The Dog Days of Summer – Safety in the Sun
Summer is in full swing and we are soaking up the sun’s warm rays. Many of us are busily preparing for our vacation or the annual Labor Day lake party. Dogs enjoy warm weather as well, but they can also suffer some ill effects of too much “fun in the sun.” Heatstroke, sunburn and dehydration are all summertime concerns for our four-legged fur babies.
Most people think that heatstroke only happens when dogs are locked inside a hot car. Heatstroke can happen anywhere – on the beach, on a boat or even inside a home without proper ventilation or air conditioning. Heatstroke can cause a variety of problems from mild effects to death.
Dogs can’t sweat to cool themselves like we can. They rely on panting and some heat dissipation from their ears for temperature regulation. Sometimes these cooling mechanisms can’t keep up in the heat – especially if your dog has a heavy fur coat, is obese, or is a brachycephalic breed.
Here are some signs that your pet may be experiencing heatstroke:
- Panting (often ‘out of control’)
- Unable to calm down
- High heart rate
- Bright red, dry gums
If you notice any of these symptoms, take your dog’s temperature immediately. It is important to keep a digital thermometer for your dog’s use in the home or in a portable pet first aid kit. A rectal temperature should be taken carefully, using a little petroleum jelly and have a second person hold your dog still.
If your dog’s temperature is above 105 F (40 C), begin cooling your dog immediately. This needs to be done prior to calling your veterinarian or transport to the veterinary hospital. Cool your dog by running room-temperature water over the legs and neck. Don’t use rubbing alcohol or cold water – as this can cool them pet too quickly. A bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a thin hand towel can also be placed along your dog’s abdomen. Continue cooling your dog as you travel to the veterinarian.
Continue to check your dog’s rectal temperature every 5 minutes once you begin the cooling process. Once the temperature reaches 103 F (39.4 C), stop cooling. It is necessary to take your dog to the veterinarian as soon as possible after he or she is overheated. Heatstroke can cause permanent organ damage and abnormal blood clotting. Your veterinarian will run blood tests and start rehydration measures with fluid therapy. If identified and treated early, many dogs can survive mild to moderate heatstroke.
Owners of certain breeds and overweight dogs need to be very cautious during hot weather. “Smushy-faced” breeds (brachycephalics) can overheat even on a cool day. These may include:
- English Bulldog
- French Bulldog
- Shih Tsu
- Lhasa apso
- Boston Terrier
- Obese dogs of any breed
Many of these dogs have an airway problem called “brachycephalic syndrome.” Dogs affected can have anatomical issues such as elongated soft palate and nasal stenosis, restricting proper air flow into the lungs. Overweight and obese dogs of any breed are more prone to heat stroke, due to increased weight and pressure on their ribcage and neck.
If you are travelling during the summer, be sure to use your air conditioning or properly ventilate your car. Never leave your dog in the car alone. Cars can heat up rapidly, even if parked in the shade with the windows cracked. Always be aware of how the heat is affecting your dog. If he or she starts to dig down into the sand at the beach to find a cool spot, he may be overheating. Keep water available at all times and offer it frequently. Restrict outdoor activity during the hottest part of the day – outdoor activities are safer in the early morning and in the evening for humans and dogs alike.