Keep pets cool and healthy in summer's heat

Summer can take a toll on dogs and cats. Here are some simple tips and innovative products that can help your critters stay cool.

1. Autopilot: Everyone knows – or at least they should know – that parked cars can become death traps in a matter of minutes, even on a mild summer day. But sometimes less-obvious places, such as outdoor kennels, might get too hot to handle. For peace of mind, invest in a remote wireless thermometer that lets you monitor temperatures from afar. Radio Shack (www.radio shack.com) offers some models that start at $30.

2. Pass the lotion: Hairless dogs such as Chinese cresteds need ample doses of sunscreen to avoid crisping. (Use a dog-specific brand to avoid toxicity from licking the stuff off.) White cats, or those with white on their ears or faces, are also at risk of sunburn, as well as squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer that often appears on the nose and ear tips.

3. Weather or not: Exercising dogs on extremely hot days is a definite no-no. (If you must, go out in early morning or late evening.) But if you own an animal that is brachycephalic – a 50-cent word meaning “flat-faced” – be exceedingly careful: Bulldogs, pugs, Persian cats – all are more prone to sunstroke than their more normally nosed counterparts. Keep them cool at all costs.

4. Hair today: Breeds that hail from northern climes, such as malamutes and huskies, also appreciate air conditioning. Do not make the mistake of “shaving down” such dogs in an attempt to keep them cool. Not only does it make them look totally bizarre, but their coats actually provide some insulation from the heat. Do keep long-coated dogs and cats well groomed and free from mats, so air can circulate around them more effectively.

5. Paws and reflect: For animals who spend time outdoors, reflective fabric can deflect sun and heat. Durable, lightweight and rot resistant, shiny, futuristic-looking silver mesh is available in sizes that fit over exercise pens, kennels, even the dogs themselves. Check out www.silvershademesh.com, or call 507-893-3646.

6. Water, water everywhere: Make sure the wet stuff is readily available. Cats in particular appreciate running water. Gizmos such as the Drinkwell Pet Foundation (www.petco.com) consistently get thumbs-up from owners. I can only presume the cats concur.

7. It's a breeze: Battery-operated crate fans that clip onto the front of your dog's crate can help with air circulation. Some models allow you to add a freezer-pack insert to up the cool-down factor. Go to www.elitek9.com, or call 270-554-5515.

8. Be aware: Watch for signs of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, which include uncontrollable panting, staggering, salivating, weakness and confusion. Get to the vet as quickly as possible.