Dr. Anna Dunton-Gallagher
OFF THE LEASH
Though it is barely June, it is already time to write a summer heat article. My heat-loving dogs think their dreams have come true, but we also had to deal with possible heat stroke in others. Every pet has a different opinion of the heat. Our huskies aren’t thrilled about the change in temperature, while most pit bulls are. No matter your opinion on the heat (I hate it!) there are things to be careful of with pets in the summer.
We all know not to leave our dogs in the hot car, but did you know that even if the windows are cracked the temperature still rises? You should not leave your pets (or children!) in a car if it is over 70 degrees outside. Imagine your car as a greenhouse. Unless it is running with the air conditioning on, the heat intensifies inside rapidly. If it is 75 degrees out, temperatures in a car can reach 118 degrees. If it is 90 degrees out, car temperatures can reach about 143 degrees.
Parking in the shade with the windows far down is OK up to a point, but shade moves and open windows can lead to dogs jumping out and running away. The best bet is planning your errands when your dogs can be home, or leaving the car running and AC on. Keep in mind that this can only be done outdoors where there isn’t a risk of carbon monoxide leaking into the car. Dogs can also hop around cars, so your controls must be such that your dog cannot knock the air conditioning to heat. This is also not ideal in terms of emissions (and we all know our weather is crazy enough as it is), so I still recommend leaving the dogs at home or waiting until the sun is down and the temperatures have cooled.
Remember that your pet has a fur coat on. Many dogs are willing to continue running, hiking or biking even in very hot temperatures. This just means that they like being outside and with you. Dogs don’t have the ability to say “it’s too hot for my kidneys to function well, let’s take a break.” It is our job to make these decisions for our pets. If it is too hot for you to jog with pants and a long-sleeved shirt on, it is too hot to jog with your dogs.
Dogs and cats do not sweat the same way that horses and people do, so they are less well adapted to heat. Without sweat to cool themselves, dogs and cats have a much more dangerous increase in body temperature. Furthermore, the moisture that leaves through their paws and tongues usually serves more to dehydrate than cool them efficiently. It is important that your pet have fresh, clean water available at all times. However, it becomes even more important in the summer, as they lose fluids by panting and require more water to maintain balance. If you see your cat panting, it is a sign of serious distress and you should contact your vet.
Walking on pavement adds another layer of heat. We do not always remember how hot this can get because we wear shoes. However, consider that our pets are “barefoot” walking on pavement. During the summer, blacktop surfaces can be up to 40 degrees hotter than the air outside. The most dangerous times for pavement to heat up is from about noon to 5 p.m., when it has had a chance to be in direct sunlight for many hours. In warmer places, you can get second-degree burns by walking barefoot on pavement in less than a minute! While it luckily is rarely that hot here, take a moment to think about the pavement temperature. When in doubt, see if you can comfortably walk on it without shoes or socks on. If you can’t, then neither should your dog.
You may notice that dogs often try to find areas of grass to walk on in the summer. Grass and shaded areas are noticeably cooler than pavement. Take your dog to a park or grassy area to exercise when the temperatures start to rise. Not only can they burn their feet, hot pavement immediately takes away any cooling effect that moisture loss through the pads may provide. Heat stroke is a dangerous condition that damages the brain and kidneys very quickly. If your pet is suffering from heat stroke, never place them in ice water or try to treat this condition yourself. It needs to be resolved with intravenous fluids and careful monitoring of organ function. Placing pets in cold water when they are suffering from heat stroke makes it more difficult for them to lose heat through their skin and makes internal temperatures warmer.
Since I love to see pets exercising, and extra fat makes dogs even hotter (now they don’t just have a fur coat, they have a fur coat over a lead vest), I still encourage exercise in the summer. The best way to do this is to exercise in the morning or evening when the sun is not overhead and the temperatures are cooler. Hiking in shaded areas, or taking your pet to walk in grassy, shaded areas is a good alternative. Bring them their own water bottle or allow them chances to drink often.
Additionally, just as we like to get in the water to cool off, so do most dogs. Remember though, not all dogs can swim instinctively! Start off wading and keep a close eye on them at all times. Never make your dog swim alongside a kayak or canoe when they might tire far from shore and be forced to swim back. Some dogs can swim all day, but this should be a choice. For dogs that love to swim, it is a perfect summer exercise activity. It is also a low-impact option for older dogs that need to lose some weight and be active but get sore walking. Swimming is one of my favorite activities for dogs (and some cats too!)
Summer weather lets us explore all of the local hikes and water attractions with our dogs, but be attentive to their differing needs. Take time to figure out what your dog is most comfortable with, and help tailor your routine to them. Some dogs revel in the sun when it is 90 degrees, while others find themselves wishing for snow. Work within your dog’s comfort zone, while keeping in mind that they should always have options for getting out of the sun and should always have fresh water.