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Columbia Missourian

In severe heat, outdoor animals need plenty of shade, water

By Robson Abbott
July 19, 2011 | 3:03 p.m. CDT
Through the use of occasional sponge baths, indoor misters, an arsenal of electric fans and regular servings of powdered electrolytes, employees like Ellen S. Beard have managed to avoid any heat-related incidents with the horses. Stephen College's Equestrian Center, which typically has morning and evening classes, has also had to curtail and augment the schedule in observance of the oft triple-digit heat.

COLUMBIA — As temperatures climb into the 100s, outside animals such as dogs and horses are in the greatest danger of dehydration and overheating.

Common sense should prevail when helping your pet manage the heat, said Allison Brown of the Central Missouri Humane Society.

Tips for keeping animals cool

The ASPCA provides hot weather tips for pets on its website. They include:

  • Not leaving animals inside parked cars.
  • Taking pets to a veterinarian in spring or early summer for a checkup.
  • Keeping pets inside when it is extremely hot.
  • Ensuring that pets have plenty of clean water.
  • Knowing the warning signs of overheating pets. Warning signs include excessive panting, difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rates, drooling, weakness, stupor and collapse.
  • Not leaving dogs unsupervised around pools or bodies of water. The website cautions that not all dogs are good swimmers.
  • Not letting dogs linger on hot asphalt.

The ASPCA also offers a free mobile app called PetWeather that indicates to users when temperatures in their location are dangerous for pets. The app is available for both Android phones and iPhones.

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"If your pet is outdoors, make sure they have access to shelter and shade as well as constant fresh water," she said.

Dogs don't sweat and rely on panting to cool down. With their physiology, they can become dehydrated long before a human can.

"Just because you're OK for a mile walk doesn't mean your dog is," Brown said.

Leaving animals in parked cars is also extremely dangerous — the inside temperature can get up to 170 degrees in the sunshine, Brown said.

Although giving long-haired dogs a haircut to help them stay cool is fine, be careful not to cut them too close, she said. Without enough fur, dogs are susceptible to sunburns.

Breeds most at risk from overheating are those with short noses, like pugs, Boston terriers and boxers.

Symptoms pet owners should look for are if animals become lethargic or nauseated.

"If they're not acting normal, they are probably overheated," Brown said.

If pets show signs of overheating, Brown said, people can help them cool down with ice or blankets soaked with cold water. She also said to get them into air conditioning and to take them to a veterinarian.

Horse care in the heat

Horses, common throughout the Boone County countryside, are also under threat in this stretch of heat.

The Stephens College Equestrian Center is taking precautions during hot summer days to protect its animals, said Ellen Beard, director of equestrian operations.

"This intense heat is bad," she said, "but it's the heat buildup over multiple days that gets to them."

As the heat index rises, the center tries to limit the amount of time the horses spend in direct sun — taking them outside early in the morning and later in the afternoon.

Inside the horse barn, large, round fans and shade cloths keep out the sunlight. The center also frequently watches water levels.

"We always give them two, five-gallon water buckets," Beard said, "and we fill them three times a day."

They also add salt and applesauce to the horses' diet – a homegrown, inexpensive way to get the horses to drink more water.

Symptoms of dehydration include rapidly flaring nostrils, not drinking enough water and lack of sweating. The center also often uses the "pinch test" to check for dehydration.

The test involves pinching skin together on the horse's neck. If the skin stays together and doesn't return to normal, that could be a sign of dehydration.

If horses exhibit any of these signs, Beard recommends getting them to drink more water and pouring rubbing alcohol on their backs to help cool them down. If a horse shows significant signs of distress or if the caregiver is in doubt, quickly get in touch with a veterinarian.