The dog days of summer are fast approaching! We’ve already talked about heart worm, ticks and fleas, but here are some things to think about to keep your dogs (and other pets!) safe and cool in the summer.
Heat stroke is a much bigger issue than a lot of people realize. It’s not just about dogs being locked in cars, although that gets all the press. It can happen while just playing in the park, and death can occur quite quickly.
Heat stroke can affect all dogs, but older pooches and overweight dogs tend to be more susceptible.
The critters I worry the most about though, are the ones with squished in faces (also known as brachycephalic if you want to impress your friends!) like pugs and bulldogs. Dogs can really only cool themselves down by panting, and these dogs cannot breathe that well at the best of times. Their panting is very inefficient and they will often generate more heat than they’re getting rid of.
Hot, humid days can make things worse, because high humidity decreases the effectiveness of panting. Doing your normal daily run with your dog on a hot day can cause heat stroke, but it’s even worse if it’s the first hot day of the year. It can take up to 60 days for a dog to fully acclimate to warmer weather, so take it easy on those first blessed days of warm weather. You’ve got all summer to run!
Signs Your Dog has Heat Stroke
Heat stroke is very unpredictable, but the symptoms are not. Early signs include lethargy, excessive panting even after you’ve moved your dog into a cool area, vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite. If your dog is looking drunk and wobbly when they are walking (a symptom called ataxia) it’s a sign to rush them to the vet.
These signs can quickly progress to seizures, bloody diarrhea, signs of bleeding or bruising on the skin and disorientation. Once heat stroke occurs it can lead to kidney failure, liver failure, breathing issues and major problems with blood clotting. Death can occur very quickly, so if you think your dog might have heat stroke I recommend getting them to your vet immediately. Don’t waste time taking their temperature, because that doesn’t give you a good idea of how sick they’ll be. Heat stroke is very unpredictable and some dogs can have huge issues with only mild increases in body temperature. By the time they’re looking sick, they’re REALLY sick! The sooner your vet can help, the more likely it is that we can prevent the more severe complications.
What You Can Do if You Think Your Dog is Overheated
If you think your dog may be overheated, immediately focus on cooling them by as many means as possible. Get them into the shade or somewhere with air conditioning. Cool them down with cold water or even ice water baths. Get a fan blowing at them and put them on some cool tile flooring to help draw the heat away from them. This is the time to grab your thermometer. Once you cool your dog down to 40C, stop the cooling process.
You can “overcool” your dog and cause their bodies to try to heat up again. Once they’re cool enough, dry them off well. Even if they look stable at this point, take your dog into your vet. The after effects of heat stroke may not be apparent right away. The sooner your vet can intervene, the sooner they can prevent the more severe complications.
How to Prevent Heat Stroke
As always, preventing heat stroke is always better than treating it. Use some common sense, and don’t push your dog on those hot days.
Never leave your dog in a locked car in the summer. Even if you think you’ll only be gone for 2 minutes, it’s just not worth the risk.
Take lots of breaks in hot weather and try not to exercise at the hottest times of the day. Make sure there is plenty of access to fresh water and shade when you’re outside. Playing where there is a hose or an area for swimming so they can cool down is a fantastic idea.
Remember, your dog is awesome, but he may not be the smartest creature on the planet! If you have a dog who is very playful or work obsessed, they’re not always smart enough to take breaks on their own. Make sure you incorporate some short, frequent breaks on your really hot play days.
You can also give them a cooler place to lay down between playing and running around. “Cool Pads” are a very popular item amongst some dog owners.
To Shave or Not to Shave
Some people like to shave their dogs down in the summer. The jury is out as to whether or not there is any benefit in doing this. Theoretically it should improve heat loss, but some studies show that fur has an insulating benefit against overheating at higher temperatures. Shaving your dog also increases their risk of sunburn, and being teased by the other dogs in the park. A word of warning…be very cautious if you want to shave a northern breed dog (like a husky or malamute) because it takes forever for their hair to regrow…and when it does it may grow back a completely different colour.
What about Cats and Other Pets?
Cats can get heat stroke as well, but it’s much less common. Maybe cats are just smarter at taking it easy in the warm weather? They also originated from desert regions, so they’re used to warmer temperatures. However, if you see your cat panting like a dog, take them into the vet immediately. When cats start panting it means something is terribly wrong.
Let’s not forget about pocket pets such as hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits. Make sure their cages are not exposed to direct sunlight, especially if you’re using an aquarium type habitat. All that glass can make things heat up really quickly! Find a spot for their cage that has good air flow and will stay shady for most of the day.