It sounds counterintuitive but fur can actually help cats and dogs maintain their body temperature in heat of the summer. “Fur actually insulates the body in cold weather and helps prevent the body from taking on too much heat in warm weather,” according to James H. Jones, an expert in comparative animal exercise physiology and thermoregulation at University of California at Davis. “Fur acts as a thermal regulator to slow down the process of heat absorption.”
Dogs and cats are what are known as homeotherms, which means they maintain a pretty constant body temperature. “The trick to being a homeotherm is to be able to adjust internal heat gain and heat loss … in order to maintain a constant body temperature,” Jones said.
The fur on a cat or dog keeps them warm in the winter but also protects them from taking in too much heat in the summer. However, there are limits as to how much heat any animal can take including humans before there are consequences. We humans also have the advantage of removing our heavy clothing but our pets do not.
Dogs and cats actually shed in the summer to get rid of their thick undercoat which they use to trap heat in the winter cold. By doing this, the animals make their coats more suitable for shedding the heat as well as protecting their skin from being exposed to the sun. Many veterinarians do not recommend that your pet be clipped or shaved unless there is a medical reason for doing this.
“Unlike humans, dogs and cats can’t sweat to cool themselves. A common misconception is that cats and dogs sweat through their paws”, says Dr. Kimberly May of the American Veterinary Medical Association, “any secretions there or from their nose, mouth or tongue are not for sweating; they’re for protection and moisture, and are insufficient to cool the blood.”
“Try running in a fur coat for 20 minutes on a warm day, and you’ll have some idea what it’s like for dogs and cats overcome by heat,” May says. “And let’s not forget, dogs don’t know when to stop. They are perpetually willing to keep going despite the heat, just to please us and be with us, and can’t tell us they’re getting too warm. You have to be able to recognize the signs.”
“Exercise in the heat is double jeopardy,” Jones says. “The animal’s metabolism is generating internal heat at the same time as it starts having trouble discharging the external heat.”
If your pet seems sluggish or confused, these are some of the warning signs that they are overheating. Dogs and cats in distress will hyperventilate, drool excessively and show signs of fear if their body temperature rises above 106 degrees. “She will be panting very hard, and her tongue and gums will look bright red,” May says. “If the situation progresses, they may even look gray or purple, which is very bad. She will be weak and uncoordinated.”
To prevent heat related problems, vets recommend that you walk your pet during the coolest parts of the day, keep your walks short and always look for the warning signs that your pet is experiencing distress. Caution is the key in hot weather. And remember, just because you are not experiencing difficulties with the heat does not mean your pet feels the same way.