Watch Tip: Heat Alert

Posted on July 24th, 2010 by Anna Nirva

Watch for dogs who play or run with their owners in hot weather—they can’t regulate body heat by sweating like humans do. Heat stroke kills dogs because they run until collapse. Watch for hard panting, ropey saliva, wobbly movements, red gums and tongue, vomiting, diarrhea. Intervene immediately or the dog could die.

Summer dangers to pets

Frisbee? Fetch? Hiking? Walks on the beach? Dog park afternoons? Happy times with your four-legged friends can end in tragedy for the uninformed.

Dogs—and cats too—can’t expel heat through the skin like humans can. They can sweat through the pads of their feet and by panting. On hot days, these methods are not enough to expel body heat built up by mild or vigorous activity, or by being trapped in hot cars or hot kennels and crates.

Memorize these signs of distress:

  • Fast, heavy, wide-mouth panting
  • Copious thick saliva
  • Bright red mouth tissues
  • Wide, anxious, unseeing eyes

More extreme signs include these below. The pet may not survive.

  • Dehydration from prolonged panting (do the pinch test: on the neck, if skin stands up for more than 1 second, this indicates dehydration)
  • Vomiting (may be bloody because the blood’s clotting system fails)
  • Diarrhea (may be bloody)
  • Nose bleeds
  • Seizures
  • Coma

Immediately move the animal into shade and start working to bring down the body temperature with cool (not cold) water or air in any way possible, while sending someone to retrieve your vehicle. Then race to the vet. Heatstroke can kill and every moment counts. The animal can suffer from long-term damage to internal organs as well.

Note that some animals are more susceptible to heatstroke and could be affected on even mild days:

  • Obese animals
  • Animals with thicker coats like St. Bernards; keep them well-brushed to remove inner winter coats or have them shaved in summer
  • Pushed-in face animals like Himilayans and Pugs
  • Any animal with elongated soft palate (blocks airway in throat)
  • Animals with any respiratory illness
  • Baby pets, adolescents, or seniors

Consider giving your dogs a kid’s wading pool in summer, or keep a sprinkler going, if they love to be outside on sunny days.

Hot pavement can burn tender foot pads, too. If your dog lifts up feet from sand or concrete or even wood product trails on hot days, move to a grassy area or carry your dog. If it is too hot for you to go barefoot, think about your dog. Yes, their tolerances can be higher than yours but watch for the signs anyway. Everyone is different. Consider buying dog shoes from any dog retailer.

Sunburned noses and ears are another risk on sunny days. If you see red skin, get your pet out of the sun. Apply pet sunscreen to nose bridge, ear tips, and exposed lips on sunny days for dogs that are susceptible to sunburn. DO NOT use adult human sunscreens on dogs. Organic, natural sunscreens formulated for human babies probably are safe according to veterinarians. And stay away from sprays that can be inhaled.

A related note about human bug repellents—NEVER put them on pets. It can be a death sentence. As I write this, I know of a beloved Labrador Retriever in intensive veterinary care who was treated with a major brand human bug repellent by her caring but ignorant family to protect from ticks. She may not survive.

    One Response to “Watch Tip: Heat Alert”

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