A Summertime Safety Reminder

Photo Credit: Shirley Zindler

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.

Heatstroke Prevention

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?

Best wishes,

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
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

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.

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15 Responses to “A Summertime Safety Reminder”

  1. Cath Whistler says:

    About the ice cube/water question – Well, I should have done a little homework before asking… turns out this is one of those “snopes”, per this:

    http://www.petmd.com/blogs/fullyvetted/2010/july/internet_myths-10213

    I didn’t catch that, and normally I head right for snopes.com or hoax.com to check out any “sky is falling” type stories. My apologies! – Cath

  2. Cath Whistler says:

    Hi, Dr. Kay – this is one of my hot buttons, no pun intended. I carry warning placards from Marin Humane Society about the dangers of leaving dogs in cars and put them on offending vehicles every time I see one with a dog inside. I’ve often called the police and/or Animal Control, and it’s remarkable how consistent the response of the “owner” is – only gone for a few minutes. Once I stayed with a German Shepard baking in the back of a station wagon for over an hour and when the “owner” hopped out of another car and stated that she was a G/S rescue volunteer and had only been gone 10 minutes, I told her that the police had been with me for at least 45 minutes, and I reported her to the G/S rescue organization. Criminal.

    On another related note, I came across the following blog post about giving dogs ice cubes, ice water or cold water and having it cause bloat. I’ve been giving my dogs ice cubes for years on hot days, but never after exertion, and wondered what your thoughts are on the subject. Thanks in advance! – Cath

    http://wendtworthcorgis.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/no-ice-water-for-dogs-please-read-asap/

  3. On a warm Saturday, October 3, 1998, my husband Luis and I were sitting in the cool reception area of the Broadway Emergency Pet Clinic in San Antonio, Texas with fear of death in our hearts for our beloved 14-1/2 year old beautiful and beloved red dachshund, who had a tumor on her pancreas and was receiving IV because she had been vomiting.

    About 2:00 p.m., while we sat in the reception area, this very large and beautiful, but collapsed, great dane was carried in by someone’s grieving arms. The great dane folks said they had all been at the AKC dog show. They left their great dane in their cool, air conditioned mobile home for just one hour while they ate lunch, but the air conditioning went out. When they finished eating they hurried back to the air conditioned mobile home and found it was hot as hell and they found their great dane collapsed.

    My husband and I cried as this beautiful great dane was carried out in a cardboard box by its grieving owner! Our vet at the clinic explained that, after a struggle, the great dane had hemorrhaged to death. We have never forgotten this!

    The best bet is not to rely on your air conditioner!

    We enjoy reading the informative Spot Speaks and feel that Dr. Nancy Kay is our very own, James Herriot, the British veterinary surgeon, who gave us All Creatures Great and Small. Dr. Kay’s English is beautiful and, like James Herriot, she is also a veterinary surgeon with lots of stories for animal lovers in the world!

  4. Courtenay says:

    https://www.facebook.com/CanineLifestyle/photos/pb.145029038902214.-2207520000.1402357979./663070217098091/?type=3&theater

    I personally like this style of advice better. Many of us who work with dogs professionally or compete with them in sports have set ups that keep the dogs cool in the car, and some of us have dogs who would potentially be a danger to a good samaritan breaking a window.

    Leaving the AC on can be unreliable. If something happens and the AC fails, the car is closed up and will over heat very quickly. Having a remote temperature measurement or alarm is the safest way to go regardless of how you keep your dog cool.

  5. Brenda Bass says:

    When I used to be a member of a Pet Therapy group, we’d go to lunch after our visit, and the dogs (about 5, usually) would stay in my van with the air conditioner running. I would always park facing a restaurant window, where I could look out. My own boxer would be loose, and would sit in the driver’s seat and watch the restaurant. I could always keep an eye on him, and tell if he were panting or not. I always worried about the air conditioner malfunctioning, or the van’s running out of gas, or something.

    Some years ago, a VERY responsible dog show boxer handler went into the ring, and left a travel trailer full of boxers, with the air conditioner hooked up to an outside generator, and running. You guessed it – the generator quit, and the air conditioner did, too. All the dogs died.

    Air conditioning is no guarantee of safety. If you can’t see a dog behaving comfortably from a store or restaurant window, go out and check!

  6. Rosie Walsh says:

    I’d like clarification re when it’s safe to let a dog stay outdoors. I live just north of Atlanta, and it gets plenty hot. BUT there’s always fresh water outside and there are numerous ‘cool’ areas for my dog and cat to relax.

