On hot summer days, a cool pet is a safe pet.
This summer is proving a season of extreme weather in Chicago. After a very snowy winter and a very cloudy spring, we recently experienced two “small” tornadoes and a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds, which wreaked havoc on our area’s very old electrical grid. Now we’re under an excessive heat warning—and let me tell you, it’s excessively hot.
We’re grateful everyone has managed to stay safe so far (knock wood), but days-long power outages and serious heat have tested our moxie. It’s tough enough to manage a family in times of crisis, or at least great discomfort. What about our pets?
Tornado season isn’t over, nor is hurricane season, for that matter. Have you thought about an emergency plan for your pets? I know to herd my family into the basement if we’re under a tornado warning (unfortunately, the fish are more difficult). What if your pets are prone to hiding during a storm? What if you lose power and the filter and heater on your aquarium stop running?
One idea is to put your pets in their cages or carriers as soon as a tornado watch is issued. Stick to the basement or a room where you’ll all be safe to ride out the storm. Calm your pets by talking to them and offering a favorite toy. Cover birds. Keep everyone away from windows.
As the storm approaches, try to keep pets indoors. If your dog needs to do his or her business, use a leash: storms can be scary! Your dog may be stressed, and could become disoriented and wander away from home. After a storm, a leash is important, too. Be wary of debris and downed power lines.
If you lose power—or worse—have an emergency kit already prepared for your animals:
- Food: Consider keeping an extra bag of dry food on hand. If canned food is required, stock about a week’s worth and replace/use it every two months so you don’t end up with expired emergency grub. And don’t forget a manual can opener!
- Water: Bottled water is a necessity for humans, but don’t forget your pets, too. A water dish will be helpful. A week’s supply is ideal.
- Transport: Be sure you include a safe way to transport your pet: cages, carriers, kennels, leashes, etc. If you’re pressed for time, you can use pillowcases off your bed for cats.
- Potty: If your pet resides in a cage or uses a litter box, you may want to set aside newspapers or a box of kitty litter (some lids can be used as a litter box).
- Health and safety: Keep a copy of your pet’s vaccinations on hand, as well as any necessary medications (two-weeks’ worth for peace of mind). Consider keeping a first aid booklet on hand. Collars with ID tags are a must.
- Fish and exotic pets: If you have fish, invest in a battery-powered air filter for your aquarium so your pets don’t suffer from lack of oxygen. If you have snakes or other temperature-sensitive animals, keep extension cords handy to plug in heat lamps when you have power (or go somewhere that does!).
I, for one, cannot handle heat and humidity, but I might make it look easy compared to a dog. Dogs can only sweat through their footpads and cool themselves by panting, making them susceptible to heat stress, injury or death.
When it’s hot, the best place for your pet is indoors in the AC. If that’s not possible, the second best place is in the shade with a constant supply of fresh, cool water. Animals’ ears and noses are especially prone to sunburn, and footpads can burn on hot surfaces.
The worst place for any animal is in a parked car, even if it’s only a minute (so don’t even think about it).
Be especially vigilant if your pet is elderly and/or overweight. Pets with flat faces, including pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke.
Signs of a serious heat-related condition include restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy and lack of appetite or coordination. You can lower a symptomatic dog’s body temperature by providing the dog with water, applying a cold towel to the dog’s head and chest or immersing the dog in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.
It figures that we’re under another severe thunderstorm watch. Please keep your fingers crossed that it misses us—and be sure you’re prepared for your next storm!
“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.