Are You Underestimating Warm-Weather Hazards?

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

tips to prevent overheating in dogs

Story at-a-glance -

  • The summer sizzle is here and with it come the joys of long sunny days — and also potential warm-weather hazards for canine family members
  • Many pet parents don’t realize just how hot outdoor surfaces like asphalt, concrete and brick can get, or how quickly their dog’s paws can burn
  • It’s also important to understand the potential for sunburn in your dog, especially if she’s hairless or has a short or white coat
  • The biggest danger to pets on hot summer days is the risk of overheating leading to heatstroke; if you think your pet is overheated or experiencing heatstroke, you must take immediate action to cool his body down and seek veterinary care
  • Symptoms of overheating include panting, excessive thirst, and elevated body temperature; dogs at increased risk for heatstroke including brachycephalic breeds, seniors, puppies, and dogs with chronic health conditions

Many areas of the country are really feeling the heat right now, and as enjoyable as the long summer days can be, it's important to play it safe when it comes to heat exposure and canine family members. One hazard I want to mention right off the bat — because many pet parents tend to overlook it — is hot pavement.

Ground surfaces that bake in the sun like asphalt, concrete and brick, can quickly become dangerously hot in the summer months, causing pain and injury to your dog's paws. When the air temperature is at least 85 to 90°F, brick surfaces can heat up to 115°F, concrete up to 125°F and asphalt up to 140°F.1

A simple way to tell if the ground is too hot for your dog to walk (or worse, stand still) on is to rest your hand there for 7 seconds. If it's too hot for you, it's too hot for your dog's (or cat's) paws (or your bare feet!). Signs your dog has burned paws include:

  • Limping or reluctance to walk
  • Licking or chewing feet
  • Paw pads are darker in color than usual
  • Visibly damaged pads
  • Redness or blisters

Not only can pavement on a hot day burn your dog's paws, but the heat rising from concrete or asphalt can quickly cause an animal that lives close to the ground to overheat (more about this shortly).

If you must walk your pet across pavement in the heat of the day, plot the shortest route and move at a brisk pace. If he's not too large or heavy, consider carrying him till you reach a cooler surface. If all else fails, dog shoes work to prevent burned pads.

Another Hazard Many Pet Parents Tend to Overlook: Sunburn

Just because your dog is covered in fur doesn't necessarily mean she's protected from skin cancer. Dogs who shouldn't overdo it include those with:

  • Hairless breeds
  • Dogs who spend lots of time lying in the sun (especially if they lie on their backs)
  • Dogs with short coats
  • Dogs with white coats
  • Dogs with pink or light-colored noses

You can protect your dog from the sun's harmful rays with a non-toxic, dog safe sunscreen. I recommend a product designed to not only help protect your pet from potentially harmful rays, but also to nourish and moisturize the skin.

When you put sunscreen on your dog, be sure to avoid the eyes but definitely get the area around her face and ears covered, as well as her tummy if she likes to sunbathe belly-up. If she'll be outside for an extended period, reapply the sunscreen about every two hours.

Symptoms of Overheating That Can Quickly Lead to Heatstroke

In terms of heat stress in general, it's important to keep in mind that your dog has a higher average body temperature than you do, and much less ability to cool down.

Unlike the human body, which is covered with sweat glands, your dog's sweat glands are found only on his nose and the pads of his feet. He regulates his body temperature primarily by panting, which isn't all that effective in hot weather. I'm not exaggerating when I say that in a very short period of time, an overheated dog can suffer critical damage to his brain, heart, liver and nervous system.

Heatstroke, which is the ultimate and often deadly result of overheating, is caused by a dangerous elevation in an animal's body temperature. While it most often occurs in dogs left in cars during the summer months, it can also happen in late spring and the first weeks of summer if a pet is exposed to high temperatures before she has acclimated to the heat.

Symptoms of overheating include:

Heavy panting or rapid breathing

Excessive drooling

Excessive thirst

Increased pulse and heartbeat

Glazed eyes

Vomiting, bloody diarrhea

Bright or dark red tongue, gums

Seizures

Elevated body temperature

Weakness, collapse

Staggering, stumbling

Unconsciousness

In addition to hot vehicles, other contributors to overheating in dogs include lack of drinking water, high humidity, overexertion and obesity.

Some pets are at higher risk for heat-related illness than others, especially flat-faced (brachycephalic) breeds, as well as older pets, puppies and kittens, animals who are ill or have a chronic health condition, those not used to warm weather, and any dog left outside in the heat.

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What to Do Immediately If Your Dog Is Overheating

If you think your dog (or any dog) is experiencing heatstroke, you must take immediate action. Move him to a cool area, preferably with air conditioning. At a minimum you should get him out of direct sunlight and to a shady spot.

If he's able to stand, or is at least conscious, offer him small amounts of water to drink and take his temperature rectally if possible. If the temp is 104°F or lower, continue to offer small drinks of water. Take care not to give a large amount of water all at once, which can cause vomiting that leads to dehydration. When your dog seems more comfortable, call your veterinarian for instructions on what to do next.

If he's unable to stand without assistance, is unresponsive, or is having seizures, first check for breathing and a heartbeat. At the same time, someone should call the closest veterinary hospital to let them know you're on your way with your dog.

Immediately start cooling him down by soaking his body with cool (not cold) water, using a hose, wet towels, or any other available source of cool water. Concentrate the water on his head, neck and the areas underneath the front and back legs. If possible, try to pour some water over his tongue, but don't let it run into his throat as it could get into the lungs. Never put water into the mouth of a pet who can't swallow on his own.

Put a fan on your dog if possible, as it will speed up the cooling process. Take his temperature if you can. After a few minutes, recheck the temp. If it's at or below 104oF, stop the cooling process to prevent blood clotting or a too-low body temperature. Get your dog to a veterinary clinic immediately, even if he seems to be returning to normal.

More Tips to Keep Your Dog Safe When Temperatures Soar

Schedule outdoor exercise and playtime for the coolest parts of the day — In most locations, this means early in the morning or after sunset. Try to stay in the shade during daylight hours, and no matter the time of day, don't overdo outdoor exercise or play sessions. Even on an overcast day or in the evening, a long period of physical exertion in hot weather can cause heatstroke in your dog.

A good rule of thumb is if outdoor temps hit 90°F, your pet should be indoors where it's cool.

Provide plenty of fresh clean drinking water at all times — In addition to overheating, your dog can become dehydrated very rapidly in warm weather. A good general guideline is that a healthy dog should drink between ½ and 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight each day.

And if she'll be outside for any length of time, she should have access to complete shade. Periodically encourage her to play in the sprinkler or gently hose her down with cool water to prevent overheating.

Never leave your furry family member alone in a parked car — not even for a minute — On a warm day, the temperature inside your vehicle can rise quickly into the danger zone. For example, on an 85°F day it takes only 10 minutes for the temperature inside your parked car to climb to 102°F.

In a half hour, it can rise to 120°F. Leaving windows cracked doesn't drop the temperature inside the vehicle, and leaving your car running with the air conditioner on is dangerous for a number of reasons.

Leaving a pet unattended in a vehicle in extreme heat or cold is a criminal act in several states and municipalities. Most statutes have rescue provisions that allow certain individuals, for example police officers, firefighters, animal control officers, and store employees to do whatever is necessary to rescue an animal trapped in a vehicle in extreme temperatures.

On summer days, it's best to leave your pet home, inside, where she can stay cool, hydrated, and safe.

"Outside dogs" may need to come inside, or somewhere cooler, when temperatures rise above 95°F. Shade (and warm water) will not prevent heatstroke in extreme temperatures.

 

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