Ah, the dog days of summer! Just because we humans enjoy the heat, does not mean our canine companions do. When we get hot, our bodies sweat as a mechanism to cool us down. A dog cannot sweat as we do, so they pant to cool themselves down. Unfortunately, panting is not the most efficient means of cooling an overheated body. To prevent heat stroke, never leave your dog in a parked vehicle. On an 85 F (30 C)day, the temperature inside your car, even with the windows open a bit, will climb to 102 F (39 C) in 10 minutes! After half an hour, it will go up to 120 F (49 C) or even higher! On a 90 F (32 C) day, temperatures in that car can top 160 F (71 C) faster than you can walk around the block.
Exercising in hot weather is another common way heatstroke can occur. As with humans, older dogs, over-weight dogs and or dogs with heart or lung ailments are much more likely to suffer from heatstroke than younger or healthier dogs. Do not push your dog to exercise on very hot or humid days. Your dog needs a nice, cool, place with plenty of fresh water to drink.
Heatstroke occurs when the dog’s ability to regulate its body temperature is lost. When the respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough, the body temperature rises. Normal body temperature is less than 103 F (39 C), but once the temperature goes over 105 F (40.5 C), it becomes even more difficult for your dog to regain control of its temperature. At this time, oxygen delivery to the system cannot keep up with rapidly elevating demand. If the temperature exceeds 108 F (42 C), cellular damage starts to occur in a number of organ systems including the kidneys, liver, gastrointestinal tract, heart and brain.
The extent of the cellular damage depends on the magnitude and the duration of the temperature elevation. Clearly, this can be a life-threatening situation, but for those animals that survive there is the possibility of long term problems after the occurrence. There are a number of predisposing factors for heat stroke. Some of the most significant are: heat, humidity, muscular activity, high body mass, anxiety, poor ventilation, dehydration, obesity, antihistamines, short-nosed breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs, and increased age.
Heatstroke can lead to rapid death. Symptoms of heatstroke must be recognized and treatment must be initiated immediately.
Early symptoms of heatstroke are labored breathing, warm dry skin, an anxious attitude, and profuse salivation. As the condition progresses, the animal develops a glazed look, and is somewhat unresponsive to external stimulation. Looking inside the mouth, the tongue and gums have a bright red appearance. The heartbeat of the animal increases and if left untreated, they becomes weak and eventually collapses.
Immediate emergency care is required for an animal suffering from heatstroke. The animal should be placed in a bathtub filled with cool water. If a tub is not available, the animal should be hosed down or wrapped in cool damp towels. The water used to cool down the animal should be cool, not cold. If the pet is responsive, small amounts of cool water should be offered to drink. When the animal is cooled down, he must be taken to a veterinary hospital. Intravenous fluid therapy is required for animals with heatstroke.
Obviously it is much preferable to prevent heatstroke than to treat it. There are several simple ways that you can protect your dog. Firstly, fresh, cool water must be available at all times, making sure it is in a non-spillable container. Secondly, pay extra attention to grooming during the summer. Removing loose hairs and keeping your dog’s coat free of tangles will help them feel more comfortable when the weather is hot, particularly when your pet is shedding. NEVER leave your pet in an unventilated area, and remember that this can include a house or apartment without air-conditioning as well as a vehicle. An outdoor doghouse or kennel should be well ventilated and located in the shade. Allowing a dog access to a child’s shallow wading pool, filled with an appropriate amount of clean water, is an excellent method for keeping your pet cool during the heat of the day. Overexertion and intense exercise should be avoided during the middle part of the day. Long walks and heavy exercise should be reserved for the early morning and late afternoon. When taking your best friend for a walk, remember that they do not wear shoes. Dogs’ paws are sensitive and burn easily on hot asphalt. This and other hot surfaces should be avoided. A quick way to check if the asphalt is too hot is to hold the back of your hand to the ground for the duration of five seconds and your dog should be safe to walk on it, if you must remove your hand prior to the five second mark, the temperature is too hot for your dog.
Help make your pet’s summer a safe one. With a little care and awareness of the dangers of hot weather, you can insure that your pet will be able to enjoy the season safely and in good health.