Caring for Companion Animals during Extreme Heat

When the temperatures rise, it is important to remind ourselves – and our clients – of the dangers of hot weather and how it can affect our patients. Veterinarians have an important role to play in educating clients about heat exposure and what to do in the event of heatstroke when it comes to pets.

For example, it is never acceptable to leave pets in vehicles during hot weather – not even for a few minutes. What seems like common sense to us as veterinarians may not be common sense to others. Providing educational information on your website or during patient visits is a great way to inform your clients of the dangers of heat exposure with a list of “dos” and “don’ts” during hot weather.

Below are first-aid instructions for pets with heatstroke from the AVMA that you can share with clients.

First Aid for Heatstroke

  • Never leave your pet in the car on warm days. The temperature inside a car can rise very quickly to dangerous levels, even on milder days. Pets can succumb to heatstroke very easily and must be treated very quickly to give them the best chance of survival.
  • If you cannot immediately get your pet to a veterinarian, move it to a shaded area and out of direct sunlight. If possible, use a fan or some other method to force ventilation on the animal.
  • Place a cool or cold, wet towel around its neck and head. Do not cover your pet’s eyes, nose, or mouth. Remove the towel, wring it out, rewet it, and rewrap it every few minutes as you cool the animal.
  • Pour or use a hose to keep water running over the animal’s body (especially the abdomen and between the hind legs) and use your hands to massage its legs and sweep the water away as it absorbs the body heat.
  • Transport the pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Curbside Care Considerations

For those who are still offering curbside services, it is especially important to educate clients on the importance of keeping patients cool in the vehicle during wait times. When clients call to check in, remind them to keep the air-conditioning running until staff can retrieve their pets.

It’s also essential to ensure patients are retrieved from vehicles in a timely manner when the temperatures climb. Set a clinic policy with the team regarding timely patient retrieval from the vehicle to prevent heat exposure.

And don’t forget to consider the effects of extreme heat on the parking lot surface. We all know how it feels to walk with bare feet across hot pavement. The same goes for our patients. Consider providing shade (such as a tent) or alternative access during hot weather so patients pads do not burn while they are coming into the building.

Boarding Services during Hot Weather

For clinics that provide boarding services, the summer travel season can be a busy time – and it can present additional challenges for protecting the animals in your care.

If your practice provides outdoor kennels or yards for boarders, take extra precautions during hot weather. Set limits for the amount of time each animal can be left outside. Always provide a source of shade and adequate hydration. Also, pay extra attention to “at-risk” patients, like brachycephalic breeds or geriatric patients, which may be more prone to heat stress.

Animal bailee claims related to patient injury and death from heat exposure while in outdoor kennels and enclosures are not uncommon. Consider protecting your practice by securing animal bailee coverage through the AVMA Trust’s PLIT program.