Tuffy, a scruffy and adorably sweet little terrier arrived at my hospital in a state of collapse with profoundly labored breathing, purplish gums, and a temperature of 106 degrees Fahrenheit (the normal body temperature for a dog is 100-102 degrees). Tuffy’s well-intentioned family let him accompany them on a brief outing and, while they were in the store for a mere ten minutes, Tuffy remained in the car. The outdoor temperature at the time was 82 degrees, and the temperature within the car quickly soared to well above 100 degrees. Tuffy is one of the lucky ones. He survived his episode of heatstroke without any lingering complications and has gone home to rejoin his grateful (and more knowledgeable) family. Most patients with heatstroke don’t fare nearly so well. I invite you to share Tuffy’s story with others with hopes of preventing a needless tragedy.
Dog Days of Summer
Some of us take “dog days of summer” literally- we want to go everywhere accompanied by our beloved canine companions! As tempting as this may be, keep in mind that when temperatures are soaring your dog’s well being is best served by staying home. Heat has the potential to be hazardous to your dog’s health.
Dogs are incapable of significant sweating- their only sweat glands are located on the undersides of their paws. The major mechanism by which dogs dissipate heat is by panting, but this cooling system is easily overwhelmed when the temperature climbs. Panting becomes even less effective in humid conditions or for dogs with underlying respiratory tract ailments (collapsing trachea, laryngeal paralysis, lung diseases). Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, and others I lovingly refer to as “smoosh-faced” breeds readily overheat because of their unique upper respiratory tract anatomy.
What happens when dogs get too hot? The result is heatstroke, a life threatening condition. Symptoms of heatstroke tend to occur abruptly and can include increased heart rate, labored breathing, weakness, collapse, purplish gum color, and even seizures and coma. Of all the “summertime diseases” veterinarians dread heatstroke the most because we know that, even with aggressive therapy, many heatstroke victims will succumb to organ damage and death.
Most cases of canine heatstroke are a result of confinement in cars. Perhaps the vehicle was parked in the shade, but the sun shifted, or a well-intentioned person thought that leaving the windows cracked or returning to the car quickly would be a safe bet. Overactivity in the heat is another common cause of heatstroke. For some dogs the desire to chase the ball trumps all else, and the person throwing the ball doesn’t recognize when it’s time to quit.
If you suspect your dog has or is on the verge of heatstroke, spend just a few minutes cooling him off with water from a hose or covering him with towels soaked in cool water. Then get to the closest veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Time is of the essence- the earlier heatstroke is treated, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome.
Knowledge is power when it comes to preventing heatstroke. Here are some pointers to help keep your best buddy safe during the hot summer months:
- Never leave your dog inside the car on warm or hot days. A panting dog in an enclosed space quickly creates a muggy greenhouse environment that can quickly cause heatstroke. Even with the windows down, temperatures inside a car can rise to 120 degrees or more. If you happen upon a dog confined in a car on a hot day, find the owner of the vehicle or contact a police officer- whichever will most rapidly liberate the dog from danger. If the dog is clearly in trouble and help is not quickly forthcoming, it is appropriate to break a car window.
- Exercise your dog early in the morning or during evening hours to avoid the heat of the day.
- Allow for plenty of rest and water breaks during play activity and exercise. Your dog may not know his limits and will continue to enthusiastically chase the Frisbee even when his internal thermometer is getting ready to blow a fuse.
- Keep your dog indoors, ideally in air conditioning, on very hot days.
- If your dog is left outside, be sure he has plenty of shade and provide him with access to a sprinkler, wading pool, or sand pit soaked with water.
- If it’s necessary to transport your dog by airplane during the summer months, schedule your flight for nighttime or early morning. Check with the airlines to find out whether or not the cargo hold is temperature controlled.
Check out other ways to keep your dog safe this summer at The Dog Fence DIY Safety Round Up .
What will you do to keep your dog safe this summer?
Nancy Kay, DVM
Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
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Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health. There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.