Ask the RV Vet
With Dr. Deanna Tolliver, M.S., DVM
The first official day of summer is coming up, and for most of us, that means hot weather.
We humans can adjust our clothing (less of it) or our environment (yay for air conditioning!) to keep cool, but our four-legged friends are wearing their fur coats all the time; they can’t alter their “clothing” or adjust the thermostat.
Yes, it helps to keep that woolly undercoat thinned out, and some dogs (some cats, too) can benefit from a close haircut. But we all need to be mindful of our pets’ special needs in hot weather.
Don’t leave them in the vehicle. You’ve heard it before, but it’s worth repeating. On a 78 degree day, the temperature in a vehicle can soar up to 100 degrees in just minutes, even with the windows down an inch or two. At those temperatures, a dog or cat can have brain damage or die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes.
Dogs and cats don’t have true sweat glands to help keep themselves cool. They rely mainly on panting. If you ever see a cat panting, it is either extremely hot or extremely nervous.
Another consideration is that your pet and/or your vehicle may get stolen. Recently, a van with 14 show dogs was stolen in California. An anonymous tip led law enforcement to the abandoned vehicle, and all the dogs were recovered (read about it here).
Bottom line: leave them at home when you’re out running errands or sightseeing, so you don’t have to leave them in the vehicle.
Don’t walk your dog on hot pavement. On a mid-80 degree day, the asphalt can reach temperatures of 140 degrees. That’s enough to cause blistering and burns. If it feels too hot to your hands when you touch it, the pavement is too hot to walk your pet on it. Take your walks early in the morning or later in the evening when the temps are cooler. Limit your walks if the temperatures are still high at those times.
Provide shade and water outside. If being outside on a hot summer day feels uncomfortable to you, it is also uncomfortable for your pet. For those times when you sit outside to enjoy a little fresh air, make sure there is ample shade and water for your pet.
Signs of Heatstroke:
Lack of coordination
Dogs that are older, very young, overweight, or have heart conditions, are more susceptible to the ravages of heatstroke, as are breeds with short muzzles, such as boxers, English bulldogs, pugs, Boston terriers, and shih tzus, to name a few.
You can now track your pet, no matter where he/she may have run off to, with Whistle, a GPS tracking device. Whistle uses both GPS and cellular technology to locate your pet anywhere in the U.S. You can also use it to alert you when your pet leaves its designated “safe” places. A monthly or yearly subscription plan is required after purchase. You can learn more and purchase from Amazon here.
How to treat heatstroke
Move the animal to an air-conditioned area. If possible, place it in a tub with cool (not cold) water. Apply ice packs to the head, neck, and chest (frozen vegetable bags will work). Take the animal’s temperature with a rectal thermometer, so you have a baseline, and make a beeline for a veterinary clinic. Normal temperature for a dog is about 101.5.
I’ve treated several dogs with heatstroke; some died. One I particularly remember was an English bulldog. Her owner took her on an extended run in the woods on a hot and humid Missouri day in July. When she collapsed, he had to carry her about a quarter of a mile to his car. Her temperature on arrival was 107 degrees. Had she survived, she likely would have had brain damage.
What should you do if you see a pet in a parked vehicle on a hot day?
• Check to see if the doors are locked.
• Write down the car’s make, model, color, and license plate number. If there are businesses nearby have them make an announcement to find the owner.
• If the owner can’t be found, call the police or other law enforcement agency and wait for them to arrive. If you think the animal can’t wait any longer, find a witness and decide how you are going to get the pet out.
WARNING: You may be liable for prosecution if you break a window to try to save a pet. Only eight states have a “Good Samaritan” law that protects someone from being arrested for destruction of property. About half of the states don’t have any rules at all. The best resource for finding the law in your state is HERE at the Animal Legal & Historical Center at Michigan State University website.
For many of us, the threat of prosecution will not be a deterrent to breaking a window.
You can help spread the message of the danger of leaving a pet in a hot car. Get this vehicle sunshade from the Animal Legal Defense Fund. I’ve ordered mine, and for a short time, they’re buy one, get free!
Remember: the only hot dogs that are good in summer are the kind you put in a bun and eat.
Dr. Deanna welcomes your questions. Email her at YourRVvet@gmail.com
Dr. Deanna Tolliver has been a full-time RVer for over 3 years, although she has been an RVer for several more. She travels with a fifth wheel and a 1-ton dually truck. Her travel companions include 4 small dogs and a 36-year-old Yellow-Naped Amazon Parrot. She has a BS and MS in biology and zoology, respectively, and a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Missouri, Columbia. She owned a veterinary hospital for many years and recently handed over the reins to a new owner.