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Veterinary Viewpoints: Keeping pets and livestock healthy during summer heat

Monday, August 1, 2022

Media Contact: Kaylie Wehr | Coordinator, Marketing & Public Relations | 405-744-6740 | kaylie.wehr@okstate.edu

Summertime in Oklahoma usually means high temperatures. It is important to keep pets and livestock properly hydrated and protected from the heat.

dogs and cats

Pets do not tolerate heat as well as humans. This is especially true for young, old or overweight cats and dogs. Brachycephalic breeds (pets with pushed in snouts) such as pugs, English bulldogs and Persian cats, are specifically prone to problems during the summertime.

Heat stroke is one of the most common problems pets face in the warmer weather. Signs of a heat stroke include:

  • Heavy panting and drooling
  • Increased body temperature (>104F)
  • Fast pulse rate
  • Unable to calm down, even when lying down
  • They may not be able to get up or stand properly
  • The pet’s gums may be brick red
  • They may also develop vomiting and diarrhea

Here are some tips to keep your pets safe in the heat.

Never leave your pet unattended in a car. The interior of the car can heat up quickly and can lead to life-threatening situations for pets.

Heat stroke can cause brain damage, kidney failure and in more severe cases, death.

Limit exercise because the heat can cause further exhaustion. If you want to take your pet for a run, go during the cooler times of the day such as in the morning or evening. Make sure to bring plenty of water for you and your pet.

On hot days, keep your pets primarily indoors, in an air-conditioned environment. If that is not possible, provide a shady and well-ventilated spot for outdoor pets to help keep them cooler. Be aware that dog houses can become quite hot inside. Some pet owners also occasionally put ice cubes in their pet’s drinking water to help keep the water cool.

Another suggestion to keep a large, outside pet’s cooler is to buy a small kiddie pool and fill it with cool water. This only applies to pets that enjoy the water. Adding ice cubes to the pool will give pets a cool place to rest on hot summer days.

Watch light-colored, hairless and shaved dogs as they can be prone to sunburn. To keep your pet safe, use a specific pet sunscreen to keep their skin healthy and sunburn free. Also, be sure to keep your pet’s paw pads off hot surfaces, such as hot asphalt, concrete surfaces and hot sand.

If you think your pet may be suffering from heat stroke, immediately move the pet to an air-conditioned or shady area and begin cooling the pet down with cool damp towels, ice packs and cool (not cold) water. Allow your pet to drink small amounts of water. Then seek immediate veterinary medical attention as a heat stroke can lead to severe organ dysfunction and damage.

Veterinarians will be able to help cool your pet down with intravenous fluids and other medical resources.

Horses and Livestock

Livestock can also experience heat stress during hot weather, particularly if the heat is prolonged or temperatures are extremely high.

Cattle, sheep, goats and horses can regulate body temperature to some extent by sweating, but pigs lack this ability. Black or dark-colored animals may be more severely affected than lighter-colored animals because they absorb more heat and may have more trouble dissipating it.

Monitoring animal behavioral and physical cues can help producers determine if livestock are heat stressed. Signs of heat stress can include:

  • Crowding around water tanks or shade
  • Lethargy, poor appetite
  • Increased respiratory rate or open-mouth breathing
  • Drooling
  • Elevated rectal temperature (>102F Horses, >104F -livestock)
  • Staggering or aimless wandering

Management practices for mitigating heat stress include managing water supply and availability in hot weather. Providing unlimited cool, fresh water at all times is essential for every animal. Erecting shade over water tanks or moving water sources to shady areas will decrease water temperature, increase consumption and reduce internal body temperatures. Temporary shade can be provided by tarps, shade cloths, wagons and the like. Make sure such temporary structures do not become a safety hazard for livestock, especially curious small ruminants.

Heat loss through evaporation requires significant amounts of water above maintenance requirements. Water needs can increase substantially during hot weather. For example, beef cattle may need two gallons per 100 pounds of body weight per hour when temperature reaches 80 F. A horse at rest in the heat of an Oklahoma summer may consume a minimum of one gallon per 100 pounds of body weight. That is a minimum of 11 gallons of water for a 1,100-pound horse.

Equine athletes require supplemental water for performance activities just like people. The primary method for cooling in the horse is sweating. Water is the basis for sweat. Horses need to restore their body water to prevent dehydration during exercise.

In hot weather, air flow can increase animal comfort by increasing the amount of body heat lost by convection. In some horse and small herd situations, fans can keep air moving and animals feeling cooler.

Animal-handling practices during hot weather involve common senseā€”do not overcrowd animals, move them slowly if at all, and work them in the early morning if absolutely necessary. When possible, delay any work, treat, transportation or handling until hot temperatures abate.

Sheep, hair goats (ex: Angora), llamas and alpacas can also be affected by heat stress. Wool, hair or fiber is an excellent insulator and protects those species from cold temperatures. Annual shearing prior to warmer months (ex: April or early May) is considered best practice to decrease the likelihood of developing heat stress in those species.

About the author: Dr. Melanie Boileau is a professor in the Department of Veterinary Clinical Sciences at Oklahoma State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She holds the McCasland’s Clinical Professorship and serves as the Food Animal Service Chief and Large Animal Section Chief for the hospital. Boileau is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.

Veterinary Viewpoints is provided by the faculty of the OSU Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. Certified by the American Animal Hospital Association, the hospital is open to the public providing routine and specialized care for all species, as well as emergency care. Call 405-744-7000 for an appointment or more information.

USO’s College of Veterinary Medicine is one of 33 accredited veterinary colleges in the United States and the only veterinary college in Oklahoma. The college’s Boren Veterinary Medical Hospital is open to the public and provides routine and specialized care for small and large animals. The hospital offers 24-hour emergency care and is certified by the American Animal Hospital Association. For more information, visit https://vetmed.okstate.edu/ or call 405-744-7000.

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