With the heat upon us here in sunny San Diego, it is time to think about our canine companions and how to best keep them from heat exhaustion and heatstroke. There are no statistics on how many dogs die every year from heat exposure because the majority of cases go unreported. But estimates are several hundred pets suffer this slow, agonizing and unnecessary fate every summer. The ability of a dog to tolerate heat depends on many factors such as his breed and physiology. Breeds like huskies, for example, are designed to handle extreme cold, where a Chihuahua cannot handle extremely cold temperatures, but fare well in warmer climates. Dogs do not fare with heat in the same manner as humans and are not as resilient to high temperatures. They do not perspire anywhere other than their paw pads. Most of a dogs’ natural ability to regulate heat comes from respiration (panting).
A dog's normal resting temperature rides between 100.5 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the temperature rises to 105 degrees, dogs will begin to experience the effects of heatstroke. At 106 degrees and above, dogs will begin to have irreversible damage to the kidneys, liver, GI tract, heart, and brain. The symptoms of heatstroke are excessive panting, hyperventilation, dry pale gums, increased salivation, rapid/erratic pulse, weakness, confusion, vomiting, diarrhea, and possible rectal bleeding. If the temperature is not brought down, your dog can begin to seize and a coma will occur.
If you notice these symptoms in your dog, here is what to do:
- Remove your dog from the heat and get to a shaded area.
- Apply cool (not ice cold) water to the inner thighs and stomach of your dog, as well as the paw pads. NEVER SUBMERGE THE DOG IN WATER. Instead, use running water. Submerging your dog can bring the temperature down too quickly. This can lead to cardiac arrest and bloat.
- Never cover the dog with a wet towel or blanket. The air flow is necessary to help evaporate the water placed on the dog, in turn helping him cool down. An ideal situation is to sit with your dog in an air-conditioned room/car.
- Keep your dog moving.
- Allow small amounts of water, but do not allow your dog to gulp water as this can lead to vomiting and bloat.
- Get your dog to the veterinarian ASAP. They will need to check your dog out for any damage to the kidneys and liver.
Prevention is the best remedy for heatstroke. Be sure to check your daily weather before taking your dog outside. Some breeds (such as brachycephalic “smushed faced” dogs) have very poor tolerance to any form of heat, so be sure that you know your breed and what their ideal climate is. Dogs that are more prone to heat stroke are older dogs, puppies, sick dogs, dogs with chronic health conditions, dogs not acclimated to warm weather, over exercised dogs, dogs left outside in hot weather.
In the hot summer days, it is much better to take your dog out very early in the morning before the heat kicks up or later in the evening when the temperature drops. Another thing to consider in the heat is the surface you are walking your dog on. Blacktop asphalt gets very hot very quickly compared to other surfaces. To assess the temperature of the ground, place your wrist against the ground and hold it there for a few seconds. If it is too hot for your wrists, it is too hot for your dog.
Here are a few tips to help beat the heat;
- Don’t leave your dog in the car. Cars will get very hot very fast even in the shade. Leaving your dog in a hot car is essentially like putting them in a giant oven.
- If the pavement is too hot, you can purchase dog boots to put on. Remember that dogs do perspire through their paw pads, so it can get pretty swampy in there. Neoprene boots breathe, and maybe more comfortable in the heat over the rubber soled boots. However, they are not as durable as the rubber soled boots.
- Offer plenty of fresh water and shade.
- Consider a cooling vest and/or mat for your dog.
- Soak a bandana in water and freeze it. When you go for a walk, put the bandana on your dog to help him stay cool.
- Apply cool water to your dog's chest, belly, throat, and head during walks to help bring his temperature down.
- You can make pupsicles for your dogs using broth and treats in silicone molds.
- Consider purchasing a small kiddie pool for your dog to lay in. You can encourage shy dogs to use the pool by tossing balls and toys into the pool for them to catch.
Enjoy the summer fun with your dog, just be cool!