    One thing I am concerned about is the heat of my patio floor which is slate and hurts my feet during the time of day it’s in full sun. I’d hope the animals would quickly get off of it, into the cool fescue grass. Don’t want any harm to come to them, of course, but want to be realistic. If I need to be gone for 2+ hours the yard seems the best option. Awaiting your verdict.

    Thanks, Rosie

  7. speakingforspot says:

    Hi Nancy. Please know that, in Tuffy’s case, the family members acted out of ignorance. When confronted, they felt terrible, but were more than willing to be educated. I felt confident that Tuffy would never again be left in a hot car. I disagree that they had to be complete idiots. People who haven’t been educated do not know how quickly the temperature inside a car will climb. Having worked in my profession for as long as I have, I think I’m a pretty good judge of character who knows which situations call for a more aggressive approach.

  8. Nancy Correa says:

    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,
    How can you justify what they did? They would have to be complete idiots to NOT know what could happen. Why didn’t you report this to an animal control officer.? I think it isvery important when vets see signs of heat stroke in a animal (or abuse) that they report it to the appropriate sources. I am so tired of vets covering up for people that hurt animals.
    Letting the car run with the airconditioner on a hot day is risky as well. What if the car overheats? The best thing is to leave your companion animals at home.
    I have also reported people that I see running-yes-running with their dogs midmorning on hot humid days. Seeing eye dogs and other service dogs are also at risk during the summer but this is never addressed.

  9. JL says:

    I’ve had dogs for years. They’ve always been my ‘babies’. We spoil them rotten, & why not? Is that not the reason for having them? ;)

    I too, have left my dogs in A/C in the car while making a quick stop…5 min or less. They have always been fine, but I never thought about leaving a note on the window to say the A/C is running, so good idea!
    However, when my dogs become elderly, as my latest one is now, they just have to sit it out at home. I have A/C, AND a fan that will blow on her bed, that she loves to lay in front of. I leave music (soft/easy listening) on for her or the TV while she’s alone, to help her feel she’s not. ;)
    In that case, when I’ve had a visitor at times while gone, they have thought I was home, b/c they could see the A/C on & then heard the TV or music. When I told them I did it for Dew, they laugh.
    I also have hosed my dogs down when outside w/me in the yard, many times & even before going in the car for short rides, so they are cooler w/o using the A/C.
    I got a large, heavy duty plastic pool w/a detachable slide several years ago at a yard sale for $12! Guess who it’s for? Yup! Sitting it in the shade in the yard, she is in heaven there, where I have not be able to take her to the very large, local dog pond (more like a small lake) for a swim & play time w/other, hot canines. Even then, now that she’s old (15) I limit how much I allow her to swim, b/c I don’t want her to do too much. It’s good for her arthritis. Just a few walks out w/her up to my waist now & letting her kick a bit before letting her swim back. After, she’ll just sit in the shallow sand at times, so she’s still in the water, but either sitting or lying down w/her head out. Times have changed from when I could throw a toy or ball & she’d swim out to get it. :( Or, when she would swim out to ‘steal’ other dogs toys in the water! LOL
    This was a rescue at 7, who hated water when I got her. I live on the beach, so I couldn’t have that! I worked w/her a long time to make her a swimmer. Being around other dogs who she saw doing it, sure did help a lot too. :)
    Our dogs are the children we never had. Shame they don’t live longer.

  10. Cindy Pina says:

    I have seen people leave their dogs in hot cars and confronted them calmly. But in return I always get yelled at. But I don’t care. I keep notices in my cars to pass out to people to let them know what can happen and what WILL happen if they leave their dogs. The best way is to leave your dog at home in comfort. Also walking on hot pavement is a no-no in my house. We will take two of our dogs to the beach with us, but there is a shaded area we go to with plenty of water and coverage from the sun. Since Im not a sun worshiper I protect my dogs too. This particular beach is at a park where there is a lot of grass to walk on, no pavement. I would never hesitate to break a window of a vehicle , after checking all windows of course. I would do anything to save an animal. I’ll face the consequences for my actions.

  11. Jackie Jurasek says:

    Well, the animal control officer is going to pipe up again! We get numerous calls of dogs being left in a hot vehicle. The last one that we caught received a citation that ended up with the dog owner paying a hefty fine. We keep heat sensor guns in our vehicles so that we can have proof of the temperature reading when (not if) we write the ticket. My daughter takes her dogs with her and when the temps are hot, she leaves the truck running with the AC going and locks the door with her remote. The dogs and truck are safe (we live in a small rural area) until she returns…but…she limits the time tht she is out of the vehicle and she can usually see her truck from inside of the building that she is in.
    I still feel that the best thing for the dog is to leave it at home if you are going to have to leave it in a vehcile in the heat.
    My other gripe is for those folks who think that their dog should ride in the back of their truck…unrestrained or not. Most of these truck have black bed liners…it is like putting your dog in a convection oven with a little breeze blowing across their heads. I can imagine that their paw pads get quite cooked after a ride in July or August! I like Jan’s last statement….give these dog owners a taste of what their dog goes through sitting in a hot vehicle.

