Since outdoor play in the sunnier, hotter days of the year can expose your dog to the very real risk of overheating, and given that our pets often don’t let us know that they need a break from the heat, owners need to be aware of and watch for the signs of overheating in their pet. The good news for owners is that, once you know what to look for and provided you take the time to check in on your pet, the signs of overheating are generally quite clear and the problem therefore avoidable. It is important to be attentive to this risk since overheating can lead to serious medical problems, including heatstroke, which is a major medical emergency and potentially fatal.
How to Avoid Heatstroke
There are a number of precautionary steps you can take to help ensure that your dog stays cool during a hot day. If you are out on a run/jog/hike, periodically take the time to pause and give your dog a moment to show you how he/she is really feeling. Owners who do more strenuous exercise or activity with their pets need to be especially careful; our dogs love being with us, and if we are actively on the go they will do everything in their power to keep up with us, even if it is ultimately to their detriment. As an owner, you want to periodically stop and take a break, and check in with their bodies. If you stop and your dog seems lethargic or slowed down, or is reluctant to start back up and continue moving, this is likely a sign that your dog is spent for the day. As Doctor Richter says, “Dogs want to be with you and do what you’re doing, and so we have to act as their conscience and make them stop when they are pushing themselves too far”. During these breaks, try to rest in the shade in order to keep your dog out of direct sunlight.
If you have a dog with respiratory issues, you want to be especially careful about strenuous exercise when it’s hot. For example, some larger dogs develop a condition called laryngeal paralysis as they get older. Overheating can seriously exacerbate this and other respiratory problems.
Signs of Overheating and Potential Heatstroke
If your dog starts slowing down and doesn’t want to keep playing or walking with you, this is likely a sign that your dog is approaching its limit. Lethargy, panting, and pronounced slowness are all red flags to stop whatever activity you’re doing and find a shady spot to rest your dog and allow her to drink. According to humanesociety.org, signs of heatstroke—a condition which requires immediate medical attention— include “heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, dizziness, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure, and unconsciousness.”
What to Do if You Suspect Heatstroke
If you suspect that your pet is approaching or in the midst of a heatstroke, locate and get to the nearest open veterinary hospital. We highly recommend that you take the time to determine where the nearest veterinary hospital is located before going out on a long hike or run.
In the meantime, there are measures you can take to bring down your pet’s internal temperature. Heatstroke means that your dog’s internal temperature has risen to an unsafe level, and so your immediate goal is to transfer as much of that excess internal heat out of their body as quickly as possible. The best way to do this is to soak all of their paws in cool water. Dog’s generate a great deal of heat transfer through the pads in their feet—submerging the feet in cool water helps promote and expedite this heat transfer out of their bodies. PLEASE NOTE: DO NOT USE ICE WATER. Although ice water or very cold water might seem like the most logical ways to cool off a dog quickly, this is actually not the case. When ice water comes into contact with the blood vessels in a dog’s foot, the shock of cold causes the blood vessels to constrict; this, in turn, means that less heat can escape through the blood vessels and thus limits the heat transfer out of your dog’s feet. For this reason, even slightly cool water is a better option than ice water in this situation.
Never Leave Your Dog or Cat Inside of a Turned off Car!
One final word of caution: if you find yourself traveling by car with your pets this summer and need to stop off at a gas station or rest stop, ALWAYS take your pet out of the car with you. According to humanesociety.org, “When it’s 72 degrees Fahrenheit outside, the temperature inside your car can heat up to 116 degrees within an hour”. If the temperature is hotter, say in the 80s or 90s, your car can get this hot in mere minutes. If you’re going to stop, even if it’s just for a short while, we strongly recommend taking your pet out of the car with you. When you do decide to take your animals out of the car, you must make sure that you have a secure grasp on their leash—the last thing that you want is a loose dog or cat while you’re stopped in the middle of nowhere! For more on this, please see our previous post on traveling with pets!