The summer of 2011 has been a hot one across most of the US. In July it was 108 in New Jersey. Minnesota has had some record high temperatures. In the Dallas area we have had 36 days of 100+ degree temperatures and there is no relief in sight. Excessive heat is not something to take lightly. There is a link at the bottom of the page for another article that deals with cautions for heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.
Many times I taught classes that discussed heat problems. I still got very close to having a heat related problem when I was running. Weather was hot and dry. It was early morning so I didn’t have the oppressive sun to deal with but there was plenty of heat. I lengthened my run and did not recognize the problem signs. I did not remember running the last ¾ of a mile. When I stopped I saw little light sparkles in front of me. It took a long time to recover. You still need to exercise in the summer but be smart.
Exercising smart means doing the right thing for you and your pet. In most cases this exercising with a pet means a dog. My son is a board certified veterinary surgeon but he still sees lots of non-surgical cases. We were discussing the effect of heat on dogs in summer. He told me about a man who took his dog running with him at lunch this summer. The dog was an athletic breed that enjoys running. It also has long hair. The runner overheated and so did the dog. The runner has a lot of area to dissipate heat through sweating. A dog has the pads of his feet and panting. As they passed a pond the dog’s survival instincts cut in and he jumped into the water. My son said that action probably saved the dog’s life.
We teach a lot of hot weather safety to our young people. The most important precaution is to stay hydrated. Drink water or drinks with electrolytes but no caffeine and no sodas. Always pace your work. Monitor sweating. If you stop sweating, you are overheating. But what should we know about the pets we are outside with?
When asked about dogs and heat, my son had this response, “A few things to think about: dogs cool themselves by panting; breathing heavy thick humid air can make that difficult; they can overheat quickly in the right environment. When their temp gets extremely high, it can cause all kinds of things: neurologic problems, seizures, clotting disorders (a condition called DIC), can shock the gut (ie. GI tract becomes affected and they can have severe vomiting/diarrhea, GI bleeding). They need aggressive care in many cases, particularly the severe ones; even then, they can still die from the cascade of events that have started.
Give them plenty of water. Do not leave them outside without shade. Dogs with breathing problems (ie. bulldogs) can overheat extremely quickly. See above comment about panting being the way to cool themselves; can't breathe, can't cool themselves. Similar goes with fat/obese/overweight dogs.”
What do you look for in your dog to recognize heat problems? The following signs may indicate heat stroke in a dog:
- Increased rectal temperature (over 104° requires action, over 106° is a dire emergency)
- Vigorous panting
- Dark red gums
- Tacky or dry mucus membranes (specifically on the gums)
- Lying down and unwilling (or unable) to get up
- Collapse and/or loss of consciousness
- Thick saliva
- Dizziness or disorientation
What do you do if you suspect heat problems? Like with people, call for help. Get in touch with a veterinarian- send someone for help. Then take immediate action.
- Move your dog out of the heat and away from the sun right away.
- Begin cooling your dog by placing cool, wet rags or washcloths on the body - especially the foot pads and around the head.
- DO NOT use ice or very cold water! Extreme cold can cause the blood vessels to constrict, preventing the body's core from cooling and actually causing the internal temperature to further rise. In addition, over-cooling can cause hypothermia, introducing a host of new problems. When the body temperature reaches 103°, stop cooling.
- make cool water available for your dog, but do not force water into your dog's mouth.
- Call or visit your vet right away - even if your dog seems better. Internal damage might not be obvious to the naked eye, so an exam is necessary (and further testing may be recommended).
We all look forward to summer. It is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. As with all activities- have safe fun. This means safe for you and your dog.