Sunscreen? Check. Sunglasses? Check. Protecting your pet from the summer heat? Huh? With the dog days of August upon us, heat and humidity should be a cause of concern for pet owners.  Veterinarians at across the country are warning pet owners of the dangers of heat stroke, which can be a leading cause of pet fatalities during the summer months. "Pet owners these days are very informed and most know it’s a bad idea to lock their pet in a car," said Dr. David Wohlstadter, an emergency veterinarian at NYC Veterinary Specialists, located in New York. "What most people don't realize is that heat stroke can occur in more common ways; such as a walk around a couple of blocks, a game of fetch or even roughhousing with a doggie pal."

Heat stroke occurs when the pet's natural defense system cannot dissipate the heat building up inside its body. Usually, a dog or cat regulates body temperature primarily through evaporative heat loss via panting. When the animal in question cannot pant away the heat its body will overheat. Keep in mind, that dogs and cats are also wearing a fur coat and don't sweat.

Wohlstadter recommends pet owners avoid taking pets out for a walk or outdoors during the hottest part of the day which is usually between noon and 4 p.m. Of course, in some cases, this may not be avoidable. In those cases, you should limit the walk to as brief a time as possible, carry bottled water with you to give to your dog and try and walk in the shade if at all possible.

Keeping the shades down in the home with the windows closed and leaving fans and/or the air conditioner on will help keep you companion cool. Your utility bill may be a bit higher that month, but it will be cheaper than an emergency visit to the vet, and definitely less emotionally wrenching than your pet going through the trauma or dying.

Breeds with short noses, such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers are more susceptible to heat stroke, although it is important to remember that any dog or cat can suffer heat stroke. Heat stroke is a veterinary emergency and should be treated immediately.

Signs and symptoms of heat stroke include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Profuse salivation
  • Glazed eyes or staring
  • Anxiousness or restlessness
  • Bright red or purple gums and tongue
  • Confusion
  • Trouble standing or walking
  • Collapse
  • Vomiting

If you suspect that your pet is suffering from heat stroke, Wohlstadter recommends that you contact your veterinarian and rush them to the animal hospital immediately. Using ice or ice cold water is not recommended because this may lead to vasoconstriction, which is the narrowing of the blood vessels. When blood vessels constrict, the flow of blood is decreased, and more body heat is retained, which is exactly the opposite of what you want in this situation.

Wohlstadter recommends pet owners follow these tips to prevent heat stroke:

  1. Avoid excessive outdoor activity on hot days.
  2. Always have fresh water available. If you go for a walk or an outing, take plenty of water along.
  3. Keep pets well groomed. If their coat is matted and tangled the fur may actually trap heat.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight for your pet. Obese pets have more trouble regulating their body temperature.
  5. Keep walks at a gentle pace and if your pet seems tired, rest a bit or try to go someplace with air conditioning that allows your dog. Limit longer walks to early morning or evening when the sun is not directly overhead and temperatures are more comfortable.