During the summer months, rising temperatures prove dangerous or even deadly to furry family members. Staying hydrated helps protect pets from overheating, but it's still important to recognize the signs of distress. Keep your critters, and yourself, from becoming hot under the collar by preventing potential problems.
HOW HOT DOGS STAY COOL
Dogs don't sweat to cool off--they pant. For panting to work, the outside air must be lower in temperature than the pet's normal body temperature (101-102.5 degrees). The evaporation off the tongue and rapid exchange of cooler outside air helps keep dogs comfortable. Fluffing the fur also allows the breeze to reach through the fur to the skin, and a matted coat that blocks airflow can increase the heat quotient.
Brachycephalic breeds with shorter muzzles have more difficulty cooling off because of their foreshortened windpipes and can't breathe as efficiently as longer-nosed pets. You'll notice these pets tend to snore or snort quite a bit. They can suffer heatstroke just by exercising on a cool day, so extra precautions must be taken.
When the weather nears or exceeds pet body temperature at the 100-degree mark, dogs can't cool off with these normal panting functions. Heatstroke happens when body temperature rises and stays elevated. Heatstroke can kill in less than 15 minutes.
Because people have the option to stay inside with the fan or air conditioner blasting away, we may not think about doggy danger zones. But if the temperatures are uncomfortable for you, chances are they're potentially dangerous for your pet.
CARS: Cars turn into deathtraps in relatively mild temperatures. On a 78-degree day, cars sitting in the shade reach 90 degrees in no time--if in the sun, the temperature inside the car rises to 168 degrees within minutes.
SURFACES: Don't forget about areas your pet walks. Paw pads protect but still are no defense against the highest temperatures. When the air temperature is in the 80s, the surface and ground temperature will be higher. In the sun, the grass will be about 90 degrees (10 degrees up from the air temps). Hard surfaces like concrete and asphalt hold the heat--and so does plain dirt--so expect those temperatures to range up to 45 to 50 degrees higher than the air, up to 140 degrees or more. That's hot enough to fry an egg, and burn your dog's feet. Fresh tar and asphalt temperatures can reach 325 degrees, and are most dangerous because tar sticks to the feet and keeps burning.
You can test surface temperatures by holding the back of your hand against the ground, and if you can't stand it for ten seconds, it's too hot for doggy paws.
SIGNS OF PAW PROBLEMS & WHAT TO DO
For paw pad burns, your dog may yelp or limp when he encounters the hot surface. If you see pink tissue or blisters on the pads, the vet will need to treat your dog. First aid helps reduce the tissue damage. Put the dog's feet in cold water immediately for at least 5 to 10 minutes. Burns from fresh tar or asphalt are most serious, so after cooling off the feet with cold water, slather the tar with peanut butter. The oil in peanut butter is a natural solvent that removes tar and asphalt. Peanut butter with natural flavorings is also safe for dogs to lick.
SIGNS OF HEATSTROKE & WHAT TO DO
Panting is a normal dog reaction to the heat. Dogs may not quit playtime on their own, so it's important for you to intervene before they overheat. In addition to normal panting, watch for these danger signs.
- Body temperature 104-106 degrees
- Pants rapidly
- Tongue and gums turn bright red
- Saliva becomes sticky
- Body temperature exceeds 106
- Pale gums
- Acts dizzy
- Bloody vomiting and/or diarrhea
Body temperatures of 107 or more causes a condition called decimated intravascular coagulation (DIC), in which the blood clotting system fails. Red blood cells burst and can't carry oxygen, so the pet begins to suffocate.
HEATSTROKE FIRST AID
Heatstroke is a medical emergency that requires first aid at home to save your pet's life. Reduce the body temperature to 104 degrees or less, even before rushing him to the veterinary clinic. Most rectal thermometers only register up to 108 degrees, though, and severe cases of heatstroke may go off the scale--110 degrees or higher.
For mild heatstroke, bring the pet into an air-conditioned space and turn on a fan so the air he breathes is cooler than his body, and panting can work. Give ice cubes, cold water or Gatorade, and wrap him in cold wet towels.
For severe heatstroke, douse the pet with cold water from the hose, or dunk him in the bathtub or sink. Ice packs placed in the "armpits" or groin (near major blood vessels) help chill the blood so it cools the pet during circulation. If his temperature registers 107 degrees or higher, give him a cold water enema. You can use a lubricated turkey baster or squirt bottle filled with ice water. Once the pet's temperature drops to 104, wrap your wet pet in a towel and get him veterinary care as soon as possible.
Prevention works best, of course. Outside pets must have access to shade, and plenty of cool water they can't spill. Specialized attachments available from pet product stores turn outside faucets into pet drinking fountains, to keep water always available. Misters that spew water into the air also prove helpful by lowering the temperature and keeping pet fur damp. Prevent problems altogether by keeping cats and dogs safe, in air-conditioned spaces when the temperatures become dangerous.