. The first thing and often the only thing you see is open-mouth breathing. And for a cat, that is an emergency. So you need to take them to the vet right away. Again, when in doubt, give your vet a call, or take them in.

INSKEEP: I'm also thinking that some of the tips for humans must apply to pets. If I'm going outdoors, if I'm going for a run or something in this weather, I'm looking for a shady path. I'm trying to stay out of the direct sunlight.

FAEH: Absolutely, shady. Give them water. And, you know, you mentioned running. Keep them off the hot pavements 'cause that can really hurt their paws. You know, we think their paws are tougher than ours, and maybe a little bit, but they can still blister in this heat. So keep them off the pavement. Keep them on grass or sandy, dirty - dirt paths.

INSKEEP: OK. Dr. Faeh, thanks for the advice. I really appreciate it.

FAEH: Thank you. Have a great day.

INSKEEP: Dr. Sandra Faeh is the president of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

(SOUNDBITE OF KORALLE'S "PERFECTIONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Steve Inskeep
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.