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How to keep your pets cool and safe during a heat wave


There are record-smashing high temperatures in Europe, and wide swaths of the U.S. are now broiling under severe heat. Parts of Texas and Oklahoma have hit 115 degrees. And this weekend, temperatures across the northeastern U.S. are expected to sail into the triple digits. And as we humans try to stay safe and cool, our four-legged friends might need some help, too. Here to give us some guidance is Dr. Sy Woon, a vet with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Welcome to the program.

SY WOON: Thank you so much for having us.

SUMMERS: All right, so I am a dog owner, so let's start with those good boys and girls. Dogs need to go outside for walks and bathroom breaks. How can anyone do that safely in this kind of heat?

WOON: I know it can be a bit of a struggle, but there is some tips that I can hopefully impart today. Certainly choosing the right time of the day is really imperative. You know, we know that the sun is going to be highest in the middle of the day and certainly the hottest. And so we want to kind of avoid those critical periods. Also, when you are walking, if you're kind of not sure if that's going to be an appropriate time, even just feeling with your hand, the back of your hand, feeling the pavement to determine how hot it is because their paws can be pretty sensitive. You know, we sometimes think that they can walk across any surface and fare well, but actually, they can be quite sensitive. So it's important that we determine that as well.

SUMMERS: I've got to get some personal advice from you. My dog loves laying out in the direct sun, and I don't know how to make him stop. It doesn't seem good. What can I do?

WOON: Yeah. You know, you're just going to have to encourage, bribe with treats and just entice your dog inside. Is your dog male or female?

SUMMERS: He's male.

WOON: I forgot to say he or she.

SUMMERS: He is male.

WOON: OK. So you're just going to have to entice him inside during those sunny periods because they certainly can be susceptible to things like sunburn, and even things like skin cancer can be a concern when they're spending too much time under the sun.

SUMMERS: OK. So what about cats now? Any tips for how to help them keep cool, too?

WOON: Indeed. So a lot of people might have indoor or outdoor cats. And so it's important to always ensure that there is shaded areas for them to be able to retreat to and also multiple sources of water because oftentimes, you know, with these soaring temperatures, water can really readily evaporate. So it's important to have multiple options for them.

SUMMERS: OK. So what sort of warning signs should pet owners be on the lookout for that might signal that a dog or a cat is at risk of heat stroke or even just getting too hot?

WOON: Yeah. So panting is a way that they're able to eliminate heat. That's how they dissipate heat. So when you notice that your dog is panting excessively, you really want to take that as a warning sign that they may be overheating. Even things like being somewhat disoriented or maybe their expression, their eyes are a bit glazed over, those can be signs that they're just not compensating with the heat conditions. And it's always important to just encourage them to remain inside during those really hot, sunny periods.

SUMMERS: All right. Well, we will certainly be watching those thermometers. That is veterinarian Dr. Sy Woon of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association. Thank you so much for your time and your tips.

WOON: Oh, you're so welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.