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Summer Heat Dangers for your Dog

Dogs — the four-legged kind — get “cooked” far more easily than people do. And that means dog lovers need to be careful to be sure their pets don’t end up in the ER with heat stroke.

Since most dogs will risk their lives to go with the people they love, it’s up to pet lovers to make sure the summer heat doesn’t put their pets in deadly danger. That means knowing the signs of heat stress and reacting to a pet in danger as if it’s a life-threatening emergency — which it is.

Don’t Take Chances

Though humans cope with hot weather by sweating, dogs shed heat by panting, which is a very poor cooling system. In the wild, dogs seek shade during the hottest part of the day; left to their own devices, most pet dogs will, too — unless they are lured into activity by ball tossed across the yard or the rattle of a leash offering an exciting outing.

Leave your pet at home when it’s warm, never leave your dog in the car even on a mild day (heat builds up quickly), and exercise your pet in the cooler mornings or evenings. If you wonder if a street or sidewalk is too hot for your pet to walk on, place the palm of your hand on the pavement: if it’s too hot for your hand, it’s too hot for your dog’s feet.

For dogs with short faces (the so-called brachycephalic breeds), such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Pekinese, and mixes of these breeds, the risk is even higher. These dogs cannot breathe well even under ideal circumstances and absolutely must be kept in air-conditioned quarters during the warmer months. Older dogs, overweight or obese dogs, and unfit dogs are also at higher risk.

Balmy Weather? Still Deadly

It’s important to realize that dogs and cats can develop heat-related injury quickly when they stay inside a parked car or other vehicle. This can happen even when the windows are partially lowered, the vehicle is in the shade, or the outside temperatures seem relatively moderate. Many people do not realize just how quickly the interior temperature of a car can increase to deadly levels, even with some airflow provided by cracked windows. For example, on a 90-degree day, the temperature inside a closed car can climb to 109 degrees within just 10 minutes. In less than 50 minutes, temperatures in that same car can rise to above 130 degrees. On even a comparatively balmy 70-degree day, temperatures inside a vehicle can reach triple digits within 30 minutes (see table).

Heat toxicity can also occur in dogs that exercise too vigorously during periods of high heat, especially if the humidity is also elevated. Even dogs that are in good athletic shape and used to regular exercise can develop heat injury when out and about in extreme conditions. Heat toxicity, or heat injury, can run the gamut from heat exhaustion (which occurs in the early stages of a heat-related event) to heat stroke, which is a full-blown emergency that requires immediate veterinary intervention.

Estimated Vehicle Interior Air Temperature v. Elapsed Time

This chart was originally published in the journal Pediatrics. It also appears on the American Veterinary Medical Association site page about pet safety in cars. To better understand the factors that can cause a car’s interior temperature to skyrocket even when it is cool outside, read this article by Jan Null, CCM.


Warning Signs

A dog’s normal temperature is about 101.5, and a degree up or down is just fine. More than a couple of degrees up can be reason for concern, and it’s certainly an indication that you need to get your dog calm and cool. However, when a dog’s internal temperature reaches 105 or above, his life is in danger, and you must act immediately.

But since most people don’t carry a thermometer around, they have to rely on the signs of distress.

Signs of Over Heating:  These include:

  • Heavy, rapid panting
  • Salivating
  • Glassy-eyed expression
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Confusion
  • Exhaustion or fatigue
  • Bright red or blue/purple gums
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Collapse

Signs of Heat Stress : Initial signs of heat toxicity include:

  • Panting
  • Excessive salivation (which is often thick and ropey)
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • Bright red membranes of the mouth, tongue, eyes, and sometimes skin in light-pigmented dogs
  • Vomiting and diarrhea can also occur due to damage to the gastrointestinal tract

Multiple organs can fail if the excessive heat retention is not relieved soon enough. These organs include the gastrointestinal tract, kidneys, liver, heart, muscles, brain, and bone marrow. Heat retention causes the blood vessels to dilate, and a form of shock develops as the condition advances.

If the animal is in a state of collapse when found, it is imperative to get him to your local veterinarian or an emergency clinic immediately. Quickly cooling the animal for the trip with cool water from a garden hose may be helpful but do not immerse your dog in cold or ice water as this could lead to shock. If shock does develop, intravenous fluids and other medications may be needed for a few days upon arrival at the hospital.

Don’t wait until the problem becomes dangerously obvious. Keep an eye on your pet and take action at the first sign of trouble. Offer lots of water, and if your dog likes to swim, provide access to a baby pool or larger body of water.

In Case of an Emergency

If you’ve missed the warnings and your dog is overheated, move your pet immediately to the shade or an air-cooled area. Use cool water — not ice-cold water or ice, which constricts blood vessels and traps heat — on your dog’s belly, concentrating on the groin. If you do have a thermometer, lubricate the tip and insert it gently into the rectum to get an accurate temperature to share with your veterinarian. Offer your pet cool water to drink but don’t force water into your dog’s mouth.

And then call your veterinarian or an emergency veterinary clinic to let someone know you are on your way.


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Our resources and articles originate from other sources such as VetStreet and PetMD, and are meant for general pet care information. Please contact our office directly for specific questions concerning your pets or any other animals you may come into contact with.

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