Scorching summer days are upon us. Thursday is expected to be the hottest day in nearly seven years in parts of the United States. For pets that are sensitive to heat, the steamy summer months are not only uncomfortable, they are also the time when the risk of fatal heatstroke is highest. Thousands of pets die needlessly every summer from over-exposure to heat.
Heatstroke is an emergency that needs medical attention as soon as possible. Even before you take your pet to the vet, however, you need to start cooling her body down by putting her in a tub of cool water, for example, or by applying wet towels or ice packs to her body, says Susan G. Synn, D.V. M., a veterinarian in Atlanta. When you are in the car, turn the air conditioner on high and get to the vet as quickly as you can.
Here are six tips from veterinarians for homeopathic, flower essence, and other supplements to help reduce stress in overheated pets.
- Your pet pants a lot even when the temperature is cool.
- She appears tired during the warm months.
- Her gums are suddenly bright red.
Dogs and cats don’t take off their coats in warm weather, and they don’t sweat like people do. (An exception is the nearly hairless Sphynx cat, which sweats so much that it needs to be toweled off every day.) Pets pant in order to dispel heat, but it isn’t a very efficient system; they naturally run a little on the warm side. And some pets, such as those with dark, heavy coats, are much more susceptible to heat than others.
Veterinarians worry when pets seem unusually warm, because overheating may be a symptom of underlying problems. A dog who can’t walk half a block without overheating may have a heart problem or be overweight.
You will want to see your vet right away if your pet is suddenly panting much more than usual. The chances are good, however, that she just can’t stand the heat. Here are a few ways to keep her a little cooler:
Mist her with essences. A blend of five flower essences called Bach Rescue Remedy can help decrease stress when your pet is overheated, says Kimberly Henneman, D.V.M., a holistic veterinarian in private practice in Utah. You can put three to five drops of Rescue Remedy in her drinking water, but you will get quicker results if you combine five drops with a cup of spring water in a mister and give her a quick spritz whenever she seems to be getting warm.
Top the heat with Belladonna. Dogs and cats that are exhausted from the heat will quickly revive when given homeopathic Belladonna, says Betsy Walker Harrison, D.V.M., a holistic veterinarian in private practice in Wimberley, Texas.
“It’s also the primary homeopathic remedy for heatstroke,” adds Dr. Henneman. She recommends giving pets weighing under 15 pounds one pellet of Belladonna 3C every 30 minutes. If your pet isn’t getting better by the third dose, belladonna probably isn’t going to help, and you should call your vet, she says.
Best Bet! Encourage her to drink. Pets that are sensitive to heat need to drink a lot of water, especially during the summer months. The problem is that the body’s thirst mechanism isn’t always as sensitive as it should be, so pets may not drink all the water they really need. To encourage them to drink more, Dr. Harrison recommends giving them ice chips or ice cubes throughout the day. Many pets like crunching ice, and it helps get extra fluids into their systems.
Another way to get the benefits of water – at least with dogs – is to get them wet. Spritzing them with a hose or encouraging them to lie in a kiddie pool will cool them off in a hurry. Even sprinkling the grass where they play will keep them a little cooler, Dr. Harrison says.
When dogs and cats lose fluids, they also lose electrolytes, essential minerals like calcium and sodium that they need to stay healthy. Giving your pets an electrolyte solution like Pedialyte or Gatorade will quickly replace these minerals, and they will probably like the taste. You can add several tablespoons of one of these drinks to your pet’s water every day, says Dr. Harrison.
Get the air moving.
Even on mild days, your pet’s coat traps a lot of heat and holds it next to the skin. Putting her in front of a fan or, better yet, near an air conditioner will circulate air through the fur and keep her cool, says Dr. Harrison.
Check for dehydration.
Since pets that are sensitive to heat may run low on fluids, you need to watch for dehydration, says Dr. Harrison. A quick test is to gently pinch the area between the shoulder blades. The skin should snap back into its usual position when you let go. Skin that stays in the pinched position for three to five seconds is a sign that your pet is dehydrated, and you will need to call your vet right away.
Most importantly: Never, never leave your pet in a closed car.
Adapted from New Choices in Natural Healing for Dogs and Cats, by Amy D. Shojai.Copyright (c) 1999. Reprinted by permission of Rodale Press.