Paw Talk: Heatwaves and Hurricanes

Henry Pit Bull is a regular at training class in Harahan at the Abadie Vet parking lot; just a few weeks ago, as we were heeling in a circle, he started slowing down, far more than usual, his head hanging low, his tongue hanging out of his mouth. Just as I was turning to tell the trainer that we were stepping out of the circle for water, she was starting to tell me to pour water on him. We dipped his feet in the water bowl then poured the entire bowl all over him. After a few minutes, he started pepping back up, begging to go back in the heeling circle. Many consider dogs to be resilient and they are; they typically bounce back after being tethered outside all day in 95 degree weather; they heel after being beaten; they keep coming back for love after being shouted at, talked down to and treated as though their version of animal is lesser than the human version of animal. Henry’s extremely small encounter with heat exhaustion was a reminder to me of how easy it is for these strong creatures to feel what we feel and how their communication is not always understood and sometimes ignored.

Summer in New Orleans is ridiculously hot; once, a northeastern college student told me about how it was strange to her that everyone stops you on the street in New Orleans to just say “hello” and ask how your day is going. A fellow New Orleanian’s response was, “Because it’s too hot to keep walking!” Most of us Deep South dwellers love the heat but will admit it is generally too hot to do much of anything in the summer. With this heat comes the threat of hurricanes and the always-near memory of August 29, 2005; and after such tragedy, most of us always have hurricane season in the back of our mind: we’ll never not be prepared again. Through talking with other locals, it seems that pet preparation is something that was not high on lists of priorities seven years ago (along with bringing enough clothes to last a few months!). Some pets were left behind while the ones that were taken were without their vet records or proper necessities.

While you are at home, evacuated or stationary on vacation during the hot months of summer, here are some guidelines for proper pet care:

1. Food and Water: Make sure your animals have plenty of water. They should be inside, cooled and well fed and watered. It only takes minutes for heat stroke to occur and if you aren’t monitoring your pet outside in the heat, you will not see the signs of heat stroke, leading to the possible death of your pet. When evacuating, ensure that you have enough pet food and water to last a few days.

2. Do not tether: In some states, tethering or chaining a dog outside to a stationary object (a tree, a fence, etc…) is illegal. In states where it is legal, just don’t do it. During the hot part of the year, tethering a dog outside with little shade or water can cause heat stroke. Additionally, dogs are naturally social. Tethering can cause psychological issues that can lead to anxiety, depression and aggression.

3. Don’t leave your pet in the car: We all get busy; we all know what being in a hurry feels like. When in a rush, don’t ever leave your dogs unattended in a car, even if it’s running. Cars become very hot very fast (think “oven”), leading to a shocking number of heat-related deaths for pets and children. Thinking “I’ll just be a minute” always results in a longer time period and it only takes a few of those minutes for heat stroke to occur.

4. If your dog becomes overheated, make sure to move him or her into a shaded, cool area. Soak Fido with tepid water (not ice-cold, which can lead to shock), first immersing their paws in the water. You can apply an icepack or cold compress to their head, neck and chest but remember that—just like humans—the key is to gradually bring down your dog’s body temperature.

Lastly, here are a few specific things to remember when planning to evacuate. It’s important to have some of these items prepared and ready to go in the event of an emergency evacuation:

1. Medicine and vet records: As with home ownership paperwork, you should keep your vet records—namely, proof of vaccinations—in one envelope ready to go. This is important in case you have to board your dogs or cats in a city away from home. As you would do for yourself, make sure to bring your pets’ medications.

2. Collar with identification tags, leash and microchipping: For animals who are primarily inside animals and rarely leave the house, even for walks, collars with identification tags and leashes can be easy to forget when in a rush to leave, particularly if your dog or cat is in a carrier for the car ride. In addition to a collar with ID tags is the importance of microchipping. Talk to your vet about having your pets microchipped if they aren’t already; if your pets escape due to the stress of evacuating or out of a relative’s backyard, then shelters and veterinarians are able to scan for a chip, locating you, the pet’s worried owner.

Remember that if it feels hot to you outside, it definitely feels hot to your pets; in order to keep your pets safe, healthy and alive, don’t put them in a furnace-like car or outside for an extended period of time when it is 95 degrees (or hotter). When evacuating, keep in mind the importance of proof of identification and vaccination—after all, without proof of identification or health insurance, we aren’t able to get necessary care either.