As I left my house to watch the annual Memorial Day parade in Sherman, I could see in the distance that the road was already closed to traffic - not a problem. I have walked it without issue many times, but today was a bit different.
The temperature was the equivalent to a mid-August “horribly hot heat-wave” day and the sun was extremely strong. I kept thinking this is only May!! Before I found my spot on the parade route I stopped at the IGA bought a water and took a few minutes to hydrate and cool down in the air conditioned store. I then found a place in the shade to enjoy the parade. However, that wasn’t entirely the case….the parade was awesome, but I was bothered by what I observed.
I saw a dog walking as part of the parade in direct sun on the hot asphalt. I saw dogs with their owners watching the parade pass by in full sun. Although I’m happy to share many dog owners tried to keep their dog in a shaded area and happier to say that it appeared less dogs attended the parade than usual. During the after-ceremony, I saw a dog heavily panting (in full sun) while pulling on a prong/pinch collar thus constricting the ability to breathe even further. Given the extreme heat and the strength of the sun, each of those situations could have quickly become a canine medical emergency. So what do owners need to know help keep their furry canine companions cool, healthy and happy during the heat of summer?
Anatomy and Physiology 101:
A dog’s ability to tolerate heat is based on their anatomy (how the body is structured) and physiology (how the body functions).
Factors such as, age, physical condition, coat type and breed, and how accustomed your dog is to a particular climate influences a canine’s tolerance to heat. Very young and old dogs are more sensitive to heat. Brachycephalic (dogs with short muzzles) such as Bulldogs and Pugs tend to have more difficulty breathing due to their facial anatomy. Black dogs seem to tolerate heat less as their dark color tends to absorb heat faster. Light colored, fair skinned and hairless breeds can be as susceptible to sun sensitivity as fair-skinned people.
People sweat through their skin and sweating is what helps us cool when the body overheats. Dogs don’t sweat like people, as they do not have sweat glands distributed over their entire body. Dogs are able to sweat through their paw pads, but that is not their primary way of staying cool. Actually, their primary means of staying cool is through panting. Essentially, panting is rapid, shallow breathing that speeds evaporation of water from your dog's tongue, and inside the mouth and upper respiratory tract. As the water evaporates, it helps your dog regulate his body temperature. If a dog cannot effectively cool his body, it may lead to a condition called heat stroke.
What can canine heat stroke look like?
Some of the top indicators your pet might be becoming overheated or experiencing heat stroke are the following:
- Excessive panting
- Increased salivation
- Elevated body temperature
- Loss of control of body movement
- Loss of consciousness.
Heat stroke is a medical emergency. Seek out veterinary attention immediately. Rapid decisions can save your pet’s life and believe it or not - a rapid decision can save your dog’s life without extensive medical expenses. (Dr. Dale Krier, DVM - Creature Comforts Mobile Veterinarian)
Too Hot for Fido:
Every year, hundreds of pets die from exposure to heat because they are left in a parked vehicle. Perhaps you have heard or have even said, “Oh, it will just be a few minutes while I go into the store," or "I’ll crack the windows..." According to research - on a 78-degree day the temperature inside a parked car can soar to between 100 and 120 degrees in just minutes, and on a 90-degree day, the interior temperature can reach as high as 160 degrees in less than 10 minutes. A parked car can be a death trap for dogs. This one is easy - don’t take a chance with your dog’s life - leave him home.
Limit exercise on hot days:
When exercising your pet on hot days take it easy. Adjust the intensity and duration of exercise in accordance with the temperature outside. On very hot days, you may want to limit exercise to the early morning or evening hours. Or maybe offer your dog and opportunity for mental stimulation by practicing basic obedience skills in a dog friendly air conditioned store. I know this seems like a no-brainer - always carry water with you to keep your dog properly hydrated during exercise no matter the what the weather is presenting.
Have you ever been at a public event and noticed that your dog is pulling unusually hard on the leash? Or maybe he just plops down and refuses to walk? If that is the case, did you ever think that it may be more than your dog being obstinate or stubborn? Perhaps it could be in response to your dog being uncomfortable with his paws touching the hot pavement. The pads of a dog’s feet are not any thicker than our feet, so if it feels hot to your bare feet then it’s just as hot to your dog. Here’s a simple test to determine if the street temperature is safe enough to walk your dog. Put the back of your hand on the pavement, if you can't keep it there for a minimum of five seconds - it’s too hot. Walking your dog in the shade and on cool grass is a much better option than the hot asphalt.
Bottom-line: The first step to keep your dog from getting overheated and avoiding heat-stroke in the summer is to be aware that canines anatomically and physiologically cope with heat different than humans. Owners need to understand that heat stroke is a medical emergency and recognize the symptoms. Finally, owners need to be aware of situations which could put their dog at-risk and become proactive to keep them safe.
I offer a personal thank-you to those dog owners who made the decision to keep their dog(s) home because of the weather. We’ll see you next year - weather permitting!!
Donna Gleason CPDT, CDBC, MA - TLC Dog Trainer resides in Sherman. She is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Certified Dog Behavior Consultant with a Master’s Degree in Behavior Modification. Donna is a Paws for Friendship and Pet Partners Therapy Dog Evaluator and Head Trainer/Evaluator for K9 First Responders. Donna offers professional in-home dog training as well as group classes. To reach Donna, call 203-241-4449 or visit her website @ www.TLCdogtrainer.com