Hot weather tips for dog owners
Summertime can be great fun. It can mean vacations, macaroni salad, outdoor sports events, and gardens. But summer can also be hazardous, especially for your pets. Fleas, heartworms, and other parasites are spread in warm weather, cars leak antifreeze which both attracts and harms your dog, dogs and cats have fallen through screen windows and been injured or killed. A lot of dangers also lie in the rays of the sun that can lead to heat stroke or exhaustion, both forms “hyperthermia.”
Hyperthermia, simply put, is the overheating of the body. As a warm-blooded creature, a dog’s body regulates its own temperature, usually around 101 or 102 degrees Fahrenheit. Humans have an advantage over mammals that don’t: perspiration. Sweating cools the body through evaporation- when one perspires, that moisture cools the skin. Canines do have sweat glands that work a little different than that of people, located in the pads of their feet. However, a dog’s principal method of dissipating body heat is via panting, which works similarly to sweating though not quite as efficiently. High levels of humidity can complicate this process; no method of cooling via evaporation will work when it is too humid for the moisture to dissipate. For your dog, a temperature of just 102 outside can be deadly if the air is too damp. When the external temperature reaches that of the body’s internal temperature, the body temperature rises. For dogs, a body temperature of 105F degrees is enough to be deadly and at 107 the vital organs start to fail.
So what leads to hyperthermia?
- Leaving your dog unattended in a car on a hot day. This is probably the most famous cause of heat related deaths; yet many people don’t realize how quickly this becomes a very serious problem. In just a few minutes, the temperature in your car can rise more than 40 degrees above that of the temperature outside. An 80 degree day can turn your car into a 120 degree oven- no dog can keep a safe body temperature in such conditions. Cracking the windows won’t help, even with the windows down completely in the car, the temperature rises quickly. Aside from that, cracking the windows leaves your car vulnerable to thieves- thousands of dogs and cars are stolen this way each year. If you’re going to take your pooch out in the car, make sure you have air conditioning and don’t leave him in the car for even a few minutes without supervision. Always have a leash, fresh cool water and a bowl, and a vet’s phone number when you travel.
- Being left outside (tied to a tree or in a fenced yard) without appropriate shelter and protection from the sun. A doghouse that is too confined or too well insulated can trap heat from the sun and the dog’s body. A house needs proper ventilation and should not be directly in the sun. Remember that a shady spot at 10am may not be shady at 2pm, so try not to leave your dog outside without access to cooler areas. Place your dog’s house somewhere where there is shade all day, and make sure that the house is ventilated. Bring them inside when the temperature rises. If you feel you must leave your dog outside, make sure he has fresh cool water at all times and consider purchasing a small plastic kiddie pool- can find these for under $10 at most stores with a toy section. If you have a long-coated dog, consider having him clipped down in the summer; be careful to make sure that his hair is long enough to prevent his skin from burning, however.
- Predisposition and vulnerability. Dogs that are older, overweight, thick-coated, or brachycephalic (pug nosed), as well as dogs that have had heat stroke previously and dogs that are currently ill with other diseases are more susceptible to hyperthermia than other dogs. It’s best to keep these dogs inside except for potty breaks, and then they should be supervised. Don’t shave your dog to get rid of his thick coat; he needs his fur to regulate body temperature. Instead, brush him daily to remove dead and loose undercoat that gets in the way.
- Excessive exercise. You may have the insight to stop playing games or running/walking around outside, but your dog does not. Some dogs will literally run themselves to collapse. When walking or playing with your dog, make sure you offer water every 10 to 15 minutes and offer a water supply such as a small pool if possible. Avoid being out for long and try to take walks in the morning or evening when it is not so hot. Do not walk your dog on the road or sidewalk that has been exposed to the sun during the day: asphalt and concrete can get very hot and blister or burn your dog’s pads.
Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are not two separate ailments so much as different phases of hyperthermia. Heat exhaustion comes first, with the following symptoms:
- Excessive panting
- Flushed skin (easiest to recognize in the ears and mucous membranes) or dog is hot to the touch
Without treatment, heat exhaustion will escalate. Look for symptoms like:
- Body temperature of over 104F degrees
- Increased heart rate and breathing
- Salivation, vomiting and/or diarrhea
- Weakness or dizziness, stumbling
- Depression or subdued behavior
- Seizures, loss of consciousness
If your dog is showing signs of hyperthermia, take action immediately. First, take him to a cooler place. Take his temperature with a rectal thermometer. If he has a high fever, you must get his temperature at or just below 104F degrees. Achieve this by spraying him for a few minutes with cool- not cold- water, without submersing him. If it’s not possible or practical to spray him down, soak some towels with water and place them on the head and neck, feet, and abdomen. Place icepacks around him if you can and use electric or even makeshift manual fans to cool him off. Rub alcohol in the “armpits” and on the pads of the feet. Do not force him to drink but you may offer water if he is well enough to drink. Take his temperature after your first wave of cooling attempts. If his temperature is not down to a normal range, you must take him to a vet immediately. Even if he seems to have improved, there’s a chance that internal damage has been done if his fever was over 104F degrees and he may experience organ failure, heart and respiratory problems, seizures, or death.
Your dog probably loves the sun and great outdoors as much as you do, so keep him safe by being responsible and you’ll have a lot more sunshine to enjoy together.
© 2005 Crystal Collins