Beware Summer Fun: Part 1

As much fun as we like to have playing in the sun, it’s not always the best place to be. The heat can be a lot! Thankfully we have access to A/C, shade, abundant water (and other cool beverages), we can dress appropriately for the heat and humidity, and–come on, we have waterparks. Humans have almost unrestricted access to beating the heat… Dogs, not so much. They only have what we give them, and many of the things we take for granted, dogs don’t have.

Hot cement

Even in the summer, even when we don’t feel like moving a muscle, our dogs do. They want to get out and exercise and more importantly…pee. If you live anywhere near a sidewalk, that’s probably where you’re walking them! But beware about going out at high noon–with the sun beating down all day, that cement gets very hot and can burn poor Pooch’s toes. Although they may look tough, in reality a dog’s paws aren’t much thicker than the callouses on our heels! Hot cement can burn your dog’s paws quite severely, and it may not be obvious at first–your dog may seem to be acting stubborn not wanting to walk more, they may “skip” a step or hop, they may limp, they may want to chew or lick at their feet. If you see any of these signs, move your dog off the pavement immediately, either inside or on a grassy patch and check out their feet. Darker than normal pads, missing skin, or blisters may be a sign that your dog’s toes have burned. This is something that is entirely preventable.

It’s a common fact that on the hot days, walking your pet in the early morning or late evening is going to be the best for both of you when it’s a little bit cooler and the sun maybe isn’t beating down as hard. However, even if it’s not that hot for you, realize that: the temperature of the air does not indicate the temperature of the cement, your dog’s level of heat tolerance will differ from yours, you are wearing shoes, and your dog’s age may play a role in their susceptibility to burning. Here are some tips to prevent burning your dog’s feet:

  • Check the cement with the back of your hand–if you can’t comfortably hold your hand there for 10 seconds, it is too hot for your dog to walk 10 minutes on!
  • Direct your walks to cooler areas, such as areas that stay shady throughout the day, grass, or along the water.
  • Keep walks short if you can’t avoid cement
  • Invest in a pair of dog shoes–there are many brands and types available to choose what’s best for you and your dog
  • Invest in some paw wax, a protective wax that can be applied before walks to create a barrier between the paw and the cement

If you notice that your dog has burned pads, keep the foot area cool and clean using cool water or a cool compress until you can get them into a vet–it is important that they are checked by the vet as soon as possible to make sure the burns don’t go deeper or get infected.

Being trapped in a hot car!

Sadly and unfortunately, every year there are more and more reports about pets dying after being locked in hot cars–no matter how many public service announcements and news articles, it keeps happening so it has to be stressed–just don’t bring your dog with you if you are leaving the car without your dog. Even a 5 minute grocery trip can turn south if conditions are right. If you have to, you have no choice, at least leave someone in the car with your dog to monitor them. In a car, it takes about 10 minutes for the temperature to rise approximately 10*C on a 30*C day, that brings it up to 40*C, plus the humidity from your dog’s rapid panting. Those of us who have weathered the hot Alberta summers and Okanagan droughts can handle 40*C with a small amount of complaining–but dogs do not have the ability to regulate heat like we do. They cannot sweat except through their paws, and without being able to sweat the heat off their only guard against overheating is panting. A dog can only pant so fast before they begin hyperventilating, and then heat stroke sets in. This is not only risking heatstroke but organ damage, brain damage, and even death.

Cracking the windows does almost nothing. It’s not enough for the heat to escape, as your dog is still in a more or less enclosed space. A/C will keep the car cooler, but you run the risk of the battery dying and the A/C turning off–it is not reliable enough when you are toying with your dog’s life. With no airflow moving through the car from the car’s motion, noxious fumes can build up extremely quickly and you may still find some damage done. Even parking out of the direct sunlight doesn’t help; studies have shown that a car in the shade will still heat up just as fast and as severely as a car parked in the sun. Bringing your dog along when you know you will be parking and leaving the car, even on a day as cool as 20*C, for any length of time is gambling with the life of your pet. If you have a puppy, a senior, or a dog with health/heat regulation issues, you are increasing that risk tenfold.

If you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day, the first step is to monitor the dog. Are they in obvious distress? If so, call your local police non-emergency line for options on what to do. Note down the make, model, and license number of the vehicle and alert the businesses around the vehicle to make announcements to attempt to contact the owner of the pet. Be aware of your city’s laws regarding pets in hot cars. Make sure to stay with the pet until the owner or, if the authorities have been called, the police get there. If possible, have people around you that can confirm the pet’s distress and take photo/video evidence.

Some signs of distress from heat include:

  • Scratching at window
  • shivering /seizures
  • Heavy panting
  • red/purple tongue and gums
  • Glazed eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Excessive drooling
  • Disorientation
  • Rapid pulse

Heat stroke

With that being said, let’s go into the details of heat stroke and just how serious it can be.

Heat stroke results from your body overheating, usually from prolonged exposure to the sun or physical exertion in hot weather. In dogs, this means their body temperature rises from the regular range of 38.4-39.2* Celsius to temperatures of 40* Celsius and over. 41.5* Celsius is considered the danger zone where the risk of organ failure, and therefore death, increases.

We often brush over the term ‘heat stroke’ very easily, throwing it around in casual terms when we get ‘heat exhaustion, the precursor to heat stroke that involves fatigue, dizziness, and heavy sweating. In reality, heat stroke is a very serious condition that leads to death–Just over the past month of July, 54 people have died from heat-related illnesses in Quebec during their record heat wave.

We, as humans, have the ability to prevent this for both ourselves and our furry companions. Dogs have much less ability to regulate their body temperature than we do–we have access to air conditioning, indoor places, and can dress appropriately, while dogs only have the access we give them and cannot change clothes when it gets too hot outside.

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • excessive panting
  • sudden collapse
  • convulsions or seizures
  • vomiting/diarrhea
  • bright red tongue and gums
  • glazed eyes,
  • excessive drooling
  • rapid heart rate
  • dizziness or lack of coordination
  • fever
  • lethargy
  • loss of consciousness
  • early signs may include distracted behaviour such as not listening to commands/responding to their name or regular triggers as well as minor changes in personality that make them seem ‘off’.

If you think your dog may have heat stroke, immediately move them to a cooler area, and use cool compresses or let your dog into a cool pool/bath of water to help bring temperature down. Call your veterinarian and follow their advice; explain your dog’s symptoms and your vet may request to examine them. If you’re unsure–bring them to the vet!! You’re dealing with your beloved pet’s life, it’s better to be safe rather than sorry!

It’s true that not all dogs are made equal–some pets may be at greater risk for heatstroke than others. Older dogs, dogs with health issues, puppies, overweight animals, dogs with heavy coats, brachycephalic (short nosed) dogs, and active or working/hunting dogs are all extra susceptible. Know your dog’s warning signs and limits, make sure you have your vet’s number on you, and take reasonable precautions (bring lots of water with you, take it easy, walk at dawn and dusk, invest in cooling products) to keep your pet comfortable and safe.

Stay tuned…

As you know, heat stroke and hot cars isn’t all there is to summer! Every season brings a unique environment, and unique challenges to handle for us and our pets. Keep an eye out for part two of Beware Summer Fun!

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