  12. speakingforspot says:

    Good question Jan. I am assuming that your car can be locked with the air conditioning running? If so, I think this is fine as long as your dog is comfortable and happy in this situation. I would recommend that you post very visible signs on your car letting passersby know that the air conditioning is running. This will hopefully prevent a Good Samaritan calling the police or busting one of your car windows.

  13. Jane Eagle says:

    I wish I could send this to every dog owner in the world!
    I would also like to add that walking a dog on hot pavement is a form of torture: if it is too hot for you to stand barefoot, it is too hot for a dog. I see this all the time.
    I also advocate breaking windows when necessary; but I also ask people to check the other windows first. My truck has a small camper shell (known as my mobile dog house); the window screens were replaced with hardware cloth (a type of wire mesh) so I can leave the windows open without any dogs jumping out. If it is no more than 80, and I need no more than 3 things from the market, I will sometimes leave them in there for less than 5 minutes, with the windows totally open. I had someone smash my window, even though there were 2 windows completely open! So please, check first, then smash the window if necessary.
    A few years ago, I pulled into a lot near the coast, to go into a small shop. There were 2 large dogs barking, so I went to check on them: they were closed in a car in full sun, and it was getting hot. I don’t have a cell phone, so I went into the shop and asked if I could use their phone to call the police, because there were 2 dogs in serious trouble. 2 women came up and said those were their dogs. When I told them it was at least 100 degrees in their closed car, they said it had been foggy when they parked 20 minutes ago. When I told them they were on the verge of having a window smashed to free the dogs, I think they finally got it…

  14. Lori B. says:

    This is a great topic. All too many times when I go grocery shopping during the Summer, I find a dog that has been left in the car by a well intentioned but ignorant, caretaker. I waste no time in immediately going to the store customer service counter, and I tell them that there is an animal in distress outside and I request that they page the owner over the PA, via the make of their car and license plate number. I then go back outside and wait by the car, to make sure that the owner comes out. Sadly on two occasions the owner was not at all happy that someone had them paged, but the safety of the animal is my first concern. I even had a woman admonish me, as she was “only running into the store for a few minutes, but then ran into someone she hadn’t seen in a long time and ended up talking awhile”. She told me she simply lost track of time. I told her she could have easily lost her dog. End result, in addition to notifying the store, I also now leave a typed slip of paper inside their car window as well. Hopefully once the owner calms down, they can read what the facts are regarding keeping an animal safe in the heat. If anyone sees an animal in distress, speak out, you may be the only voice that animal has at that moment and every second counts.

  15. Jan Stice says:

    What’s your thoughts about leaving a dog in a car for 5-10 min max with the air conditioning turned on? I don’t usually see this addressed by these type of articles.
    A few years ago, my husband and I went into a restaurant noticing a German Shepherd in a car next to ours. The people(two adults and two children) had just driven up after us and even debated whether to leave the windows cracked. The temp outside was in the high 80′s. I started timing and after 20 minutes, we called the manager over and told her our concerns. She went immediately to the table(where one of the adults wasn’t even eating) and told them. We happened to leave at the same time and as we were parked next to them, they figured out we were the tattletales. They were very upset and told us the “dog was ok and not in any danger”. We decided then the next time we wouldn’t try to educate anyone, we would just call the police. About 5 months later I was at a nursing home to do pet therapy with my registered therapy dog. A car was next to the parking space I pulled into and, yes, there was a dog in the car. Again the temp was in the 80′s. I decided since the dog didn’t look to be in any distress and the license was out of state, I would go in and visit and if the car was still there, I would call the police. I came out after about 20-25 minutes and the car was still there. I immediately called the police, gave them the address. The dog was panting, but still sitting up in the car looking ok. The driver, a woman, came out right after and I told her she was lucky. She asked why and I told her I had just called the police. She didn’t understand why as she “had just taken her mom into the facility and wasn’t gone very long” She had also given the dog a drink before going in. She drove off probably to park somewhere else since she was from out of state. I called and cancelled the police response. I will not hesitate to call the police now nor would I hesitate to break a window to get to a dog obviously in distress. People who do this just don’t realize how quickly there dog can get overheated and ill. I wish I could put them in a hot car for 15 minutes with a fur coat on!