Summertime: the days are long, the weather is warm, and people try to find more time to go outside for swimming, picnics, jogging, hiking, and barbecues.
It’s fun to soak up the sun’s rays but our four-legged family members require special consideration during the hottest months of the year. The way dogs handle the heat is different than humans and, unfortunately, they can’t tell us when they’re too warm.
“When humans overheat we are able to sweat in order to cool down,” writes PetPlace.com “However, your dog cannot sweat as easily; he must rely on panting to cool down. Dogs breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth, directing the air over the mucous membranes of the tongue, throat and trachea to facilitate cooling by evaporation of fluid. Your dog also dissipates heat by dilation of the blood vessels in the surface of the skin in the face, ears and feet. When these mechanisms are overwhelmed, hyperthermia and heat stroke usually develop.”
Fortunately, there are ways to protect dogs from the heat and read their body language to help keep them from overheating.
By the time your dog is exhibiting the first symptoms of overheating, he’s already experiencing discomfort. If you think your dog is having a heat stroke or an extreme reaction to the heat, it’s an emergency so take him to the veterinarian immediately. Some things to be on the lookout for include:
Bright red tongue and/or gums
Tongue hanging out further than normal
Lack of coordination, staggering
Heat stroke can occur quickly when a dog cannot cool himself. Dogs cool themselves through panting, but that’s generally considered an inefficient method and it isn’t enough.
“Living cells have temperature tolerance limits,” MyDogIsCool.com writes. “Go beyond those limits and the cell breaks down, loses functional capacity, releases chemicals within itself that cause more adverse reactions, and eventually ceases to function and dies. Tolerance to higher than optimum temperatures for mammals breaks down at about 107 degrees … The longer the cell is above the 107 degree level the less chance there is for the cell to recover. The higher the temperature becomes above 107 degrees the faster the cell death occurs.”
What To Do
If your dog appears to be overheated, the first step is removing him from the direct sunlight and heat and getting him to a cooler area, such as in shade or air conditioning. Gradually bring down his temperature by wetting him down with water. Running a cool, wet rag or washcloth over his face and paw pads can help.
If the dog can drink water, allow him some water but don’t force him.
Whether cooling a dog’s body down or offering him a drink, take care not to use water that’s too cold. “Using very cold water can actually be counterproductive,” writes PetEducation.com on its website. “Cooling too quickly and especially allowing his body temperature to become too low can cause other life-threatening medical conditions.” Dry him off and, even if he appears to be recovering, take him to the veterinarian immediately, PetEducation recommends.
Once there, a vet will likely lower the dog’s body temperature to a safer number, if need be, and continue to monitor his temperature, which normally ranges between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
A veterinarian may then perform blood work to find out if his vital organs are functioning and, if not, to what extent.
The medical treatment depends on the severity of the illness, PetPlace writes. “Mildly increased temperatures (105 degrees Fahrenheit) may only require rest, a fan to increase air circulation, fresh water to drink and careful observation,” the site reports. “Markedly increased temperature (greater than 106 degrees Fahrenheit) must be treated more aggressively. Cooling can be promoted externally by immersion in cool water or internally by administering a cool water enema. Underlying aggravating conditions, such as upper airway obstructive diseases, heart disease, lung disease and dehydration may be treated with appropriate medications, supplemental oxygen or fluid therapy.”
The old saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is especially appropriate when it comes to keeping dogs from overheating. Some simple preventive steps and understanding how a dog responds to heat can help reduce a dog’s chances of getting sick.
On warm days, it’s only natural that people want to enjoy the sun. Oftentimes, that means invigorating jogs, relaxing bike rides or scenic hikes. But dogs should avoid strenuous exercise and spend most of the day indoors during warm days.
“Working up a good sweat in the hot summer months may be good for you, but it can lead to heat stroke in your dog and kill him in a matter of minutes,” writes PetPlace.com.
Even at home, take precautions to ensure your pup’s safety when it warms up. Consider leaving the air conditioning on or pointing a fan in the direction of one of his favorite places to hang out. Provide plenty of fresh drinking water so your pooch can stay hydrated and keep cool. Do you have a trusted friend or neighbor who can stop by during the day to let the dog out or to check if the air conditioning has stopped?
If your dog must remain outside during the day, examine your yard and make sure it’s landscaped in such a way that it keeps your dog out of danger. He’ll need a respite from the heat, so a dog house or cool shady spot (preferably both, if possible) is a must so he can find some relief from direct sun rays.
“A tree is probably not good enough,” writes Judy Hedding for “A ventilated dog house, or a pen with shade cover, or a covered patio is a must. Make sure that there is adequate shade at all times of the day that the dog is outside.”
Keep fresh, clean drinking water in those shady spots so that the bowl itself doesn’t heat up, too. About.com recommends using a weighted water bowl or leaving two bowls out in different shaded areas of the yard in case one gets tipped over.
Some pet parents have found success with making water-filled kiddie pools available to their dogs, but make sure that pups, especially the little guys, can easily get in and out. And like water bowls, these pools should stay where it’s nice and cool and can provide some relief. “Sitting in a tub of 110-degree water won’t help the dog,” says Hedding for About.com.
Some dogs are literally built to swim so allowing them to take a refreshing swim in an actual pool is a great idea; just keep in mind that even good swimmers need supervision at all times and should immediately learn where and how to climb out of pools. Also, if you’re taking your pup to a dog-friendly lake, river, stream, ocean, wherever, make sure and check for currents—or undercurrents—and if the water is polluted or not. Polluted or reclaimed water might make your dog sick, opening up possibilities for illness.
