Get Ready for the Dog Days

I went for a walk with my Golden Retriever today, and he could barely walk around the block in this Chicago 90 degree weather. This made me wonder, how many dogs have suffered from hyperthermia or heat exhaustion today, given the almost 100 degree temperatures?

Here are my top 10 interesting facts or suggestions regarding summer heat and your pets:

  1. Never leave your pet alone in a parked car. Did you know that when it is 72 degrees outside, your car’s inside temperature can rise to 110 degrees in one hour? Imagine how quickly your car will heat up on a 100 degree summer day. In addition, in most jurisdictions, it is against the law to leave a pet unattended in a standing or parked car in a manner that endangers the health of the pet. Don’t think opening your car’s windows a crack makes a difference for your pet while baking in a hot car. It doesn’t help. On an 85 degree day, the temperature inside a car with the windows slightly opened can reach 102 degrees within 10 minutes. After 30 minutes, your car’s temperature will reach 120 degrees.
  2. Avoid walking your dog on hot surfaces — like asphalt or cement — during hot weather. Press the back of your hand firmly against the asphalt for seven seconds to verify it will be comfortable for your dog to walk on. Try to walk your pet on grass. As seen in the Journal of American Medical Association, when air temperature is 77 degrees F, the asphalt temperature can be up to 125 degrees F. When the air temperature is 86 degrees F, the temperature of the asphalt can be 135 degrees F. At 125 degrees F, skin destruction can occur in 60 seconds. An egg can fry in 5 minutes at 131 degrees.
  3. If you go for a walk on a sunny day, take a water bottle for yourself and your dog. He/she is going to get thirsty just like you. (I’m not fond of communal water bowls that you frequently find in front of stores in Chicago. It’s a great way to share some infectious diseases.) If you’re lazy or creative, and don’t want to carry your pet’s water bottle, get him/her a dog backpack and let him/her carry their own. Just don’t forget to offer it to your pet while you exercise.
  4. Pets don’t know their own limits and quickly overheat in the sun. As smart pet owners, we have to use some common sense to know when it’s time to put on their brakes. If you’re walking or running your dog and he/she starts to drag behind you or try to sit down on the grass or in the shade, it’s time to stop. If your dog starts panting excessively and is red in the face, stop exercising.

    If you think your dog is overweight and you want to start an exercise program, don’t start in peak heat times. In addition, gradually increase his/her exercise over the course of weeks — not hours. Most dogs are not great at dissipating heat from their body. They have few sweat glands and rely heavily on panting to release heat. If you have a brachiocephalic dog (a dog with a short nose like a pug, Pekingese or bull dog), exercising in hot weather could be catastrophic. These pets already have difficulties breathing normally. Now challenge them with the heat, and they can easily overheat and collapse. If you have a young pet, senior pet or a pet suffering from other health problems like heart disease or respiratory problems, these pets are especially vulnerable to heat related problems and should not be out in the hot weather exercising.

  5. Be smart and leave your pet at home when the temperature rises — especially above 85 degrees. I hate it when I go to the beach and see pets panting in the sun while their owners sun bathe. If you take your pet to the beach, don’t take them during the hottest times of the day. Let them play in the water and then leave. Alternatively, buy a children’s plastic wading pool to keep him/her cool in the hot summer weather. Most pets seem to really enjoy sitting in their water baths.
  6. Buy a cooling harness for your pet to wear on his/her walks. These are “vests” with pockets that you fill with cool water for your pet to wear in the hot weather. These vests use evaporative cooling to keep dogs cool in the heat by exchanging the dog’s heat with the coolness of the stored water.
  7. Take your pet out to eliminate earlier or later in the day when the temperatures are lower. If you take your pet out in the sun, don’t forget to apply sunscreen on your pet’s lightly pigmented skin or on areas that have little hair. Your dog’s skin can burn in the sun, just like yours does. On the flip side, dogs with dark colored coats are particularly sensitive to the heat since they get hotter faster by absorbing the sun’s heat rays.
  8. Know that your pet’s normal body temperature is around 100 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep a rectal thermometer at home and know how to use it in case you suspect your pet’s temperature is elevated. (For your information, apply lubricant to a rubber rectal thermometer and insert the tip of the thermometer about ½ inch into his/her rectum. Let it sit for approximate one minute before reading it.) Serious hyperthermia or heat stroke usually occurs when your pet’s body temperature reaches 105 F or higher.
  9. Recognize the signs of hyperthermia (elevated body temperature), which are excessive panting, restlessness, drooling, vomiting, unsteady on their feet, weakness, glassy eyed, gums the color of blue, purple or bright red, collapsing, and seizure activity.
  10. Finally what to do if your pet is showing signs of hyperthermia or heat stroke:
    1. Remove the pet from the hot environment — put him/her in the shade or in an air-conditioned house if you have quick access to one.
    2. Take your pet’s rectal temperature, if possible. Definitely, not critical but a good parameter to have and use to guide you during your cooling phase of treatment.
    3. Begin to gently cool the body by placing cool wet towels over the back of the neck, armpits and groin area. You can also wet their ear flaps and paws with cool water. Another idea is to rub alcohol on feet to speed the cooling process via evaporation — but first make sure there are no cuts on their feet!
    4. You may place the pet in cool water to lower his/her body temperature. Do NOT use ICE water for cooling. This can bring the outer body temperature down quickly and cause superficial vessels to constrict, delaying inner body temperature cooling.
    5. If your pet is alert, you may offer cool water to drink BUT do NOT force water down an unconscious or disoriented dog — this may cause the dog to aspirate the water (water in the lungs).
    6. Your goal in cooling your pet down is to bring the temperature down to 103 degrees F. If you bring the pet’s temperature down lower, it’s possible that you overshoot your desired pet’s cooling and make him/her hypothermic (too low of a body temperature).
    7. Severe hyperthermia is a life-threatening health event that can affect every system in your pet’s body. Simply lowering the body temperature fails to address the potentially catastrophic events that often accompany this disorder — kidney failure, circulatory shock and brain damage. Please take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Have fun in the sun, but be careful. Don’t push your pets too hard in the summer! Relax and enjoy the beautiful weather.

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