Hot Dog! Summer Safety for your Pups
By Dr. Tanya Tag, DACVECC
Summer weather brings cookouts, trips to the dog park, swims at the beach, picnics, hiking, and outdoor sports. While the summer can bring a lot of fun and exercise, it also brings many hidden dangers. It is important to take things slowly with your pet as you begin your summer activities. Many pets have gained weight, are less coordinated, stiff, and unfit after the short winter days full of rest and warm fires. During the spring take short walks, with a slower pace, and offer water frequently. Hyperthermia, an increase in body temperature, can be due to an infection (internal change) or external causes such as a hot or humid environment or exercise. The worst heat stroke cases I have seen have occurred in the spring, when owners do not perceive the temperature to be as hot and their pets have not acclimated. It takes your pet about 60 days to adapt to the warmer weather!
Dogs cannot sweat as we can; they are wearing thick coats, and as they pant to cool off, they are slowly dehydrating themselves if they are not given adequate water. Dogs that are obese and have short noses (brachycephalic) are predisposed to heat stroke. Brachycephalic breeds, such as Pugs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, and Bulldogs can have narrower openings in their nose, a narrowing of the trachea or windpipe, and elongated soft palate. These changes can cause these dogs to pant less effectively and limit the dog’s ability to cool themselves, making these dogs most likely to suffer heat stroke.
Another cause of heat stroke that is entirely preventable is pets being left in cars! Sadly many pets die of heat stroke after being left in a hot car even for a few minutes. People are unaware of how hot a car get on cool days or think that leaving windows open will make a difference.
Outside Air Temperature (F°) Inside Car Temperature (F°)
If you suspect your pet has heat stroke, remove them from the hot or humid environment. Check your dog’s rectal temperature (normal is 1 +/- 101.5). If the temperature is elevated above 105, begin cooling as you seek veterinary assistance. Place the pet on a cool floor with a fan and place wet room temperature towels in areas with less fur- under the arms, groin, paws, and ears. Pointing a fan on these wet areas will speed cooling. It is important not to over cool as you transport to your veterinarian. Stop cooling once your pet has reached 103.F. It is important to never use cold water or ice water to cool a pet. This will cause the surface blood vessels to shrink and limits the exchange of warm blood from deep inside the pet’s body to be exchanged with cooler blood closer to the surface. Additionally, even though the pet is still overheated the cold sensation can trigger shivering that will further warm your pet. Lowering the pet’s body temperature is an important first step but this alone does not stop many of the potentially catastrophic changes that are set in motion from the high body temperature. This is why it is important to seek veterinary assistance even after you have achieved the target body temperature. The staff doctors at the Pet ER see heat stroke and heat stress as a common spring and summer pet emergency. Please take every precaution to protect your dog this summer by avoiding exercise before they have adjusted to the temperature change, exercising in the morning and evening to avoid the hottest hours of the day, and providing dogs with plenty of shade and cool water.
Dr. Tanya Tag, Chief of Staff, Emergency & Critical Care Veterinarian at The PET+ER. Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care.