It’s Dog-Gone Hot Outside: 5 Tips for Preventing Heat Stress in Your Dog

by Dr. Monica Tarantino

Summer is here and we are so excited. We get to spend a lot more time outdoors with our wonderful animals during the warm summer days.  But, there are a lot of things to keep in mind with regards to beating the summertime heat.  Some owners are unaware, heat stroke (a potentially deadly condition), and other injuries, like burned paw pads are a frequent occurrence during the summer.

Here are a few tips to help keep your pet healthy during and avoid heat related emergencies during our hot Charlotte summers:

1.Limit walks and Exercise to Morning and Evenings:

Our dogs have a limited ability to dissipate heat.  One of the most common reasons we see pets on our emergency service during the summer is heat stroke.  Heat stroke can be a life threatening condition where a dog is unable to lower it’s body temperature after being outside and overexposed. This can happen to dogs even at temperatures as low as 75 degrees for some breeds, ages, or during exercise. These animals may show signs such as weakness, collapse, excessive drooling/panting. If this condition is allowed to progress without intervention, heat damage can occur to vital organs, and in severe cases cause death. One study showed a survival rate of 50% in our canine heat stroke patients.  No joking matter. For this reason it is best to limit your animal’s exposure to the warm weather. We can do this by only exercising our pets during cooler hours of the day. This mostly restricts activity to mornings and evenings, and avoids the mid-day heat. This is especially the case for overweight dogs, older dogs, dogs with thick fur coats and the breeds with shorter faces (Bulldogs, Sharpei’s, etc.). If they do need to be outside during a warmer day keep reading for more tips!

2. Keep backyard outings short, shaded and hydrated:

It simply gets too hot in the middle of day to leave dogs outside for extended periods of time.  Shade and water help, but the risk of heat stroke pertains even to sedentary dogs simply being left outside in hot temperatures.  Have a brachycephalic breed (like a Pug, Bulldog, Boston Terrier, etc.) or an obese dog?  Then your pet is likely less able to dissipate heat as well. This applies to breeds with thick fluffy coats as well as dogs prone to airway disorders like older Labradors with laryngeal paralysis.

3. Paw Pads burn on Hot Pavement:

During the day the pavement heats up to the point that it can burn your pets paw pads.  I’ll never forget the first dog I saw come into the clinic with raw, blistering pads a day after a long midday walk on a hot summer day.  It can make the owners feel terrible as they don’t often realize how hot the pavement gets when you don’t have shoes on your feet. Often dogs will keep following their owners despite the pain.  That is how loyal our companion animals can be! To help prevent this, place a barefoot or your hand on the black pavement for 30 seconds and see if you can tolerate it.  If you can, then it’s probably ok to walk.  Another tip is to always give your dog the option of walking on grass instead.

4. No pets left in cars please:

Heatstroke is what happens to dogs that are unfortunately left in the vehicle during even mild summer days.  A study done in human Pediatrics (see chart here ) showed that on a 70 degree day outside, the inside of a car can rise 20 degrees within 10 minutes!! So, even if it is for just a minute, even if the window is cracked… Don’t. Even. Think. About. It.  It truly takes JUST MINUTES to put your pet in danger in a hot car.

5. Know the Signs of Heat Stroke:

Know the signs that can save your dogs life. Should a mistake happen and you suspect that your pet is at risk for heat stroke, please note the following signs. Noticing these are important and almost always indicate a life threatening emergency

  • panting
  • excessive salivation (often this is thick/ropey)
  • weakness
  • collapse
  • bright red gums
  • vomiting/diarrhea.

Should you see any of these signs call/come to your vet immediately and if possible, apply room temperature water (not cold**) to your dog’s body and paw pads immediately.  This helps start the cooling process and can save lives.

Avoiding Heat Stroke in Dogs

by Dr. Ashley Gray

After going on a long hike with my dog Louis recently, it finally hit me that the warm weather is here to stay! It has been in the steady 80-90’s now for a few weeks here in the Carolina’s, which means we are out & about more than ever. With the rise in temperatures comes the humidity, and it can be really tough on our dogs outside for extended periods of time. Louis is an athletic breed, but he does have a longer coat paired with black fur that can make him overheat quicker than average. I noticed about halfway through our hike that he was slowing down and panting much harder than the first mile. You may be thinking…hey, my dog can handle it just fine. I’m sure they can…sometimes, but heat stroke is a real life threatening issue with dogs, so it is important to be aware of it.

The best way for our dogs to expel heat is through panting. This can be very effective for most dogs, however, certain breeds have been bred for an appearance that sets them up for respiratory difficulty. You probably guessed I am referring to the “brachycephalic” dogs or bulldogs, pugs, etc. We have bred them for their cute wrinkly face, which in turn has caused these breeds to have a much more difficult time in warmer weather. Last summer was my first time as a veterinarian out in the real world. I saw at least a handful of English Bulldogs come in to our clinic with a temperature > 105°F. Unfortunately, none of them survived despite aggressive treatment in our ICU.

Heat stroke is due to the inability of our dogs to cool off, causing internal temperatures to rise. Once their internal temperature gets to a certain point, multiple organ dysfunction can occur.

Signs to Increase your Suspicion of Heat Stroke:AGR Heat Stroke

Excessive panting
Excessive drooling
Reddened gums
Black, tarry stools
Rapid heart rate
Vomiting blood
Wobbly gait
Pinpoint areas of bleeding under the skin
Abnormal mentation

If you have the ability to take their temperature, anything > 102.5°F is abnormal. If it is only mildly increased (102.5°F-103.5°F), you can try to cool your dog off by blowing fans on them or rinsing them with room temperature water (NEVER COLD WATER). If their temperature is >104°F or you notice multiple signs from the list above, it is in your pet’s best interest to see a veterinarian immediately.

How Do We Avoid Heat Stroke?

  • Bring a bowl and plenty of water with you on extended walks or hikes. Offer it as often as their panting/activity level calls for.
  • Let them rest in the shade in 10 minute intervals based on how strenuous the activity is on them.
  • Consider shaving your dog’s hair-coat in summer if longer coated.
  • Use a harness instead of a neck lead on longer walks.
  • If you have a brachycephalic breed, decrease the time of your walks and pay close attention to how they are breathing. Minimize their exposure to the hottest part of the day by walking them in the early morning or late evening.
    • If you own a brachycephalic breed, you can always see your regular veterinarian for advice or a consult as there are certain surgeries that can be performed on bulldogs, pugs, etc to help them breathe better, if indicated based on their anatomy.

Part of the fun of having a dog is enjoying the beautiful outdoors together! It is important to know that heat stroke can happen to your dog so we are mindful of it as the temperatures continue to rise.