A GIF of a dog near the sun, with a wagging tail

Keeping Pets Safe During the Dog Days of Summer

Stories You May Like

Far from the Hill, Alum Builds His Own ‘Tower’—of Giraffes

Puppy, It’s Cold Outside! How Can You Keep Your Pets Safe in Winter?

The ABCs of C-A-Ts

An alum on the faculty of the College of Veterinary Medicine offers tips on how to help your furry friends beat the heat, and more

By Beth Saulnier

With summer about to kick into high gear, Cornellians asked Michelle Moyal, DVM ’07, for some tips on keeping our furry friends safe and healthy.

In addition to being an alum of CVM, Moyal joined its faculty in 2020 as an assistant clinical professor in primary care surgery.

She’s also the proud mom of five rescue pets: two dogs (Carl, a soft-coated wheaten terrier, and Chester, a mixed-breed pooch) as well as three cats ranging in age from around 18 months to 18 years.

Dr. Michelle Moyal with a black and white cat

How much should we be concerned about the impact of summer on pets?

Hot weather can be more detrimental than we think—and it can happen faster than we expect.

Dogs don’t have a lot of areas on their body where they can release heat. Some is released through their paw pads; panting helps a bit with cooling, but not much.

A dog rolling in the grass

It may take time for humans to feel the effects of hot temperatures, but it’s much faster in animals. You have to pay close attention to the signs your pet gives you.

One perennial concern is leaving a dog in a car in the summer. Why is that so dangerous?

Even an open window doesn’t guarantee air circulation, and temperatures can escalate very quickly; a study out of Stanford showed that within an hour, it can go up 40 degrees.

A black dog with its tongue out and a blue ball

So if you leave your pet in a 70-degree car and are gone for an hour, we’re talking about temperatures of around 110.

And even in shorter amounts of time, it’s still very hot.

What about hot pavement?

It can cause significant burns on dogs’ paw pads. It’s painful, requires medical care, and takes a fair amount of time to heal.

I have a rule of thumb that if you can’t hold the back of your hand against the pavement longer than eight seconds or so, your dog should not be walking on it without protection.

In terms of summertime exercise, do dogs need to ease into activity like people do?

I worked emergency in California, and I used to see this often: you’d have the first beautiful day of the season, and an owner takes their pet who has been a couch potato over the winter out for a five-mile hike.

It may take time for humans to feel the effects of hot temperatures, but it’s much faster in animals.

A dog will follow you anywhere; even if they don’t have the energy or endurance, many will still go those five miles.

If you’re encouraging them and they’re excited, they may not realize what they’re doing to their body.

A dachshund running in the grass

If you’re out on a warm day, should your dog have its own water bottle?

Absolutely, and don’t wait until they look thirsty or start to pant heavily.

Offer frequent breaks—even if your dog still wants to go—including water and shade.

You don’t have to get fancy; you can just use a bowl. But there are products that make it easy, like bottles you can squeeze to fill a little bowl on the top.

Is there a temperature at which you should keep your dog inside except for necessary bathroom trips?

There are different opinions, but to me any length of time at 75 degrees and above can be problematic.

And it’s even more of an issue in elderly dogs, dogs who are overweight, and the very popular “smushed-face” breeds like pugs, English bulldogs, French bulldogs, and Boston terriers.

A brindled greyhound in a yellow raincoat

If your dog seems overheated but it doesn’t appear to be an emergency, what should you do?

Sometimes it is hard to discern—so if there’s any confusion, I urge everyone to at least call their vet, in case an animal is on their way to having a more serious condition.

 If you can’t hold the back of your hand against the pavement longer than eight seconds or so, your dog should not be walking on it without protection.

Get them out of the heat to a cool, shaded area, or in the house if there’s AC. They can lay on a cool floor; you don’t need to put ice packs on them, but you might offer small amounts of water with ice cubes in it.

Stories You May Like

Far from the Hill, Alum Builds His Own ‘Tower’—of Giraffes

Puppy, It’s Cold Outside! How Can You Keep Your Pets Safe in Winter?

Sometimes people will offer a frozen treat—anything to encourage them to internally cool, and then rest.

A white Boxer dog by a lakeshore

What about dogs with heavy coats? Is it a good idea to give them a “summer haircut”?

People often think that keeps them cool—but actually, most veterinarians encourage you not to shave them down.

Those coats can create a layer of insulation, which can help keep them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.

A dog in a grassy field

Do dogs need sunscreen?

Yes; they can get sunburned just like people can, though we tend to focus on lighter-coated animals or dogs that are very fair.

I encourage owners to talk to their veterinarian and to look for pet-specific sunscreens.

When should you start using flea, tick, and heartworm prevention?

My recommendation is year-round. We need sustained freezes to kill off some parasites, and many places can have random warm days even in the winter.

If people are traveling with their dogs this summer, what should they keep in mind?

Make sure that your pet has a collar with easily visible contact information; ideally they should also be microchipped.

And particularly around the Fourth of July, fireworks can be a big issue; animals can jump out of a window or run away because they’re so fearful. So we want to make sure they’re clearly identified.

We’ve talked a lot about dogs. What about cats?

Two dogs on a porch.

Cats are pretty smart and resilient. If they’re outside in the heat, they have a tendency to find cooler, shaded places.

But heatstroke is very possible in an enclosed space; if a cat gets trapped in a hot attic, for example, it’s the same as being in a hot car.

A fluffy gray cat

And cats are even more limited than dogs in cooling themselves, because cats do not pant to cool off.

So if it’s really warm and you suddenly see your cat panting, that is very much reason for concern and you should talk to your veterinarian.

Any other cat-related thoughts?

People tend to forget about flea and tick prevention in cats, because they may not go outside as often, or at all.

But if you have dogs in the house, your cats also need to be on flea and tick prevention and parasite control.

A young girl walking a dog down a street

Another concern is open windows without screens. An indoor cat could get lost, so you want to make sure they’re also microchipped.

A cat could even fall out an open window—and while we joke that they have a tendency to land on their feet, sometimes they don’t.

Top: Illustration by Caitlin Cook / Cornell University. All photos provided. Special thanks to University Relations colleagues Alexandra Bond ’12, Ted Boscia, Margit Chamberlain-Czebiniak ’11, Lindsay France, Angie Heiland, Lindsay Lennon, Beth Saulnier, and Joe Wilensky for sharing images of their furry friends!

Published June 15, 2023


  1. Mohammad Mukhtar Sumar, Class of 1977

    I am presently living in Pakistan. Got one German shepherd and ten cats indoors and half a dozen outdoors. In summer it gets above 110F and indoors is 90+. AC rooms are around 85. Water bowls all over the house with fresh water changed twice a day. Any suggestions.

Leave a Comment

Once your comment is approved, your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Other stories You may like