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Animal Tales: How to keep pets cool in summer swelter

Question: How can I keep my pets cool and comfortable during hot summer weather?

Answer: Record-breaking temperatures have been the norm this summer, and there does not appear to be an end in sight. Domestic animals and wildlife can be adversely affected by high temperatures. Below are some precautions pet owners can take to protect their pets and other animals from the heat.

▪ Do not leave your companion animal in a parked car, even for a few minutes.

During warm weather, the inside of your car can reach 120 degrees in a matter of minutes, even if you're parked in the shade. Pets that are left in hot cars even briefly can suffer from heat exhaustion, heat stroke, brain damage and even die.

▪ Provide plenty of fresh water and shade for your pets and livestock animals so they can stay hydrated and cool. While fans can be comforting to animals, they may not have the same cooling effect on pets that they do on humans.

▪ Pets need regular exercise even when it is hot, but extra care needs to be taken with older animals, short-nosed dogs, overweight animals and those with thick coats. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours. Keep in mind that asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet's paws.

▪ Pets can get sunburned too, and your pet may require animal-safe sunscreen on his or her nose and ear tips. Pets with light-colored noses or light-colored fur on their ears are particularly vulnerable to sunburn and skin cancer.

▪ In summer heat your pet can suffer from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. These conditions are very serious and could cause your pet to die. You should be aware of the signs of heat stress, which could include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid pulse, unsteadiness, a staggering gait, vomiting, or a deep red or purple tongue.

If your pet does become overheated, you need to immediately lower their body temperature. Move your pet into the shade and apply cool (not cold) water over their body to gradually lower the animal’s core body temperature. Apply cool towels or ice packs to your pet's head, neck and chest only. Let your pet drink small amounts of water or lick ice cubes. Most importantly, get your pet to a veterinarian immediately.

▪ Native wildlife acclimates to changing climates, but that doesn’t mean they are not affected by the heat and can suffer from dehydration and other issues. Ground level bird baths — kept filled with clean, fresh water — can provide welcome relief and a water source for a variety of native wildlife including birds and squirrels. Misters provide a great way to provide wildlife with hydration – and they don’t require much water.

▪ Keeping grass and ground cover a bit longer in the summer can provide additional protection for native wildlife as well as provide additional moisture to thirsty animals.

If people see an animal in distress, contact the Whatcom Humane Society Animal Control & Rescue Department (or your local animal control agency) for assistance. WHS Animal Control can be reached at 360-733-2080, Ext. 3017.

Animal Tales is a regular column written by Laura Clark, executive director of the Whatcom Humane Society. The society provides care and services to homeless, unwanted, orphaned and abused domestic and native wild animals in need. Have a question to ask? Email questions for this column to For information on the society, go to