We humans can cool off during the “dog days” of summer with a visit to the swimming pool, the local creek, or a quick dip in the ocean. But our canine companions may not have the same luxury, so how can we help them keep cool?
Every summer, veterinarians, especially in the southern states, see this same scene many times. Snickers, a Cairn Terrier, was playing in the backyard. Now he is listless, panting hard and having a difficult time breathing. Frantically, Snickers’ owner rushed him to the veterinary clinic.
Once there, the veterinary technician took Snickers’ temperature and discovered it to be soaring over 106 degrees! Snickers was suffering from heat stroke. Luckily for Snickers, and with the help of the veterinary team and the actions of a quick acting owner, Snickers recovered fully from his near death experience.
Why did Snickers get so hot so quick? Dogs do not sweat like people do. Their only cooling mechanism is by panting. The moisture from their tongue evaporates and this helps lower their temperature. Anything that disrupts this natural cooling system, such as intense heat, exercise, or squirrel chasing, can lead to very high temperatures and heat stroke. Many dogs are left alone at home during the day, and may find themselves without shade or cool water to drink. Even just a few minutes in a car can find the inside temperature soaring over 120 degrees and can again lead to heat stroke in the dog.
Normally, a dog’s temperature ranges from 100 to 102.5 degrees. In cases of heat stroke, temperatures over 106 degrees are considered to be an emergency situation – temperatures over 110 degrees can be fatal in a matter of minutes.
This level of hyperthermia (higher than normal body temperature) can affect every major body system, including the kidney and heart, therefore it is imperative you get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as you safely can.
Dogs who develop heat stroke may show the following symptoms:
• Vigorous or excessive panting
• Inability to stand, or weakness while standing
• Thick, ropey saliva, copiously frothing from the mouth
• Bright red mucous membranes (gums), although some dogs may show pale or even muddy gums.
Heat stroke can affect any dog, but the brachy-cephalic dogs with short faces, such as Boston, Pugs, and Bulldogs may be at higher risk due their inability to effectively pant and cool themselves. Older dogs sometimes have more trouble with temperature regulation as well as young puppies.
Many people believe that their pet will be fine outdoors. However, inadequate shade and/or water can affect even the most seasoned outdoor dog. Water left outside in the sun can heat up to hot for them to drink. Outdoor water fountains for dogs can help provide fresh cool water and dog houses can help with the shade.
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If you like to take your dog for a walk, but the concrete is too hot, or he is a small dog and walks just plain tire him out, you may try one of the dog strollers.
Surprisingly, heat stroke in cats is very rare. Most animal experts believe that cats are extremely good at finding the coolest spots to lay and also avoid the excessive, exertions that many dogs seem to thrive on.
If you find your dog panting excessively on a warm summer day, immediately move your dog into a cooler place. Getting the pet into a shady area with a fan running on him or just bring him indoors. Rinse your dog with cool, not cold, tap water over his legs and body to help effectively lower the body temperature. Rubbing alcohol placed on the skin of the stomach, will help cool him also. Do not use ice or extremely cold water. Although it seems logical, extreme cold will cause surface blood vessels to contract, forming an insulating area that traps heat in the body, delaying the cooling of the vital organs. At the veterinary hospital, fluids are administered intravenously to help cool the core temperature and keep the kidneys from shutting down.
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Attempting to force your pet to drink is also not recommended. If you suspect your dog is suffering from heat stroke, immediately load your pet carefully into a car and go to the veterinarian. Under no circumstances should you leave your pet alone in the vehicle.
Without these life saving steps, many dogs might lose their lives to the “dog-days” of summer. But, as Snickers will testify, quick thinking owners and veterinary professionals can help get them back on their feet in no time.