By Kristen Parker, DVM
Wayside Animal Hospital
It’s getting hot! This is the time of year when we really have to be careful about taking pets in the car and even leaving pets outside. Heat stroke can be deadly and burns can be severe. Make sure you are taking the proper precautions to keep your pet cool.
A dog’s normal temperature is around 101 to 102 degrees. They dissipate heat through their skin. In addition, panting allows evaporation of water from the respiratory tract which helps with cooling. When these normal mechanisms of heat dissipation are overwhelmed, heat related illnesses such as heat exhaustion, heat cramps and heat stroke can occur.
High environmental temperatures are the main cause of heat related illness. The most common cause of heat stroke is being left in a car on a warm day.
A good rule of thumb is: never leave your dog in the car, even with the windows down, if it is over 70 degrees. Some dogs are more sensitive to heat than others, especially if they have not had time to acclimate to the hot weather. The following list includes animals at greater risk and also circumstances that may cause increased risk:
• puppies (less than 6 months old) and older dogs (large breeds over 7 years and small breeds over 14 years)
• overweight dogs;
• dogs who are very active and very excitable;
• dogs that have medical conditions and/or are on medications, especially those with fever, airway disease, dehydration, heart disease or seizures;
• brachycephalic breeds (short nosed dogs such as Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers);
• very humid days (water can’t evaporate as well from panting, so it is less effective for cooling).
Extra precautions should be taken for high risk pets and on very hot/humid days. Keeping your pet indoors with air conditioning is best, especially during the hottest part of the day (from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m.). Walking or exercising should be done in the morning or evening. Plenty of fresh water and shade should always be available. If your dog can swim and is large enough to get in and out of a kiddie pool easily, he or she might enjoy having one available. Some dogs might enjoy having some ice available too. You may have noticed Uga lying on a bag of ice during some of the Georgia games when it is hot. Some dogs enjoy frozen treats too, such as water with some low sodium chicken broth in it.
Signs of heat stroke include excessive panting, bright red gums and eyes, weakness, collapse, coma, altered mentation and petechiae (pinpoint hemorrhages on the gums or skin). Heat stroke is life threatening and should be treated as an emergency. If you suspect heat stroke in your dog, take a temperature rectally. If it is 105 or higher, immediately remove your dog from the heat source. Place a cool, wet towel around your dog or soak him or her with lukewarm water. Avoid using ice as this actually causes constriction of the blood vessels in the skin and less heat dissipation. As soon as you have done this, take your pet to your veterinarian for medical treatment. If your pet’s temperature is less than 105 but higher than normal, wet him or her as described above, provide water to drink, and place a fan near him or her. Call your veterinary office and describe any symptoms. They can let you know if more treatment may be needed.
In addition to heat illness, burns are more common this time of year. If your pet has been shaved for surgery or has had his or her hair cut very short, apply sunscreen before sun exposure. A sunscreen that is safe for babies with an SPF of 30 should help avoid sunburn. The sun also heats up surfaces, such as asphalt. At 77 degrees, asphalt can reach a temperature of 125. At 87 degrees, it can be 143. Skin can be burned in 60 seconds at 125 degrees and an egg can fry in 5 minutes at 131 degrees. If you can’t comfortably place the back of your hand on asphalt for 7 seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk on it. If your dog does get a sunburn or burns on the paw pads call or visit your veterinarian.