If you’re hot, you can be certain that your dog is hotter.
“Dogs don’t deal with heat as well as people,” says emergency veterinarian Dr. Heather Loenser, of Lebanon, NJ.
Panting isn’t as efficient to help maintain body temperature as sweating is. It turns out that sweating like a pig is actually a good way to deal with sweltering summer temps. While dogs do sweat some from their paw pads, they rely on panting.
Also, imagine wearing a winter coat in August. Most dogs wear a winter coat year-round. Large dogs are especially susceptible to heat stroke. Also, in hot weather, dogs with short-noses and flat faces, called brachycephalic, such as the Pekingese, Shih Tzu, Bulldog, Pug and Bullmastiff, can have respiratory problems that make them more susceptible to heat issues.
When you take all these factors into consideration, no wonder Loenser says “Heat stroke in dogs is surprisingly common, and it can be devastating,” Loenser says.
Understanding how easily your dog can become over-heated and preventing this from happening are key. When exercising your pet, take lots of water breaks. Instead of going for a run, or even playing fetch in the yard in the middle of a hot day, confine these activities to early morning or after sundown.
Watch your dog closely for signs of heat distress. “Heavy panting may be the first warning sign,” says Loenser. “Then, the dog’s tongue may go off to one side. The drool soon goes from watery to stringy because the water is panted off. Dogs may find it difficult to walk, or even collapse. Also, the dog’s tongue may turn from pink to blue.”
At this point, the dog is likely suffering from heat stroke and you need to seek immediate veterinary intervention.
“Realizing what’s happening, people want to solve the problem immediately, which makes sense,” says Loenser, who also serves on the Board of Directors of the American Animal Hospital Association. This may not be a good idea, however.
“People may be anywhere, perhaps at a picnic near a lake, and they want to get the dog as cool as possible, as fast as possible,” continues Loenser. “They may take a cooler filled with ice cubes and dump it on top of the dog, take the dog into the lake, or turn a cold hose on the dog. So, now we have a dog that was seriously over-heating and is now hypothermic (when the body losses heat faster than it can produce it, causing dangerously low body temperatures). If that happens, there may be a huge cascade of events, and the result may be the dog dying.
“Of course, you do need to cool down your dog,” adds Loenser. “Just make sure the process is gradual. While dogs don’t get sweaty like we do, we can mimic the effect by putting warm water on areas that don’t have a lot of fur — their arm pits, their bellies, their heads. And, if you can, stick the dog in front of a fan and use evaporation to help cool down the pet.”
Knowing how dogs can so easily overheat, its no surprise that dog left in hot cars may face heat stroke – at least if you understand how quickly cars can become ovens.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if it’s 85 degrees outdoors, in just 10 minutes (even with the windows partially open) the temperature inside a car can easily top 100 degrees.
Only 16 states (AZ, CA, IL, ME, MD, MN, NC, NV, NH, NJ, NY, ND, RI, SD, VT, WV) have laws that specifically prohibit leaving an animal confined in a vehicle. In some communities — statute or not — law enforcement does not take the problem seriously.
Still, there’s a move in some states to allow and even encourage law enforcement to have more latitude to rescue dogs locked in hot cars if the dog is in danger, even if it means breaking into a car, and to be more proactive about ticketing the owner.
“Of course, understanding how easily dogs overheat and then preventing it from happening in the first place is the best strategy,” Loenser says.