Dog Days of Summer
Every year about this time our attention turns to the fact that summer is here, and summer brings with it intense heat that can dictate the need to pay special attention to our pets. Since retiring from active veterinary practice eight years ago, my wife and I moved to the arid desert environment of Las Vegas, Nevada. This spring was especially notable because El Niño brought the intense heat much earlier in the summer than usual. The temperature here in Las Vegas has already reached 109⁰ F. and a recent weather report disclosed a record 113⁰ F. in Phoenix, Arizona. These are temperatures that can be considered detrimental to the health of your pet as well as yourself. So, let’s review some of the precautions that should be taken to cope with intense heat these summer months.
Pet owners should be advised to NEVER, EVER leave their dogs and cats in a parked car during any season, but especially during the hot, summer months. Dogs do not have sweat glands except in the pads of their feet. They dissipate heat by panting heavily; however, if the temperature inside the car is higher than the temperature of the dog, it cannot dissipate its body heat even with heavy panting. The inside temperature of a car increases exponentially whether it is unusually hot outside or not. For instance, on an 80⁰ F. day outside the car, the temperature inside the car rises by 19⁰ F. within ten minutes. The temperature rises by 34⁰ F. inside the car after thirty minutes and the temperature inside the car rises by 43⁰ F. after one hour. So, an 80⁰ F. outside temperature can reach a dangerous 123⁰ F. within an hour regardless of whether the windows are cracked or not. It is very simple, DO NOT LEAVE YOUR PETS IN THE CAR AT ANY TIME!
The most common finding for animals left in the car is heat stroke. The signs of heatstroke include heavy panting, glazed eyes, a rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, excessive thirst, lethargy, fever, lack of coordination, profuse salivation, vomiting, a deep red or purple tongue, seizure and unconsciousness. If you witness a dog or cat exhibiting signs of heat stroke, you should immediately attempt to cool the dog down by submerging him in cold water. Give small amounts of cool water to drink rather than allowing the dog to drink excessive amounts all at once as that may cause vomiting. When he seems to be stabilized transport him to an animal hospital for treatment as quickly as possible.
It is best to limit exercise on hot summer days, especially for a young dog that loves to go to the dog park and play with friends. Adjust the intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature and humidity. On very hot, humid days limit the exercise to early morning hours or late evening hours. It is usually cooler early in the morning after the sun has been out of the sky for a longer period of time. Hot concrete or asphalt can burn the pads on the feet of your pet. Before you take the dog for a walk, place your hand on the concrete or asphalt surface. If it is too hot for your hand, it is too hot for your dog or cats feet. You should be aware that dogs with light colored skin will have a tendency to sunburn if left in the sun without shade for only a short period of time. Apply sunscreen to the muzzle and any other bare spots where the hair does not cover the skin. Exposed skin on dogs will burn in the sun much the same as it does in humans. There are breed differences to be taken into consideration as well. For instance the short-nosed or brachycephalic breeds of dogs and cats typically have more difficulty in breathing if it is hot and humid. So, their exercise should be limited on those warmer days.
Any time your pet is outside during the hottest times of the day, make sure he or she has protection from the sun. The shaded area should be configured such that the pet can access shade any time of day as the sun moves across the sky. The hottest part of the day is usually mid to late afternoon and it is imperative they have adequate shade to protect them from the sun. It is also necessary to have circulating air. Do not enclose the dog in a cage that has a building or solid fence structures on each side. Tree shade and overhead constructed shade areas are best as they do not obstruct air flow. Since dogs sweat through their paws, placing a fan in the dog pen does not have the same effect that it does for a human whose sweat is cooled by the fan and evaporation has a cooling effect. ALWAYS PROVIDE FRESH, COOL WATER TO DRINK. If may be necessary to empty out and refill the pets water bowl several times during a hot day if they are outside. Always let the water run for a minute or two before filling the water bowl with a hose. Empty the hose of the water that has been heated while sitting in the hose.
Cool your pet inside and out. Along with fresh water available for them at all times, you can make fruit flavored or peanut butter popsicles for dogs. Be sure to check the label to make sure the fruit or peanut butter does not contain the artificial sweetener, xylitol in it, as xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs. Some dogs like to chew and suck on an ice cube; however, caution must be exercised to be sure the ice is not so hard as to break the enamel off the teeth. You can also keep your pet from overheating both inside and out with a cooling body wrap, vest or mat, such as the Keep Cool Mat, that can be purchased at most pet stores. Soak these products in cool water and they will stay cool for several days. If your dog doesn’t find baths stressful, give him a cool soaking in the bathtub if he appears to be suffering from the heat.
Cats pose a slightly different need for care in the heat. Yes, they will find shaded and the coolest place possible to hide out during the heat of the day; however, they can sunburn so place sunscreen on bare spots on their exposed parts as well. Create a cool retreat by moving the cat’s bed into a dark and secluded spot so they can keep calm. When cats are running around and stressed out they seem to get hotter. Keep them cool by letting them relax and sleep in a quiet place. If it is especially hot in the cat’s favorite space, put chilled or cold water dampened towels in his bed to cool his body. Rub cold water on the tips of his ears and paws to help dissipate heat in his body by cooling the blood in the veins and arteries that pass through the ears and paws thus cooling down the organs as this chilled blood passes through them.
Animals are at particular risk for heatstroke if they are very old, very young, are not conditioned to prolonged exercise, are overweight or have heart or respiratory disease. In general, take the same precautions with your pet during spells of intense heat as you do with other family members. Stay in the shade and keep as cool as possible. It might mean the difference between a good day and a trip to the animal emergency clinic.
Bruce W. Little, DVM