How to Keep Your Pets Cool and Comfortable on the Hottest Days (Even If You Don’t Have an Air Conditioner)

published Jul 2, 2021
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Credit: Mandy Holesh

There’s so much to love about summer, including sunny days, patio dinners, and fun activities both indoors and out. However, summer can be a difficult season for pets like dogs and cats — high temperatures, humidity, and hot pavement can all pose potential dangers to their well-being and overall comfort.

If you’re hoping to do all things summer with your dog at your side or want to keep your cat as comfortable as can be on those steamy days, it’s important to know the basics of hot-weather pet care, as well as the signs of heat exhaustion, to ensure that your furry friend feels like their best self every day.

Sometimes the best rule of thumb is to keep your pet home on hot days.

As much as you’d love for your dog to join you on the beach on a 90-degree day, it’s not a great idea. Dr. Hyunmin Kim, Director of Veterinarians for ASPCA Community Medicine, says it’s best to keep your pets indoors on very hot days and to refrain from over-exercising them when the temperatures rise, and to keep an eye on specific breeds, including pugs and Persian cats. 

“Animals with flat faces are more susceptible to heat stroke since they cannot pant as effectively,” shares Dr. Kim. “These pets, along with the elderly, the overweight, and those with heart or lung diseases, should be kept cool in air-conditioned rooms as much as possible.”

Plan your walks for the early morning and later at night.

Hot pavement can be a huge issue for pets; even though their paws are tough, scorching temperatures can make sidewalks dangerous. If your cat goes outside, keep them indoors when the weather heats up — and always time your dog’s walks accordingly.

“Being so close to the ground, your pooch’s body can heat up quickly, and sensitive paw pads can burn,” says Dr. Kim, adding that it’s best to keep walks to a minimum on particularly steamy days. “A good rule of thumb is to place a hand on the surface of the pavement for 10 seconds.  If the pavement is too hot for your hand, then it’s too hot for your pet’s paws.” Dr. Kim also advises going for walks in the early morning and evening and skipping the afternoon, typically the hottest part of the day.

Know how to keep your pet cool without air conditioning.

Your pets need to stay hydrated on summer days just like you do. When it comes to summer pet care, remember to offer as much clean, fresh water as possible and make sure your pet have a shady place to sit if they go outdoors. If you don’t have central air or window units in your home, you can still keep your pets comfortable with a few easy cooling methods. 

“Add ice to water bowls and give your pets frozen treats like dog ice cream, frozen broth popsicles, chilled cucumbers, or frozen food toys to keep them cool and occupied while indoors,” says Dr. Kim. “On particularly warm days, place a fan in front of a pan of ice to generate cooler air, provide your pets with wet, cool towels to lie on or sponge cold water on their feet, abdomen and under their legs.” She also recommends cooling pet beds or elevated beds with breathable mesh fabric to give them a place to rest, plus cooling collars, vests, or even frozen water bottles to place near them.

Know what to pack before you take your pet outside.

If you need to take your dog with you as you run an errand, it’s a good idea to do a little prep work to keep them feeling their best. Bring a portable water bowl with you on your summer adventures so your dog can stay hydrated anywhere and everywhere, and don’t be afraid to let them dig in the dirt to cool down. 

Dr. Kim says sprinklers and kiddie pools are also great options for some canine-friendly summer fun, but to watch your dog around pools and bodies of water; not all dogs are great swimmers, so it’s best to introduce water gradually and make sure they wear a flotation device if they’re new to swimming.

Your pet’s grooming routine can help — or hinder — their heat regulation.

A haircut feels great when it’s hot, but it can be detrimental to your dog’s cooling process. “Feel free to trim longer hair on your dog, but never shave your dog,” advises Dr. Kim. “The layers of dogs’ coats protect them from overheating and sunburn.” 

If you have a cat, add a few more grooming sessions to their routine; Dr. Kim says that more frequent brushing can help cats deal with the excessive heat. 

Be aware of overheating symptoms.

Know the signs of heat exhaustion and overheating to keep your pet safe. The main symptoms of overheating include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor and even collapse, says Dr. Kim. Symptoms can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea, and vomit. If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s best to take action right away and contact your veterinarian.