Picture a perfect day in Florida. The WARM breeze blowing across HOT asphalt while you and your pup are hanging out at the basketball court or maybe you’re hunting with your furry friend in a MUGGY, wooded area on a HUMID day; did you remember to bring a towel to wipe your brow or a bottle of water to keep yourself cool? What about your pet, did you bring their water bowl to fill with fresh, cool water or an umbrella to provide shade and keep them out of direct sunlight? These are things we as humans take for granted while our dog friends suffer. Florida is known for its heat and humidity which can not only harm your pet, but possibly end their lives if not taken seriously. But how do you know if your pet is suffering from heat exhaustion or worse, heat stroke? Would you know what to do in a heat induced emergency?
Heat exhaustion occurs when there is an overexposure to heat or sun causing a dog’s body temperature to rise above 103-104 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat exhaustion can often lead to heat stroke, which typically occurs when a dog’s body heat raises above106 degrees Fahrenheit. When a dog is experiencing heat exhaustion you may see excessive panting, collapse, convulsions, vomiting/diarrhea and their tongue/gums may turn blue or even bright red. If your pet is experiencing a heat stroke, some symptoms may include glazed eyes, excessive drooling, rapid heart rate, dizziness, lack of coordination, fever, lethargy and even loss of consciousness. Though these are not ALL of the signs to look for, they are the most common.
So what do we do if we see our pets experiencing this type of emergency? First, call your veterinarian or seek immediate treatment, time is ALWAYS of the essence in any emergency. Next, begin cooling your pet. To do this, we need a crash course in dog physiology. Lesson 1: A normal temperature for dogs is typically between 99.5-102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Lesson 2: Dogs pant to cool themselves. This is something everyone knows, but do you know how it works? When panting, moisture is evaporated from their tongues, nasal passages and lining of their lungs, cooling them as the air passes over the moist tissue. This is why humidity is an enemy to a panting pet; while trying to breathe moisture out – they are breathing moisture in. Lesson 3: Dogs do have sweat glands, primarily in their feet and only a few more throughout their bodies, however, they typically do not help regulate the dog’s body temperature, this is done through panting. This is why keeping them cool is essential. Now that we are better informed, we can begin to cool our pets quicker and more effectively. First, always offer fresh cool water (as long as the pet is alert – never force an unresponsive pet to drink). This alone can help cool an overheated pet enough to prevent exhaustion or even stroke. Next, use cool, wet towels, cloths or even blankets to lie over pet’s body to continue lowering his/her body temperature. Finally, place your dog’s feet in cool water. It is important that you gradually lower your dog’s temperature, as a quick drop can cause other medical issues including shock. After several minutes and if a rectal thermometer is available, take your pet’s temperature to ensure it is dropping to a more normal temperature. To ensure your pet is adequately cared for, contact your veterinarian as quickly as possible to discuss treatment options.
As with all things, there are some breeds or “groups” of dogs at a higher risk to suffer a heat emergency, however, all pet owners should take the necessary precautions to ensure an emergency can be avoided. These dogs include white skinned dogs which are also at a higher risk of skin cancer; those with longer hair/thicker coats such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Golden Retrievers and others like this; brachycephalic breeds (breeds with short noses or “flat” faces) such as Pugs, Boxers, Bulldogs and other breeds with similar characteristics; working/hunting dogs; overweight pets and pets with pre-existing heart or breathing conditions.
Easy routine changes and a little creative thinking can be the difference between having fun safely and having an emergency. For instance, always bring a water bowl and a bottle of water (and even ice if available) to give your pet while outside, bring an umbrella to provide shade and always walk your pet in the grass, NOT on the sidewalk, to prevent burning their paw pads, plus concrete and asphalt emit heat adding to the already hot temperatures outside. Remember, if you can’t walk with your bare feet on the sidewalk because it burns, it will DEFINITELY burn your dog’s paws. Consider taking walks early in the morning or late in the evening when the temperatures are typically cooler. For really active pets that need to burn off a lot of energy, try letting them swim or play in a sprinkler; they can burn energy while staying cool.
What if you have to run to town and puppy wants to go too, a few minutes in the car won’t hurt right? WRONG! On an 85 degree day the inside of a car, with the windows slightly cracked, can reach 102 degrees in as little as 10 minutes and 120 degrees in just 30 minutes. Imagine you’re wearing a fur coat in 102 degree temperatures with no water and unable to sweat, the results would be devastating. Remember, if your furry friends can’t go inside with you, he/she needs to stay at home. What happens if I have to leave my home because of air conditioning problems? First check with the place you are staying to see if they accept pets and if not contact kennels in your area to make boarding arrangements.
Beat the heat with a plan, whether it’s ensuring you have additional provisions to make sure your pet is hydrated and cool or finding a kennel to keep your pet in until you are able to go back home. Many beaches, lakefronts and even some local stores and restaurants welcome our furry family. Many times you can find lists of local businesses that allow pets, online. Do your research and have a plan, it could be the difference between life and death.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if you head to the beach in a Woody or take off to the woods in your pick-up truck; don’t let events with your pets become a SUMMER BUMMER!