April 25, 2010
It seems impossible that we will soon be inundated with temperatures in the ninetys and humidity levels to match, but the time is coming and we must be prepared to help our dogs deal with our hot humid conditions.
Remember that dogs are very susceptible to heat stroke because they don’t sweat like we do. They cool off by exchanging hot air for cooler air when they pant. The wet tongue provides some evaporative cooling effect. We get into trouble here in the Lowcountry when temperatures rise close to or even above the body temperature of the dog (100-103F) or when humidity levels are so high that little water eveporates from the tongue. These conditions occur quickly in a car, even with the windows rolled down. On a sunny day, temperatures in a closed car increase forty degrees above the outside air temperature in only a few minutes.
And some dogs are even more susceptible to overheating than others. Any dog who gets excited or agitated easily and doesn’t realize that he or she needs to calm down is at risk. Also, older dogs or dogs who aren’t already adapted to our climate need to be kept inside with the AC running. Dogs like pugs or bulldogs with the very short noses are particularly at risk. These dogs have a respiratory tract that is too small for the body mass of the dog, so they exchange much less air with each pant than they need to to cool off.
We commonly see cases of overheating coming in from the beaches. Dogs are very excited to get to the beach and tend to run and play when they first arrive. By the time they come lay on your beach towel it is hard for them to cool off. Even if they are wet and have shade, the humidity levels can make it difficult for water to evaporate effectively enough to cool a dog.
If you do pan to take your dog to the beach this summer, avoid the hours between 10am and 5pm when the sun is the strongest. Breezy days are better than those sickly still, humid days. Bring lots of water for your dog to drink and don’t forget a bowl. Dogs cannot effectively drink from bottles or water poured into your hand. Often dogs will try to drink the salt water when they are thirsty. Discourage this because it causes vomiting and diarrhea that may result in dehydration and overheating. Keep the dog wet by encouraging swimming and provide shade!
If you suspect that your dog has gotten too hot, immediately wet him with cool (not icy cold) water. Water that is too cold can result in shock. Encourage water drinking and get on your way to the closest veterinary hospital. On the way, run the AC full blast.
Once there, your veterinarian will immediately start IV fluids. This is the most efficient way to cool a pet. Once the body temperature reaches 104F all cooling attempts should cease because a weakened pet can easily drop below their normal body temperature of 100-103F.
But, as always, prevention is the best treatment, so be smart this summer and protect your pet by planning ahead for summer activities.