As August approaches, peak summer heat does too. While we still want you and Fido to spend time outside this summer, it’s really important to know how to do so safely.
Heat stroke, which is defined in veterinary medicine as a body temperature above > 103°F (39°C), is commonly seen in dogs. While it can occur in cats, it’s really rare. The higher the body temperature, the more life-threatening it is to your dog. As core body temperature approaches > 106°F (41°C), the sooner death can occur.
So, how do you prevent it? By recognizing these top 3 causes for it.
Leaving your dog outdoors in the sweltering heat without adequate water or shelter/shade.
Locking a dog in a car without adequate ventilation (this doesn’t mean cracking your windows open!).
While I’ll occasionally leave my dog in the car for 5 minutes, I lock my doors, turn on the air conditioner on full blast, and turn on my remote starter.
Exercising with a dog: Exercising with a dog when there is excessive heat and humidity – especially if your pet has an underlying medical problem predisposing them to heat stroke!
Most pet owners are smart enough to know that they shouldn’t be exercising with their pet when 90°F. However, sadly, I’ve seen dogs die at lower temperatures. The most dangerous temperature to exercise in? When it’s a blue, sunny day at 80-85°F. People often feel this is a “safer” temperature, when in actuality, it’s more dangerous.
Helpful little tip? If the humidity + temperature added together is greater than 150, it’s too hot.
For example: 80°F + 80% humidity = 160. Too hot to run!
If you want to torture yourself and run outside, go for it, but leave your dog at home!
Here are a few medical conditions that can put your dog at risk for heat stroke:
• Brachycephalic syndrome (e.g., a smooshed nose, smaller nostrils than normal, etc.). I’ll expand on this in a few weeks, but for you owners of Pugs, English bulldogs, Shih-Tzu’s, bullmastiffs, Pekingese dogs, etc., this means you! Basically, if your dog snores at night when he sleeps, he’s likely to have brachycephalic syndrome.
• Laryngeal paralysis (a cartilage problem that makes your dog breathe louder than normal at rest)
• Obesity (while we want you to exercise with your dog to help him lose weight, do so during cooler parts of the day like mornings or evenings)
• Heart or lung disease
Regardless of what the temperature or humidity is, always monitor your dog carefully for signs of fatigue or heat stroke. The sooner you notice these signs, the sooner you should stop any form of exercise, cool down your dog, and seek veterinary attention.
Signs of heat stroke include:
• Constant panting
• Dragging behind (e.g., in other words, on a leash lagging several feet behind you)
• Dry gums that feel sticky to the touch
• Dark red gums
• Acting wobbly or walking drunk
• An elevated heart rate
• Feeling warm to the touch, with red, flushed skin
• Dark, concentrated urine
The longer heat stroke progresses, the more deadly to your pet. Other life-threatening signs to look for as heat stroke progresses include:
• Seizures or tremors
• Dark red-wine colored urine
• Bloody or black, tarry diarrhea
• Difficulty breathing
• A racing heart rate (due to arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms)
If you notice any of these signs, stop immediately and do the following:
• Call someone who can get their car and bring you to a veterinarian immediately
• Get your dog into the shade or to a water source so you can cool him down (e.g., ask a random person walking by if they have water and dump it on your dog’s head to cool him down).
Unfortunately, even with aggressive supportive care and treatment by your veterinarian, heat stroke can be fatal. The problem is that the heat destroys the cells in the body, resulting in havoc. Even with aggressive IV fluids, plasma transfusions, antibiotics, cooling measures, anti-vomiting medication, anti-vomiting medication, anti-seizure medication, oxygen therapy, and 24 hour, continuous critical care monitoring, organ failure can still occur.
As treatment for heat stroke is expensive to you and costly to your pet, keep in mind that prevention is key when it comes to avoiding heat stroke.
Some preventative tips on avoiding heat stroke include the following:
• First, always check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is healthy enough – or a breed that is safe – to exercise with you.
• Avoid exercising in the midday sun, which ranges from 10 am – 3 pm. Remember, the head index is very high during this point.
• If possible, make sure to exercise in shade.
• If you’re near a body of water (e.g., water fountain, lake, stream, etc.), take the time to cool your dog down and allow him or her access to a drink while out.
• If you’re not near a water source, make sure to carry a water bottle or Camelback for your dog. If you’re running out for both of you, save that water you’re your four-legged friend instead!
• For you rollerbladers, keep in mind that your dog has to pace at a much faster rate than your walk or jog, so take it easy.
• Prevent your dog from becoming overweight to obese, as this predisposes your pet to overheating.
The easiest hint? When in doubt, STOP. It’s not worth losing your four-legged friend to heat stroke for you to keep in shape!