PULLMAN, Wash. -- With much of Washington already breaking records for high temperatures in the month of June, Washington State University veterinarians are working to remind people to keep their pets cool during this historic heat wave. 

When it comes to heat, pets are at a particularly high risk due to a variety of different factors. “Dogs and cats do not sweat like humans,” said Raelynn Farnsworth, interim director of WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital. “Instead, they pant and seek shade to eliminate excess heat. Pets do lose water through exhaled air, and that needs to be replenished with abundant, clean, free-choice drinking water. Free-choice meaning they can reach water at any time, even if they are in an enclosed space.”

Dr. Farnsworth recommends taking your pets on walks in the early morning and evening hours to prevent over-exposure to heat. Animals also should not be left in vehicles or tethered outside without shade or water. The inside of most cars can reach temperatures approaching 200 degrees within minutes. 

“Animals left in parked cars during summer heat can develop heat stroke in a very short period of time,” said Farnsworth. “People are best advised to not leave pets unattended in parked cars or similar enclosures during the summer heat at all, whether the windows are down, or not.”

In addition, cracking open car windows in an effort to cool off the pets in the car is not a solution. When the temperature reaches high levels like we are seeing here in the inland northwest, the air entering the car will not help to cool down the interior of the vehicle. In addition, an open window can give a pet the chance to escape. Parking in the shade may also seem like a temporary fix, but offers little protection when the sun shifts in the sky.

Across the U.S., it is illegal to leave an animal unattended in a car or enclosed space if the animal could be harmed or killed by exposure to excessive heat, cold, lack of ventilation, or lack of necessary water. In addition to potential fines, the Washington state law also authorizes and protects animal control personnel and law enforcement officers who break into a vehicle or enclosed space to prevent harm to an animal. Depending on the severity of the case, pet owners could face in animal cruelty charges if found in violation of this law. 

Farnsworth said in the heat, owners need to cautious of hot pavement as well. “If it’s too hot to walk barefoot, it’s too hot for your pet’s feet.” She said to be especially sensitive to pets with special needs, including those that are old, overweight, or that have heart and lung disease. “Leave these animals at home and protected as much as possible,” she said.

A dehydrated or overheated pet may pant heavily, stagger, vomit, have diarrhea, seizures, or go into a coma. If you fear your pet may be experiencing any heat-related illness, WSU veterinarians urge you to seek immediate veterinary medical care.