Keeping Your Pets Cool in Summertime
The Southern California heat is upon us. Here’s how you can help your dog stay safe during periods of hot weather. It may seem like common sense to think about your pet during a heat wave, but sometimes we overlook ways in which they are more susceptible to the heat than we are. It goes without saying to not leave your pet in a hot car, but even leaving the windows cracked when the ambient temperature is in the 80s can quickly lead to the inside temperature of the car becoming dangerously hot very quickly (over 100 F).
Another thing to watch out for on really hot days, is burning hot pavement. Our dog’s paws can easily burn when pavement or cement gets hot. If the pavement would be too hot for you to walk on barefoot, it’s too hot for your dog. Another common summer paw injury we see is in dogs that are running around on cement, often by the pool, for an excessive amount of time. Both the heat and the friction of the paws on the cement can cause the paw pads to become raw. Although not life threatening, this is very painful and a difficult injury to deal with since the dog may be too painful to walk.
It’s best to keep your pets in an air conditioned indoor environment during the hottest part of the day, and restrict walks to when it is cooler in the early morning or later in the evening. However, if that is not possible, they should at least have a cooler fully shaded outdoor area with plenty of fresh clean water to make sure your dog stays hydrated. This is especially true for brachycephalic breeds (flat nosed dogs) such as English and French bulldogs. These breeds, because of the altered anatomy of their nose, mouth, and facial structures, have a diminished ability to cool themselves and they can get themselves into heat trouble very fast. Any temperature over 80 F can mean trouble for these guys, especially if they are exerting themselves. Also remember that a lot of our dogs are wearing a fur coat! While the temperature may feel nice for us, breeds like the Husky, German Shepherd, and other double coated breeds aren’t designed for warm weather.
How do I know my dog is having trouble with the heat?
The first thing to watch for is excessive panting. Your dog pants to cool itself, and this is a normal behavior, however if the panting is excessive or it takes longer than ten minutes for your dog to recover from the heat once he or she is back in an air conditioned space, this may be an early sign that they aren’t handling the heat well. More serious signs of heat stroke can include red gums, vomiting and diarrhea, rapid pulse, and collapse. If you notice any of these signs, take your dog to the nearest veterinary emergency facility immediately. These signs indicate a serious medical emergency that needs immediate treatment. If you aren’t sure if your dog is overheated, the best way to check is to take their temperature rectally. A normal dog’s temperature should not exceed about 101.5 F.
If you determine that your dog is overheated and needs to see a veterinarian, there are a few things you can do to help your pet while enroute. We want to help them cool their body, but we can’t cool them too fast or we can do more damage. The first thing to do is to get them in air conditioning, preferably in your car as you are driving to the vet. You can offer a small amount of water but do not force them to drink, and do not offer any if they are vomiting. Place cool wet towels on them, especially on their paws. You can also hose them off with cool water before you get them in the car. Avoid use of ice water or anything that will cool them too fast. The goal is slow cooling so we don’t shock their system anymore. Once at the vet hospital, your vet will run diagnostics to assess their current temperature, organ function, and overall status. They will usually be placed on IV fluids for a bit to help them regulate their temperature and equilibrium.
Heat stroke in dogs can be quite damaging and even deadly. Be aware of the heat and cognizant of how your dog is reacting to it to prevent any serious problems! Happy Summer!