Pets snuggle their way into our hearts. Whether you have a tiny Chihuahua, a Great Dane, or an orange tabby cat who likes to sleep at the foot of the bed, there’s no question that pets are a part of your family. But unlike your aunt who has no problem telling you to turn up the air conditioning, Fido can’t verbalize his request. It’s important to pay attention to your indoor pets to ensure that they are comfortable and safe.
Understanding Your Pet’s Cooling and Heating Needs
It’s important to remember that dogs and cats have different ways of regulating their body temperature. Once you understand this, you’ll have an easier time knowing what they need.
Dogs have sweat glands around the foot pads and will pant to cool themselves. Panting allows moisture on their tongues and the lining of their lungs to evaporate. When moisture evaporates, it cools their body.
Cats are a different story. Their paws are much smaller, so they have to come up with additional ways to stay comfortable. They do this by seeking shade (or sunlight if they are too cold). They may excessively bathe, which is another way of creating moisture that will evaporate.
To stay warm, both cats and dogs must trap body heat. While a fur coat is a big part of this equation, these animals may also seek out small shelters or burrow.
You don’t have to be a “pet whisperer” to understand what your furry companions are thinking. All you need is to watch for certain behavior that gives you clues to whether your animal is too hot or too cold. If your dog likes to stand over (or under) your AC vents, then he’s probably a bit warm. If your cat is seeking out the shade or stretching out on the cool bathroom floor, he’s feeling a little toasty.
Is your dog burrowing under blankets? Is your cat chasing the sunlight (well, more than usual)? Then you may want to turn up the heat. Birds fluff their feathers when cool or even shiver. When hot, they may fan their feathers or seek out water for bird baths.
No matter what kind of pet you have, it’s important to know what behavioral cues to look out for, and consult your vet to ensure your friend’s comfort and safety.
Length of Coat
This affects your pet’s comfort level, but not as much as you might think. Most fur is insulated to help keep critters cool in the summer and warm in the winter. However, a “summer haircut” is perfect to help long-haired dogs, regardless of whether they are indoor or outdoor. Cats with long fur would be best kept inside during hot weather, and you can watch for behavioral cues (discussed below) to determine whether kitty is too warm or too cold.
During the winter, a short-haired dog may wish you’d turn the heat up a few notches, while you’re perfectly comfortable where it is. One solution is to use a pet sweater for your canine. Most cats are not agreeable to this wardrobe addition. (But if your cat tolerates clothes, we’d love to see some pictures!) Cats like soft, warm places to snuggle, so having kitty beds and blankets around will create the “purr-fect” environment.
While it’s unlikely that your indoor pets will develop hypothermia (when the body temperature is too low) or heatstroke (when the body temperature is too high), it’s still important to watch for any signs of distress. Remember, like people, pets may have different tolerance levels for hot or cold weather. Diseases such as diabetes, hormonal imbalances or arthritis can make them sensitive to temperature variations.
If you see your pet showing any of the following signs, you should take him to a vet immediately.
- Violent shivering
- Dilated pupils
- Excessive panting (or, in cats, ANY panting)
- Irregular heart beats
- Pale or blue gums
- Dizziness or lack of coordination
Be Prepared with AC Maintenance
You aren’t the only one inconvenienced when a storm knocks your power out. Always be sure to include your pet in your emergency preparedness plans, which means ensuring that they have food, water and medicine for at least five days. You can also be prepared by having a regular maintenance plan for your heating and air conditioning systems. It’s best to have your cooling system checked out long before July’s heatwave and your heating evaluated long before you invite the family over for Christmas dinner.
Betcha didn’t know that!