The Risks of Hot Weather on Your Dog

Dr. Eileen Mertz B.S.,D.V.M – Community Contributor, Gardner News
This is the time of the year when dogs are at high risk for suffering from the effects of heat.  At Gardner Animal Hospital, we have seen several dogs that have suffered from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, so please be careful when you let your pets outside.
The old saying, “I am sweating like a dog”, is inaccurate at best when used to describe prolific sweating in humans.  Dogs do not sweat.  They have no sweat glands in their skin.  Dogs dissipate heat by panting.    Consequently, dogs are very prone to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, much more so than their human counterparts.  You may be perfectly comfortable and your dog may be in real danger.  Heat exhaustion or heat stroke will happen when your dog cannot dissipate heat faster than it builds it up in the body.  This causes a dangerous rise in temperature.
Some breeds of dogs are more susceptible than other to the effects of heat.  The brachycephalic breeds-those with short noses such as the English Bulldog, Pug, Pekinese, Mastiff or Boxer are highly susceptible to heat stroke as their shorter airways do not cool as efficiently as other breeds.  Dogs with a very heavy coat of hair or those with dark coat colors are, also, susceptible to the effects of heat.  Highly muscled breeds, such as the pit bull or American Staffordshire Terrier, the Boxer, and the greyhound are easily overheated because muscle generates a higher body temperature when it is exercised.  Some breeds such as the Alaskan Malamute, Siberian Husky, Akita and Old English Sheepdogs were not bred to live in the heat we have here in Kansas.  If you have one of these breeds of dogs, you might consider shaving them in May or early June for the summer.
Dogs that are outside need shade to shelter them from the sun, lots of water in a container that they cannot spill.  If your pet is on a chain, make sure there is nothing that the dog can wrap the chain around that will keep it from its source of water.  A kiddie pool full of water that they can lay in to cool off is a great idea for your outdoor pet, also.  And do your dog a favor, leave it at home.  NEVER leave your dog in a parked car, even with the windows cracked or down.  The car acts like an oven and a dog can become a victim of heatstroke in a matter of minutes.  Avoid vigorous exercise on hot days.  Do not force your dog to walk if it doesn’t want to.  It may be letting you know that it is too hot and it needs to rest.
What symptoms will your dog exhibit if it is suffering from Heat Exhaustion or Heat Stroke?  Dogs suffering from heat stroke will exhibit rapid and frantic panting and a wide-eyed look, dark red gums, lethargy or inability to get up, and vomiting.  If their temperature gets high enough, they can have seizures and unconsciousness.
If you think your dog is suffering heat exhaustion or heat stroke, what should you do?  This is an immediate medical emergency.  Your dog needs to be cooled down immediately.  Get it out of the heat, place cool wet towels over its entire body.  Use cold tap water, do not ice down your dog as extremely cold water will cause constriction of the blood vessels in the skin and prevent cooling of the core of the body.  If you have a large dog and cannot get it in the house, move it to the shade and use your garden hose.  A cool fan will also help dissipate the heat.  Offer your dog cool water but do not force it to drink, although wetting down its mouth will help the cooling process.   A dog’s normal body temperature is 101.8 degrees.  You should stop the cold water bath when the temperature has dropped below 103 degrees or your dog’s body temperature will probably drop way too low.  Heat stroke temporarily messes up the normal temperature regulating mechanism of the dog.  Now what do you do?  As soon as you have started the emergency measures, get your dog to the vet.  Do not assume because your dog’s body temperature has dropped to normal that it will be okay.  When the body temperature is elevated above the critical temperature of 107 degrees for long enough (and it only takes a few minutes), the internal organs of your dog will be severely damages.  Basically, the high temperature burns the internal organs.  Within 24 hours there are usually signs of kidney, liver and heart muscle damage and ulceration of the intestinal tract.  This can be life threatening and requires intensive supportive care including IV fluids, antibiotics and medications to protect the lining of the intestinal tract.  Some dogs will bleed enough to require a blood or platelet transfusion.
If your pet survives an episode of heat exhaustion or heat stroke, it will always be more susceptible to the effects of the heat in the future.
Other Effects of Heat on Your Dog—
This past week we have also seen three dogs with their foot pads burned so badly from walking on asphalt or concrete that they sloughed the entire surface off of their pads.  If you do walk your dog in the hot weather, make sure you do it in the early morning as the temperature will be lower and the ground will not be as hot.  However, NEVER walk your dog on concrete or asphalt if the temperature is over 80 degrees.  Black asphalt will blister the foot pads of your dogs in seconds.  If you do walk your dog, keep it on the grass or put protective boots on it.
Dr. Mertz is owner of Gardner Animal Hospital in Gardner, KS. Dr. Mertz is a member of the national, state and local veterinary associations and maintains membership in the American Animal Hospital Association. Dr. Mertz was honored as one of the 25 award winners for 2009 Women Who Mean Business Award given by the Kansas City Business Journal.