(WFXR) — If the hot weather rolling through southwest and central Virginia this week is making you lose your cool, imagine how much worse it would be if you were wearing a fur coat 24/7.

WFXR News’ Colleen Guerry spoke with Dr. Mark Freeman, a veterinarian and clinical assistant professor of community practice at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, about heat safety for pets.

What are the most common reasons that pets overheat?

When it comes to protecting pets, both individual localities and the Commonwealth as a whole have a variety of laws in place involving animal care and cruelty.

For example, on July 7, the Lynchburg Police Department says animal control officers responded to a call about a dog that was left in a wired crate inside a pickup truck bed — without shade and without water — while it was 87 degrees outside.

Then, on July 8, authorities say they followed up on a social media post that matched the description of the call from the day before. As a result, officers were able to track down the owner of the dog and the truck, who was then charged with violating Lynchburg City Code 7-7.1 (care of animals by owner).

According to Lynchburg Animal Control, when it’s over 75 degrees outside, city law says that pets cannot be left unattended in a vehicle for more than 15 minutes. If you do have to take your pet with you, either leave your car running with the air conditioning on, or leave the pet inside the car with a responsible adult so they can either let the pet out or find a way to cool them down.

Meanwhile, Virginia Code 3.2-6503 requires that, “Each owner shall provide for each of his companion animals” like dogs, outside cats, guinea pigs, rabbits, etc.:

  • “Adequate feed”
  • “Adequate water”
    • The water must be clean, fresh, and of a drinkable temperature, as well as provided in a suitable manner, in sufficient volume, and at suitable intervals
  • “Adequate shelter that is properly cleaned”
    • The shelter needs to be properly shaded; not readily conduct heat; stay clean and dry; and protect each animal from injury, rain, direct sunlight, and the adverse effects of heat
  • “Adequate space in the primary enclosure for the particular type of animal depending upon its age, size, species, and weight”
  • “Adequate exercise”
  • “Adequate care, treatment, and transportation”
  • “Veterinary care when needed to prevent suffering or disease transmission”

In addition, the Pulaski Police Department says it is illegal in Virginia to tether an animal outside when the temperature is above 85 degrees or below 32 degrees.

What are some common signs of animals overheating?

What is the difference between animals overheating and animals having a heatstroke?

What should you do if you suspect your pets are overheating or having a heatstroke?

If your pet is panting or drooling, as well as showing any of the following signs of heatstroke, VCA Animal Hospitals urges you to take them straight to the veterinarian:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Incoordination or stumbling
  • Sudden collapse
  • Seizures

What are the health risks of heatstroke for animals?

The health risks for heatstroke, heat prostration, over-heating, hyperthermia – any of these are concerning – are multiple. The most severe is death, and many dogs die from hyperthermia. When the body temperature gets above 107 degrees Fahrenheit, the proteins in the body begin to denature, or essentially cook. This results in significant tissue damage, with the brain typically being the organ most severely affected, and resulting in a variety of neurologic issues like seizures, acute blindness, permanent brain damage with a vegetative state, brain death, and more. The next most common organ system affected is the digestive tract, and many dogs develop severe hemorrhage into the intestines resulting in pain, dehydration, acute blood loss, and potentially shock and sepsis. Kidney and other internal organ damage are also not uncommon. I have personally treated dogs with heat prostration who presented with a body temperature over 109, and those pets rarely survive. The sooner you can get the pet seen by a vet and get the temperature dropping, the better the chances are that they will survive the incident.

Dr. Mark Freeman, veterinarian and clinical assistant professor of community practice at the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech

What are the best ways to keep animals cool during hot weather?

(Photo courtesy: National Weather Service)

Here are some other simple tips to help your pet stay chill:

  • Keep your pets’ water bowls regularly filled with fresh, cold water, but make sure they don’t get too cold.
    • If you’re taking your pets on an outing — such as a run or a hike — remember to pack water for them.
    • “A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between 1/2 and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day under normal conditions,” Donnie Embrey, the team leader for the Louisa Community Animal Response Team in Virginia, told the National Weather Service. “Of course, any pet will need more water on hot and humid days and your pet’s age, hair type, level of activity, medical history and any prior history of a prior heat related illness may dictate that your pet needs more water than the average dog.” 
  • When it comes to diet, “reducing a pet’s food intake on warmer days can help the pet cope with the heat, especially reducing the intake of grain based foods that cause a metabolic spike in body temperature,” according to Embrey.
  • Provide some airy, shady spots outdoors in which your pets can relax.
    • Dog houses don’t count since they tend to get hot and stuffy.
  • Set up a hard plastic kiddie pool for your pets. Not only are they easy for dogs to get in and out of, but they’re also shallow enough for safe swimming — as long as you supervise their pool playtime and make sure the water isn’t too cold or too hot.
  • Keep your home cool either with air conditioning or with plenty of ventilation, like fans and open windows.
  • Never leave your pet in a parked car. Even if the temperature outside doesn’t seem too hot, the temperature inside can increase at an incredibly fast rate. Also, rolling down the windows is not a safe alternative.
    • Lynchburg Animal Control Officer Sharra Houston conducted an experiment in mid-July to show how hot a parked car can get in the summer heat.
      • The inside of a light-colored car with its windows up went from 82 degrees to 104.5 degrees in 15 minutes.
      • A dark-colored truck parked in the shade with its windows slightly cracked went from 94 degrees inside and 124 degrees on the bed of the truck to 107 degrees inside and 145 degrees on the truck bed in 15 minutes.
    • According to the ASPCA, on an 85 degree day, it only takes 10 minutes for the inside of your car to reach 102 degrees and 30 minutes to reach 120 degrees.
  • Plan your pets’ outdoor exercise for the morning or evening hours, when temperatures are cooler.
    • If you do take your pets out during the warmer parts of the day, place the back of your hand on the asphalt or cement to see how hot it is. After all, if it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your pets.
    • The Roanoke County Fire and Rescue Department shared a picture last year reminding people to “hike pet smart,” showing how the ground temperature can be 50 degrees hotter than the air temperature.
  • Brush and bathe your pets regularly to remove all the extra fluff insulating them.
    • However, according to the National Weather Service‘s article, shaving your pet in the summer is not recommended because a pet’s coat blocks the heat of the sun from reaching their skin and keeps the air circulating, so if you remove their natural cooling process, they may have a harder time coping with the heat. Make sure to check with a veterinarian or professional groomer about what’s best for your pet.
  • Take extra care with pets who are at risk of heatstroke. This includes pets with short noses, like pugs and bulldogs; elderly pets; overweight pets; and pets with heart or lung disease.