These might be the dog days of summer, but truth is, pups and high temps don’t mix. More than just being uncomfortable, overheating can lead to life-threatening conditions like heatstroke.
“Heatstroke in dogs is defined as a state of extreme high body temperature (106 to 109.5 degrees) resulting in thermal injury to tissues,” says Cheryl Roth, DVM, owner of Grace Mobile Veterinary Arts in Lakeville. “Some studies show it has a mortality rate of 50 percent.”
Scary stats, but the good news is heat-related illnesses are preventable. Whether you’re hitting the park, running errands, or just jogging around the block, here are a few tips to keep your canine cool.
Know the risks. Certain dogs and breeds are less tolerant of heat. Brachycephalics (those with flat faces or short noses) have smaller nasal passages, making it more difficult to circulate air, which is what keeps your canine cool. Older and overweight dogs and those with heart or lung disease are also at greater risk. Keep these pups indoors in the A/C during the hottest part of the day. And Doc Roth advises: If temps are extreme, all dogs should stay inside.
Exercise early (or late). Who wants to be out running at high noon in 90-degree heat? Not Fido. Schedule daily jogs or walks for early morning or late evening, when the temp is more pet-friendly. If the weatherman issues a heat advisory, skip exercise altogether.
Hydrate. Carry plenty of water and a bowl when out and about on hot days. If you see excessive panting or signs of fatigue, take a pit stop indoors or in a shaded area and offer water.
Have a splash. Cooling can be fun! Why not take Rex for a romp in a kiddie pool or a run through the sprinkler to beat the heat? Or hit up one of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes for a refreshing dip. (Some of the Twin Cities’ dog parks even offer swimming holes.)
Mind the paws. Trotting across hot asphalt, concrete, sand, or metal (like the boat dock) can be a serious pain in the paws. Choose the shady side of the street or grassy areas when out for a walk. If hot surfaces are unavoidable, carry your dog or invest in a pair of Paw Tectors.
Just don’t. Never leave your dog in a vehicle with the A/C off. Even if you park in the shade and leave the windows cracked, your car can convert to an oven in minutes — we’re talking 160+ degrees. (Want proof? Check out this vid of a vet who tested it out.) If you see a distressed dog trapped in a hot car and you can’t locate the pup’s human, call animal control or the police.
Know the signs. “Initially your dog will appear distressed and will pant excessively and become restless,” says Roth. “As overheating progresses, your dog may drool large amounts of saliva from his nose or mouth. You may notice your dog become unsteady on his feet. The gums may turn blue, purple, or bright red (due to inadequate oxygen). In some extreme cases, diarrhea and vomiting, collapse, and/or seizures may also occur.”
Act quickly. If you notice any of these signs, move your pup to a cool area and begin to lower her body temp by placing cool (not ice-cold), wet towels on her. Wet her paws and ears, and direct a fan on your pooch to speed evaporative cooling. Offer water but don’t force her to drink.
Then, get help STAT. Even if your pooch seems to rally, “heatstroke is a disease that affects nearly every system in the body,” says Roth. “Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder. A pet suffering from heat stroke should be seen by a veterinarian ASAP.”
—Sarah Asp Olson