Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
I will admit it — I’ve stopped checking the weather. I can’t handle the letdown anymore. If it is sunny, I know it is sunny. If it is raining, I know it is raining. I step outside before I decide what to wear for the day (sorry neighbors!) and choose my walking times based on my schedule and not the weather plans. That said, it is still summer, and those blistering hot days in July (right before the 50-degree days) likely will be back. Summer brings up special considerations, so there are some things to keep in mind if and when the weather heats up again.
When it is hot, walk early or late. Remember that most of our dogs are wearing a fur coat, so when it is hot for you, it is hotter for them. If you need to walk at lunch on hot days, consider walking in the woods where it is shaded, or taking your dog for a swim instead.
When it is hot, remember that pavement and asphalt hold the heat in. Like a pizza stone, these materials heat up fast and hold heat after the sun is down. On a 77-degree day, most asphalt reaches a temperature of 125 degrees. If it is uncomfortable to walk on barefoot, it is too hot for your dog. While their paw pads are tougher than most of our feet, they can still get burned with prolonged contact. We often see dogs with paw-pad burns and abrasions during hot weather, especially since the pavement is much warmer than the air. Remember that dogs also help vent their heat through their paws, so when their heat vent is on a hot surface, they overheat more easily.
Dogs with smooshy faces, like bulldogs, pugs and boxers, struggle even more with the heat. These guys have narrower nostrils, longer soft palates and typically smaller tracheas (their wind pipe.) All of the things that make them grunt, snort and snore make it harder for them to breathe. This is especially problematic when they are panting. Since they are not circulating air as efficiently, their cooling mechanisms are less efficient as well. These are the guys that get heat stroke faster than we expect and are harder to get back to normal. These dogs love the air conditioning, so take extra care with them in the summer.
We repeat it over and over, but DO NOT leave dogs in hot cars. Cars act like greenhouses and heat up very quickly. Think about how hot your car can be with the windows up after just running into the grocery for five minutes. When it is 70 degrees out, which is a relatively cool summer day, the temperature inside a closed car can reach 104 degrees after just 30 minutes.
I struggle to do errands on hot days because I cannot stand how hot my car gets. I actually hold out on getting groceries when it is hot. If you need to worry about ice cream melting before you get home, rest assured that your dog doesn’t want to wait in the car. Leave them home, drop them off at a friend’s or wait until nighttime. There aren’t many things that are worth the life of your dog.
In this same vein, do not assume that every dog in a car needs to be broken out. Many people leave their dogs in cars with the air conditioning running. While this isn’t a good solution for very long due to the risk of it shutting off, it is commonly used as a stop gap. What you may take for heat panic may be a nervous dog not liking you looking through into “their car.” Don’t hesitate to call for help or try to find an owner if you see a dangerous situation, but also make sure you don’t break into a car while a dog is sitting comfortably in air conditioning.
If you suspect your pet is overheated, call your veterinarian immediately. Some pets can lay in the hot sun for hours, while others can barely walk when the temperature gets warm. If you are noticing excessive panting, drooling, struggling to breathe or a dullness of mentation it is an emergency. Don’t be afraid to tell your vet that you went jogging or forgot that your pet was locked outside. It is more important that we can act quickly knowing the full situation than to save yourself some embarrassment.
Do NOT try to intervene at home. Cold-water baths, forced drinking and many other things that seem like a good idea can actually worsen the situation. The best thing you can do is get them to a vet where we can place an intravenous catheter, start fluids and slowly lower their body temperature. The longer their temperature remains high, the more danger their organs are in and the more likely that they cannot recover.
Finally, make sure that all animals always have a fresh water source available. Pets should have water available at all times, even if they don’t typically drink in that situation. Outdoor pets should have a shaded water source. If you are planning a walk or trip, make sure you either bring water or know there is a fresh water source. When the weather heats up ponds and water sources that are not fast moving can grow algae that are toxic to dogs. Don’t count on any stagnant water areas being your dog’s only opportunity to drink.
Stay hydrated, stay on grass, stay in the shade and make sure to always pay attention to any changes in your pet when the weather heats up.