Written by WEI HUANG
The summer of 2020 was notable for many reasons. Besides a pandemic that continued its surge across the globe, wildfires turned the skies orange along America's west coast, and Death Valley, California – one of the hottest places in the country – hit a new temperature record when it reached 130 degrees in mid-August. These latter two facts pointed to an inescapable truth: the planet is getting warmer, and we need to do something about it.
When most experts talk about climate change, they talk about the ways that warming temperatures will impact humanity at large. Rising sea temperatures, decreasing resources, and negative effects of heat are all very real concerns… but how do these issues affect our four-legged friends? The truth is that climate change can have very real impacts on your pets – but luckily, you can take steps to help them beat the heat.
The Truth of Rising Temperatures
Climate scientists agree that our planet is getting warmer – and that man-made behaviors like burning fossil fuels have contributed immensely to the problem. We have already begun to see the consequences of our actions; the ten hottest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century (since 2005).
These scientists have declared that if we do not take drastic measures to reduce carbon emissions and promote green energy, we will experience negative effects across the globe. This means that 7 billion people – as well as 840 million pets – will suffer from increased temperatures, natural disasters like flooding, and industrial issues like blackouts and brownouts. Of course, many humans want to avoid these situations for ourselves and our loved ones, but it's also important to consider how climate change and hotter temperatures can harm your pets.
What will the weather look like in 2021? We don't know for sure, of course, but scientists at the UK Met Office claim that the weather this year should be cooler than it was during 2020. However, 2021 is still on track to be one of the top six warmest years on record, which means your cats and dogs might still feel the effects of the rising temperatures.
Major Factors for Your Pet
How does climate change affect your favorite four-legged friend? Believe it or not, there are several ways that rising temperatures can impact your pet's life and well-being. It's important to be aware of these possible issues so you can keep a sharp eye on them and prevent them from having a lasting impact on your dog or cat.
A Parasite Boom
As the temperature rises, more regions will become more humid. This creates ideal temperatures for insects to lay eggs — and if recent findings are any sign of things to come, insects like mosquitoes and ticks will have a real "baby boom" in the coming years. Unfortunately, this can be real trouble for pets, and dogs and cats tend to be these insects' favorite feasting grounds.
When a tick bites a dog, there's a chance the insect could infect the poor animal with Lyme disease. This causes joint inflammation, nerve problems and can ultimately render the dog lame. Similarly, a single mosquito bite could infect a dog with heartworm, which can severely damage the heart and lungs.
As these insects become more common, pet owners will have to become more vigilant about keeping their animals safe.
Long, Hot Summers
Perhaps the most obvious symptom of climate change is the rising temperatures around the globe. For humans, this consequence can be uncomfortable, but it's fixed by turning on the air conditioner (assuming you have one and your city isn't suffering the blackouts we discussed earlier). But for pets, regulating temperature is much more difficult.
In the coming years, pets will need more help keeping cool, particularly in the summer months when the heat becomes excessive. Walks and outdoor activities may need to be cut short to limit the risk of exhaustion or heat stroke. Hot asphalt or concrete can burn their paws with prolonged exposure. Regular coat trims might become a necessity to survive the summer temperatures. Many animals will need to rely on their owners to help them avoid overheating.
Moving Habits for Humans
Climate change and rising temperatures can make a living in certain areas absolutely unbearable. As a result, some regions of the world may experience an exodus, with humans moving away from warmer areas in search of cooler climates. Even this behavior can have unintended consequences for many families' dogs and cats.
When humans move homes, the experience can be very stressful for their pets, causing undue psychological trauma that can have physical effects. Dogs who are stressed, for example, can suffer from a weakened immune system. Additionally, some families who move may not be able to take their pets with them to their new home. This results in an influx of shelter dogs and cats — at a time when our nation's animal shelters are already stretched thin.
Tips for Keeping Your Pet Comfortable All Year
The harrowing effects of climate change can scare even the most confident pet owner. How are you supposed to keep your animals healthy and happy when rising temperatures are out of your control? Luckily, there are a few things you can do to offset the coming warner days and keep your pets nice and comfortable. As the heat kicks up this summer, protect your pet by doing the following things.
Keep Up with Your Checkups
If your pet suffers from heartworm or Lyme disease, there's no need to panic. These conditions are treatable and can clear up with effective care. However, the only way for your pet to get the care they need is if you take them to the vet on a routine basis.
The best way to start out the warmer months is with a visit to your vet for a check-up. The vet can make sure your pet is in ideal health for the warm weather and even offer some suggestions for keeping healthy during the summer. And if your pet is suffering from the adverse effects of an insect bite, you can get medication to treat the condition right away.
Keep Your Pet Hydrated
When the weather gets really, really warm, your pet will need help maintaining a safe and comfortable body temperature. One of the best ways to ensure that your pet stays cool is to keep them hydrated.
Keep a bottle of water and a collapsible bowl with you at all times so your pet can take a drink when he or she needs it, and consider letting your pet lick ice cubes whenever possible. These small changes to your daily routine can make a world of difference and keep your pet happier and safer during the warmest part of the year.
Know the Risks and Signs of Overheating
Sometimes, even our best efforts to keep our pets cool might not be enough. For example, if you spend a summer day at the beach with your friends, you might find that your four-legged friend is having trouble keeping cool. If you aren't careful, your pet can suffer from heat exhaustion — And this can have adverse side effects that no one wants to face.
It is important that pet owners know the symptoms of overheating in their pets, which include:
- excessive panting
- Increased heart rate
- Weakness or stupor
- Bloody diarrhea
- Body temperature of over 104 degrees
Additionally, it's important to recognize which pets are more likely to suffer from overheating. If you have a pet with a flat face, like a pug or a person cat, they will have a more difficult time panting and therefore will struggle to keep cool. Overweight pets, elderly pets, or pets with heart and lung disease should also be treated with care as they are more susceptible to heat-related health problems.
Avoid Hot Spaces and Surfaces
The best way to avoid overheating is to limit your exposure to the heat. This might mean keeping walks short (or walking in the evening when the temperature is lower), playing in air-conditioned spaces instead of outside, and making sure your animals get plenty of water.
It's also important to consider which spaces your pets should avoid entirely during the warmer months. For example, you should never leave a dog in a parked car for any length of time during the summer; temperatures in parked cars can become exceedingly high, which means your dog could suffer from heat exhaustion far more easily.
Dogs and cats should also avoid walking on hot surfaces like concrete or asphalt as much as possible during the summer. These surfaces retain heat easily and can burn their paws if they stand on them for too long.
Give Your Pet a Cool Space to Rest
Finally, one of the best ways to help your animals stay cool through the summer months is to provide them with a comfortable place to beat the heat. An air-conditioned room with a dog bed and a bowl of water can be a little slice of heaven after playing outside in the heat of the day! Not only with this little gesture protect your pet from the adverse effects of the heat, but it's also sure to make them happier and even more appreciative of all that you do.