Joan Merriam: The dangers of heat in dog days of summer
Here we are at the tail-end of summer, with fall just around the corner — but that doesn’t mean we can forget about the dangers that heat poses to our dogs.
The end of August and into September can easily turn scorching.
Heat and humidity are twin threats when it comes to overheating in dogs. Even on modestly warm days, high humidity can cause dangerous overheating — as anyone who’s ever been to New Orleans in the summer can attest! Remember that dogs have just two ways to cool off: evaporation (panting) and conduction (laying on a cool surface).
Unlike humans, dogs don’t sweat, except through their footpads — but the amount is so minimal that it offers no real protection against overheating.
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WATCH THE SIGNS
So, let’s talk about this thing called overheating, or heat stroke, in our dogs.
The first stage of heat stroke is called heat stress: this is when the dog pants heavily, drinks water to bring his internal temperature down, and tries to find a cool surface. Think of this as having taken your dog for a long walk on a summer mid-morning, he’s raced after several squirrels and chipmunks in the process, and lopes back with his tongue hanging out like a wet dishrag. As long as he gets water and shade soon, he’ll be fine.
The second stage, heat exhaustion, shows itself in several ways: the dog’s panting becomes more rapid and anxious, her heart rate elevates, her gums turn red and tacky, and her body temperature rises to over 106 degrees. (A dog’s normal temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 F.)
If heat exhaustion goes untreated, heat stroke is the result: body temperature soars to 109 degrees or above, and the dog will vomit, have severe diarrhea, begin seizing, and go into shock. Multiple organs begin to fail, blood fails to clot, the heart goes into serious arrythmia, cells in the gastrointestinal tract begin to die and sepsis develops, and the dog collapses and goes into a coma. Death often follows.
Obviously, none of these are scenarios we want our dog to experience.
DO AND DON’T
There are a number of things you can do to prevent heat-related illness in your dog. The first is something experts warn over and over: NEVER leave your dog in a hot car.
Make sure your dog is acclimated to the hot weather before: don’t go for a 5-mile run with him at noon if this is the first time he’s been outdoors in six weeks!
If he stays outside for extended periods, make sure he has plenty of cold water and shade. (Most experts advise leaving dogs in an air-conditioned house on especially hot or hot and humid days.) You might think about setting up a kiddie pool in the yard or on the deck — even dogs who don’t like to swim will often lie down in a shallow pool to cool off. And speaking of pools, never leave your dog unsupervised around an in-ground pool. If he falls in — or even jumps in — he may not be able to figure out how to get out. (Yes, dogs can drown.)
Schedule walks and activities for early morning or early evening.
Undertake mild exercise only — or avoid it altogether — if your pup has cardiac issues or upper airway problems. This is especially true with what are called “brachycephalic breeds,” dogs with short noses and flat faces like pugs, Shih Tzus, Chihuahuas, bulldogs, and boxers.
At the same time, if your dog is very young or very old, or is seriously overweight, be extremely careful when planning your exercise in warm weather.
Another idea is to get one or more of the special cooling accessories on the market today, which include cooling vests, cooling collars, and cooling pads.
If the worst happens and your dog suffers heat stress or exhaustion, the most important thing you can do is get him cool by any means necessary. Wet him thoroughly with cold water, especially his paw pads and thinly-haired areas like the stomach. If you’re outdoors and near water, lead or carry him into it, making sure his head remains above water.
If you’re concerned about your dog panicking in the water, lay him down at the shore and use whatever kind of cloth you can find to wet him down: soak the item and wring it out several times over him, then place it on his neck, armpits, and between his hind legs. If you don’t have anything to wet him with, cup your hands with water and douse him with it.
Then call ahead to your veterinarian so they can be ready to take action as soon as you arrive, and get there immediately: remember, this is truly a life-or-death emergency, as heat stroke can kill in a matter of hours or less.
Knowing how to prevent heat stroke, understand its stages, and the best way to respond will keep both you and your dog happy and healthy during these last wonderful weeks of summer!
Joan Merriam lives in Nevada County with her Golden Retriever Joey, her Maine Cowon cat Indy, and the abiding spirit of her beloved Golden Retriever Casey in whose memory this column is named. You can reach Joan at firstname.lastname@example.org. And if you’re looking for a Golden, be sure to check out Homeward Bound Golden Retriever Rescue
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