KC Theisen is director of pet care issues in the companion animals program for The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS). This article first appeared on the HSUS website. Theisen contributed this article to LiveScience's Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.
Summer can be an uncomfortable — even dangerous — time for pets and people. It's difficult enough simply to cope with rising temperatures, but things really get tough in areas that are hit with the double blow of intense heat and storm-caused power outages, sometimes with tragic results.
The HSUS can help you keep you and your pets safe and cool this summer. Follow these tips for helping everyone in your family stay healthy and comfortable when the heat is on (even if the power isn't).
Never leave your pets in a parked car
Do not leave pets in a parked car, not even for a minute — not even with the car running and air conditioner on. On a warm day, temperatures inside a vehicle can rise rapidly to dangerous levels. On an 85-degree day, for example, the temperature inside a car with the windows opened slightly can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, the temperature will reach 120 degrees. At those temperatures, your pet may suffer irreversible organ damage or die.
If you see an animal in distress in a parked car, contact the nearest animal shelter or police. Spread the word about the dangers of leaving pets in hot cars by talking to them and by printing out the HSUS Hot Car flyer and posting it in public places, and sharing it with your friends, family and coworkers. (It might help convince some people if you point out that leaving a pet in a car is an invitation to theft — of the car, the pet or both — especially if the windows are cracked.)
Watch the humidity
"It's important to remember that it's not just the ambient temperature but also the humidity that can affect your pet," says veterinarian Dr. Barry Kellogg of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. "Animals pant to evaporate moisture from their lungs, which takes heat away from their body. If the humidity is too high, they are unable to cool themselves, and their temperature will skyrocket to dangerous levels — very quickly."
Taking a dog's temperature will quickly tell you if there is a serious problem. Dogs' temperatures should not be allowed to get over 104 degrees. If your dog's temperature does, follow the instructions for treating heat stroke (see below).
Limit exercise on hot days
Take care when exercising your pet. Adjust intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature. On very hot days, limit exercise to early morning or evening hours — and be especially careful with pets with white-colored ears, who are more susceptible to skin cancer, and short-nosed pets, who typically have difficulty breathing. Asphalt gets very hot and can burn your pet's paws, so walk your dog on the grass if possible.
Don't rely on a fan
Pets respond differently to heat than humans do. (Dogs, for instance, sweat primarily through their feet.) Fans don't cool off pets as effectively as they do people.
Provide ample shade and water
Any time your pet is outside, make sure he or she has protection from heat and sun and plenty of fresh, cold water. In heat waves, add ice to water when possible. Tree shade and tarps are ideal because they don't obstruct air flow. A doghouse does not provide relief from heat — in fact, it makes it worse.
Cool your pet inside and out
To keep your pet cool, whip up a batch of quick and easy DIY peanut butter popsicles for dogs. (You can use peanut butter or another favorite food.)
Keep your pet from overheating indoors or out with a cooling body wrap, vest or mat (such as the Keep Cool Mat). Soak these products in cool water and they'll stay cool (though usually dry) for up to three days.
Watch for signs of heatstroke
Extreme temperatures can cause heatstroke. Some signs of heatstroke are heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure and unconsciousness.
Animals are at particular risk for heat stroke if they are very old, very young, overweight, not conditioned to prolonged exercise or have heart or respiratory disease. Some breeds of dogs — like boxers, pugs, shih tzus, and other dogs and cats with short muzzles — will have a much harder time breathing in extreme heat.
How to treat a pet suffering from heatstroke
To treat a pet suffering from heatstroke, move your pet into the shade or an air-conditioned area. Apply ice packs or cold towels to her head, neck and chest or run cool (not cold) water over her. Let her drink small amounts of cool water or lick ice cubes. Take her directly to a veterinarian.
Prepare for power outages
Before a summer storm takes out the power in your home, create a disaster plan to keep your pets safe from heat stroke and other temperature-related trouble.
This article first appeared as Keep Pets Safe in the Heat on the HSUS website. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher. This article was originally published on LiveScience.com .