It’s hard not to notice the recent heat wave in Sampson County, but what can be difficult to notice is how it affects animals. While it can be easy for humans to get out of the heat and into an air conditioned building, pets and livestock don’t always have the same luxury.
With temperatures going into the mid 90s, the humidity being heavy, and the heat index getting above 100 degrees, going outside and relaxing has been out of the question for a while. However, many animals are kept outside during the day or at all times. Do animals handle the heat better than humans do? The simple answer is no.
“Dogs’ normal body temperature is 103 degrees, so if they get hotter than that, they can transition into what we consider a heat stroke. At that point the body is so overheated that it can’t regulate the body, and organs begin to shut down,” said Sgt. Jessica Kittrell, the head of Sampson County Animal Control. Kittrell sees firsthand how animals left out in the heat without proper equipment suffer, as Animal Control often responds to reports this time of year of animals left outside without shade or water.
“We allow animals to be tethered here in Sampson County, but there’s strict regulations on how you can. If a person has tied an animal up or even left it in a kennel, it has to have shade,” Kittrell explained. A dog house is not adequate enough for outdoor animals, who require either a tarp or other man-made shade out in the open, or natural shade from trees in the area.
“A big thing we’re seeing lately is with livestock, specifically horses. They also have to have shade, whether man made or a tree line, but they have to have shade to get out of the sunlight,” said Kittrell.
Horses, cattle, sheep, goats and pigs are all subject to this regulation, but unlike traditional pets a shelter is not required. Kittrell noted that you may see people hosing down their horses or other livestock with water, but the heat on their body can actually make their body hotter. This is why it is important animals have an area that they can go that is not in the direct sunlight.
If an animal has been in the sun too long and is suffering from a heat stroke, it’s important to immediately get the animal out of the sun and into a cool area, preferably inside. It’s best to put them in a bathtub and begin running cool water. Cold water is not advised, because the sudden change could be a shock to the animal. As soon as the animals body temperature has been brought down to a safe level, quickly follow up with vet care, as they will need to provide IV fluids and mineral supplements to get back to its full health and to ensure there are no lasting harmful effects.
The best course of action, however, is to prepare for the heat to ensure a heat stroke does not happen.
“Go out and assess the environment, and how you keep them,” Kittrell pointed out. “What they have to have is shelter, shade, fresh drinking water, and a healthy living environment. It’s very simple.”
If you’re using natural shade, it’s important to note how the shade fluctuates throughout the day, as the position of the sun could make it difficult for your pet to reach the shade. Cats tend to find shade easily for themselves, but this can get them into trouble. A cat that has access to area under a house can cause expensive damages to the duct work, and they are also known for getting inside of parked cars during the night.
“We’ve had quite a few times where we’ve had to go out, sedate an animal and get it out of a tricky situation in a car engine,” Kittrell said.
She noted that if a human cannot walk on the pavement barefoot, there’s a good chance their dog can’t either. Humans have shoes, but dogs are in direct contact with the pavement, which can burn and blister their paws and cause serious damage. “Under no circumstances” should pets be left in a hot car, Kittrell said.
“If you need to run to the store, go ahead and leave your animal at home,” the Animal Control sergeant insisted. “Under no circumstances can I think of would you need to leave your animal in the car while you go in the store.”
This can be a huge issue this time of year — and a deadly one. On hot summer days, vehicle temperatures can rise to well over 130 degrees, and cracking car windows will not offset that.
Kittrell gets calls about incidents like this often.
“The most recent one we had,” she recalled, “the person had an upset stomach, so she had to stop. They did admit they left their animals in the car. I’m just going to be blunt about it, if you’ve got to replace a pair of pants, replace the pants versus replacing a beloved animal.”
If you happen across an animal that has been left in a car, Kittrell said to immediately call 911 and an officer in the area will be able to respond quickly. She warned citizens that car windows will be broken in order to retrieve the animal and the owner will receive a misdemeanor charge of animal cruelty.
Mallory Turner can be reached at 910-592-8137