Here in central Ohio, I and many of my friends and family are still talking about the harshly cold weather that we all had to live through this winter! It is such a relief that we now can enjoy the sweetly warm summer sunshine. Like me, I am sure that most of you enjoy spending time outside with your dogs. Walking, running, hiking, and playing fetch are things that we and our pets love to do. But it is important to realize that outdoor activities during these warmer months carry with them risks, including the risk of heat stroke. Heat stroke can occur when the body temperature rises above 105 degrees F. This sustained hyperthermia can have body-wide detrimental and life threatening effects and contribute to multi-organ dysfunction in our pets. Below are some tips on how to avoid heat stroke with your pets and what to do if you suspect your pet is experiencing heat stroke.
Avoid Risky Situations
When traveling in the car with your pet, avoid leaving them in the car unsupervised. The hot summer sun can create a rapid greenhouse effect in the car. If a pet is left within a closed car, within minutes the temperature can easily reach 100 + degrees.
Avoid letting dogs spend extended periods of time outside during hotter and humid parts of the day, especially if there is inadequate shade and access to water in the environment. We should also not let dogs exercise strenuously during these periods of the day. The combination of activity, thick fur coats and high temperatures/humidity can be a deadly mix. I have treated patients for heat stoke that were active no longer than 10 minutes in the wrong environment.
Elderly dogs seem to be more at risk for heat stress. Many older dogs have arthritis or other mobility issues which could lead to difficulty rising. If these dogs sleep in an area of the yard without shade, or if they are unable to get up well enough to get out of the sun, heat stroke can develop quickly.
Other dogs the have an increased risk of heat stroke are brachycephalic dogs, such as pugs and English bulldogs. Because of breed-related respiratory tract problems, when they try to dump excess body heat through panting, brachycephalics have to work so hard to move enough air they end up generating excessheat and making things worse. Care must also be taken dogs with heart or respiratory diseases.
It is important to avoid walking dogs on hot asphalt. This certainly can contribute to general heat stress but can also cause burns and blisters on the foot pads. These can be very painful injury causing lameness in one or all limbs, which can sideline your dog for part of the summer while they recover.
What signs should you look for when heat stress/stroke occurs?
Common symptoms include excess loud panting, salivation, bright red gums, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors, seizures, and coma.
What should be done if heat stress/stoke is suspected in your dog?
Bring your pet indoors to a cool environment and take a rectal temperature if possible. Use fans to assist in cooling. Place a wet towel on the back of your dog’s neck, armpits, groin and feet, BUT DO NOT USE cold water or ice, as this can cause overcooling which can have other detrimental effects in and of itself. When cooling, reaching rectal temperatures around 103 degrees F is the goal. During these steps you should also be calling your local veterinarian and preparing to transport your pet as soon as safely possible.
One final though as I think of my dog Ribby who LOVES to be sprayed with the garden hose. Water that remains in the hose, exposed to the heat and sunshine, can become VERY hot. Risk of burns is a possibility in these cases. Allow the water to drain sufficiently before exposing humans or dogs, or filling up water bowls. –Peter Olson, DVM
Peter Olson, DVM, is a 2007 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine. He and his wife Beth share their home with two dogs, two cats, four turtles and a Russian Tortoise.