But before allowing Fido to cool himself down with a dip in the water, make sure your dog can actually swim! Some breeds are naturally better in the water than others, but for safety’s sake double check your dog’s swimming abilities before any rigorous swimming sessions. Also, it’s important to remember that a great many dogs cannot swim at all and should just avoid swimming altogether. “Some breeds, such as Bulldogs, French Bulldogs and Pekingese, have the swimming ability of cinderblocks,” Petside.com reports. “And even good swimmers can drown in backyard pools if they don’t know where the steps are to climb out.”
When outdoors, though, remember to bring an umbrella for shade and some water to keep everyone cool and hydrated. Dogs’ fur coats can be a mixed blessing in these types of situations. While pet parents need to make sure their dogs stay cool under all that hair, shaving it off isn’t always the solution, either.
“Fur provides some amount of protection from the sun, but thick fur prevents body heat from escaping and promotes overheating,” Petside reports. “It’s a myth that shaving a dog’s coat makes him hotter. Shaving it to the skin can make him vulnerable to sunburn, but cutting the fur to about one inch can help him stay cooler. If you don’t want to shave him, brush as much undercoat as you can out, and be sure no solid mats are there to trap heat and moisture.”
Similarly, dogs with very short hair — or none at all — are also prone to sunburn and should remain out of direct sunlight.
That even goes for dogs riding in cars if the direct sun is too strong that day. Although most dogs love accompanying their parents on outings during the day, if you have to go inside anywhere while out running errands it’s best to leave Fido at home. Really, you’re doing him a favor. Even if you’re gone for just a few minutes, it can pose a potential danger.
“Studies show that the temperature inside cars can heat to lethal temperatures within 30 minutes even if the weather outside is relatively cool,” Petside.com reports. “Regardless of outside air temperature, cars heat up at a similar rate — gaining 80 percent of their final temperature within 30 minutes. Cars that start at a comfortable 72 degrees Fahrenheit (22 degrees C), for example, soar to a deadly 117 degrees Fahrenheit (47 degrees C) after 60 minutes in the sun. Cracking the windows scarcely affects the temperatures inside.”
MyDogIsCool.com likens cars in the summertime to heaters and agrees that cracked windows and parking in shade isn’t enough to keep pets at a safe temperature. “Even in the shade, and especially in humid conditions, dogs need to inhale air cooler than their normal body temperature of 102 degrees. In fact, even 80 degree air temperatures can be dangerous.”
MyDogIsCool.com also points out another unpleasant side-effect of leaving the car windows down — or even cracked — when you’re away from your pet, noting “that opening also invites children to poke their fingers in or unkind folks to tease the dog with sticks.”
Any sort of travel can prove risky during the summer, even when flying the friendly skies. While some airlines permit one small pet per plane to ride under a seat in the cabin, most dogs usually ride as cargo. Airlines try to take precautions to keep pets safe, of course, but because the dangers of overheating during the summer are so high some airlines simply stop carrying animals altogether during that time of year.
Before booking travel, contact airlines to get details on their summer travel. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as necessary to make you feel comfortable.
Keeping your dog safe from the heat doesn’t have to be as complicated as booking a flight, though. Little things every day can help keep your dog safe from dangers you may not have even been aware of. For instance, even if you’re not exercising your dog strenuously, it’s a good idea to keep him at home. Fun summer events like county fairs, car shows, swap meets and the like are hot not just on their bodies, but, if they’re walking on hot concrete or blacktops, can be too hot for their foot pads.
Who’s At Risk?
Remember, too, that certain dogs are more susceptible to problems because of their breed, body type, age or health. PetPlace warns that in addition to things like thick fur coats, pet parents should take extra precautions with puppies up to 6 months of age, large dogs over 7 years old and small dogs over 14, overweight dogs, ill dogs on medication, dogs with heart, lung or circulation problems and brachycephalic (or short-muzzled) dogs.
Short-muzzled or flat-faced animals, such as Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs, Pekingese, Japanese Chins, Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, Shih Tzus and Boston Terriers, are especially vulnerable to overheating due to their heads’ structure. These dogs, reports DogsCatsHealth.com, “have an added disadvantage in temperature regulation and present more dog stroke symptoms than other breeds. The short nose and convulsions in the wall of the pharynx increase the work of breathing, especially when the dogs pant. This increased work is an additional source of body heat, and the anatomy of the upper airway probably makes evaporative cooling less effective.”
Dog-Breeds.suite101.com adds that brachycephalic dogs have small nasal passages that may need to be surgically corrected in some cases and that some dogs have narrowed windpipes. “Canines cool their body by panting and circulating air quickly across the tongue,” the site reports. “With the respiratory impairments of the brachycephalic breeds, breathing and panting may not move sufficient air through the passages for cooling. If the dog also happens to be overweight and of a dark color, the risk is multiplied.”
Keeping these dogs inside and restricting their exposure to hot weather and exercise reduces their risk for heat stroke. All dogs, however, need extra care in the warm weather. Refrain from tying a dog up in the yard or muzzling him. If you do end up traveling with your dog, bring along water and a bowl, and possibly some towels you can dampen or supplies for an ice pack in case he looks hot. Consider whether or not your dogs feet might be hot and limit walks to early mornings and evenings.
Remember, too, that days during spring and fall can be warm enough to present heat-stroke dangers, even if temperatures haven’t soared to their highest for the year.
Most importantly, the hot weather doesn’t have to put a complete damper on the fun. As long as precautions and preventive measures are taken there’s no reason you and your pooch can’t enjoy a relaxing summer.
Posted by Elisa Jordan