As the summer months are almost here, it is important to review common issues your dog can face in the hot temperatures and how best to deal with them.
Heatstroke is one of the most common problems affecting pets and it can range from minimal risk to fatality. As a dog owner, it’s essential to remember the danger of leaving your dog inside the car. A car in the sun or in warm temperatures can quickly rise to 120 degrees F (49 C)in just moments. This can lead to heatstroke very easily.
Symptoms of heatstroke include the following:
Inability to calm down
Bright red gums
If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, take his/her temperature immediately. If the temperature is over 105 degrees F (40 C) take action by cooling the animal down by running room temperature (not cold) water over the legs and body. You can also apply a cold pack, a bag of frozen vegetables wrapped in a thin hand towel for instance, to your dog’s head to help lower his body temperature. Offer your dog cool water and allow him/her to drink it.
Check your dog’s temperature frequently, about every five minutes or so, until his/her temperature drops to 103 degrees F (39.4 C). Stop the cooling efforts at this point, as continued cooling can accidentally cause hypothermia. It’s essential to give immediate veterinary attention once your dog’s temperature is stable. Heatstroke can cause severe organ damage, swelling of the brain, abnormal blood clotting, and other internal trauma.
Typical veterinary care consists of replacing lost fluids and minerals. Intravenous fluid therapy and close monitoring for additional complications is common procedure.
Heatstroke is a completely preventable condition — be aware of overexposing your dog to hot and humid weather. This is particularly important for obese dogs, those with airway diseases or breeds with short noses, called 'brachycephalics'. These breeds, such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus, are often at a higher risk of developing heatstroke. Whenever traveling by car in the summer, make sure your dog has plenty of ventilation. Never leave your dog in the car with the windows closed, even if the car is parked in the shade or if the temperature isn’t extreme. Cars heat up rapidly, despite open windows or placement in the shade.
Just like us, dogs can burn in the sun. This most commonly affects dogs with a white, light-colored, or thin hair coat. The symptoms of sunburn include pain, itching, and peeling, Sunburn is easily avoidable by applying a sunscreen specifically formulated for dogs. Be sure to cover sensitive areas of your dog, such as the nose, ears, and area around its mouth.
Finding a pet-safe sunscreen is important, as most dogs will lick at any substance on their bodies. Although generally most infant-safe sunscreens are fine for dogs as well, it is optimal to find a sunscreen developed especially for canines.
Dogs can become dehydrated quickly in the summer months, particularly if they are exercising or playing outside. Outdoor dogs as well are at-risk for dehydration. Always provide your dog unrestricted access to water, both indoors and outdoors.
The main symptoms of dehydration are the loss of elasticity in the animal’s skin and lethargy. When dehydrated, when the skin is pulled lightly, it doesn’t fall back into its original place. In serious cases, xerostomia may occur, in which the gums lose moisture, become sticky, and the saliva thickens.
Immediate care is necessary if you think your dog is dehydrated— contact your veterinarian. Typically, they will recommend administering an electrolyte solution until your dog’s body is hydrated. In severe situations, hospitilization and blood values to check organ function may be necessary.
We all love being outdoors enjoying the warm temperatures, however it is important to still remain cautious and be aware of how the weather is affecting your dog. Many heat-related conditions are easily avoidable with consistent monitoring. Remember to avoid strenuous exercise during hot days, always provide clean water, and allow your dog to take it easy in the heat!
Powell, Lisa. Heatstroke Management. Western Veterinary Conference Proceedings. 2003.
American National Red Cross. Dog First Aid: Be Red Cross Ready. Safety Series Volume 2. Staywell Co. 2008.