As the temperature climbs in late spring and summer, we humans can shed layers, find water and shade on our own, and even spend time inside if the weather becomes too hot. Our cars and homes are equipped with air conditioning, and we can choose when we are out in the heat. But while we are prepared to handle high temperatures by adapting to the situation in many ways, dogs are simply not built to manage extreme temperatures.
Dogs cannot sweat and are covered in a permanent fur coat, making them more susceptible to heat than humans. The worst combination for dogs is high heat and high humidity – if you combine that with a stuffy, poorly-ventilated location, the temperature can quickly overwhelm their ability to cool themselves and lead to heatstroke, a medical emergency for pets. In fact, heatstroke is one of the most common veterinary emergencies during southern summers.
Learning how your dog’s body responds to extreme temperatures and some tricks to help them manage the heat can make all the difference in keeping your sweet pup safe.
The Dangers of Heatstroke
Medically speaking, heatstroke occurs when your pup’s body can no longer regulate their internal temperature and keep it within a safe range. This typically happens when a pet is subjected to high temperatures for a period of time, stressing their system to the point that their normal systems are no longer able to keep up with the steadily increasing body heat. Heatstroke is an emergency so having tips to help control their body temperature is essential.
Dr. Christine New is a veterinarian in Texas and a member of the Texas Veterinary Medical Association. Her advice to pet owners is clear: “Don’t depend on your pet to let you know when they are overheating. At the early stages of overheating, intervention by pet owners can prevent mild overheating from progressing to heatstroke…” The best way to do this is by knowing the symptoms yourself.
Symptoms of Heatstroke
Your pup can’t tell you how they’re feeling, so when you’re outside on a hot day, watch for the following symptoms:
- Excessive panting or hyperventilation – if your pup is panting so hard that they seem almost unable to keep up with their breathing, they are likely overheated. Dogs with shortened noses like pugs or bulldogs are much more susceptible to heatstroke because they cannot pant as effectively as other breeds.
- Gum color – if your dog’s gums are grey, bluish, or unusually bright red they could be dehydrated and overheated.
- Excessive drooling – if your dog is drooling excessively or has unusually thick and sticky drool, they may be dehydrated and likely to overheat. The thickened drool can look like foaming at the mouth as well.
- Lethargy – if you notice that your pup is clearly exhausted, sleepy, or weak on a hot day, suspect overheating or heatstroke.
- Gastrointestinal upset – diarrhea or vomiting on a hot day are significant warning signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
These are the most familiar and easily detectible signs of overheating and heatstroke, but there are other symptoms that are less common or more difficult to see. If your dog is typically healthy but is acting sick or otherwise atypical on a hot day, do not ignore their symptoms! If in doubt, immediately help your pet cool down and contact your veterinarian.
How to Keep Your Pet Cool
Some of the best tips for avoiding heatstroke in dogs seem fairly simple, but are worth restating anyway! The best rule of thumb is that temperatures in excess of 80 degrees and 90% humidity create a risk for heatstroke. Dogs can be okay outside in those temperatures for brief periods of time, especially if you take measures to keep them cool and comfortable despite the heat. Try some of these ideas to help!
- Make a “cooling station” for your pet – the most common (and fun) example is filling a kiddie pool with cool water! It’s a wonderful place for your pup to splash around and play, get a drink, or even just lounge in the pool. We’re not the only ones who love a good pool day!
- Avoid walks or runs with your pet during the day – stick to early mornings if possible, or sometimes late evening.
- NEVER leave your pet in the car, even briefly. A 2-minute run into the store almost always is longer than anticipated, and heatstroke can occur with shocking rapidity even on a 70-degree day.
- Create an “air conditioning” system for your pet if they must be in a crate – simply place a layer of ice packs on the top of their crate and the cool air will descend on them as the water melts. Adding cool wet towels for them to lay on, along with bags filled with cool water, can help them stay cool in a confined place for a brief period of time.
Summer Fun for All
Having fun and building bonding memories with your pet is possible during the summer! It just means planning ahead for their comfort and health. Keep an eye out for signs of overheating, always provide shade and water for your pup on hot days, and remember that water play is a perfect solution for almost any pup on a hot day! Caring for your pet in the heat is a key part of living in the south, so plan for the weather and you’ll be able to enjoy the summer with your pup for many years to come.