June 13, 2011
Overheating a dog can lead to heat stroke and even death within 20 minutes. What usually happens is a dog or cat is left in a closed car for “just a minute” and then the owner is distracted by something unusual and they return to their car to find their pet collapsed, salivating, panting uncontrollably or losing consciousness.
During the day, temperatures in a closed car can increase forty degrees above the outside air temperature in only a few minutes. Think about this – even if it is a comfortable 60F outside, a closed car interior can reach 100F on a sunny day. You may think that your dog is safe on a rainy cloudy day, but the sun could pop out while you are inside the store and instantly increase the temperature in the car to well over 100F.
Dogs are very susceptible to heat stroke because they don’t sweat like we do. At best they can sweat a little through their paws, but as you can imagine, this is extremely inefficient. The only effective way that dogs cool off is by panting and exchanging hot air for cooler air as they inhale. The tongue, presuming it is wet, provides some refrigeration effect. If a dog needs to cool off significantly, he has to get into water to wet his body so that evaporation can work like it does when we sweat.
Some dogs are more susceptible to overheating than others. Be particular aware of ambient temperatures with dogs who get agitated or excited easily, older dogs, or dogs who have short noses like bulldogs and pugs. Dogs that are not acclimated to the heat and humidity of Charleston should be gradually allowed to spend more time outside.
We commonly see cases of overheating from the beaches. Dogs are very excited to get to the beach and tend to run, tongues hanging, until they tucker out and come lay on your beach towel. It is difficult for a dog to cool off under these circumstances, so instead of cooling off as they rest, they get hotter and hotter. Even a wet dog that has plenty of drinking water can still have trouble because the sun heats up their bodies quickly. New leash laws on many beaches take this into consideration as towns have banned dogs from the beaches between 10AM and 5PM during the summer months. This isn’t just for the convenience of beach goers who don’t like dogs, but also for the safety of dogs who belong to people who don’t realize the dangers of having a dog at the beach in the heat of the summer.
If you plan to take your dogs to the beach this summer, plan to go very early or late in the afternoon so the sun isn’t so intense on their backs. Bring lots of water for them to drink and don’t forget a bowl. Dogs cannot effectively drink from bottles or water poured into your hand. Keep them wet by encouraging swimming and provide some type of shade.
Often dogs will try to drink the salt water when they are thirsty. Please discourage this because it causes vomiting and diarrhea that may need to be treated by your veterinarian.
If you run with your dog, remember that he cannot adapt to the warming temperatures as well as you. You may still be able to run your 6 miles, but your dog should probably give up after three. Most loyal dogs will continue to run alongside even if they are way too hot, so don’t push it. Reduce your exercise plans and change to running early mornings or late evenings during the summer to keep your dog safe. Bring water for you AND your dog and find a shady stop in the middle of your run for a brief cooling period.
What to do if your dog gets too hot:
Any time that heat stroke is suspected it is best to get to a veterinarian immediately. If the rectal temperature is over 106 degrees, treatment is required immediately. Body temperatures over 107F are a critical emergency because living cells begin to die and release poisons.
On the way to the veterinarian, run the AC full blast. Wet the dog with cool (not cold) water. If you soak him in icy water, you could cause shock. Encourage water drinking (again, it shouldn’t be icy). Just let him pant in an air conditioned environment. Intravenous fluids are the most efficient way to cool a pet. Once the body temperature cools to 104F, all cooling attempts should cease because a weakened pet can easily drop below the normal temperature of 100F.
But, prevention is the best treatment, so be smart this summer and protect your pet by planning ahead for summer activities.