It’s common knowledge that Texas summers (and springs and falls and sometimes winters, for that matter) are hot. But it’s not common knowledge that our dogs are way more susceptible to heat-related illness than we are. Check out the tips below for ways to avoid heatstroke, signs of heatstroke, and what to do if your dog has a heatstroke.
What is heatstroke?
Heatstroke occurs when normal cooling mechanisms can’t keep the body’s temperature in a safe range, according to the Texas Veterinary Medical Foundation.
For dogs, a normal temperature is about 101 – 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit. A dog is experiencing heat distress when its temperature reaches 103 degrees F, and temperatures over 106 degrees are potentially fatal.
How do I prevent my dog from overheating?
A good rule of thumb is to exercise caution when the temperature plus the relative humidity reaches 120, says Beth Bowers of Dallas Pet First Aid & CPR. Humidity is just as dangerous as heat, so be careful of high humidity levels (over 75%).
- Keep a close eye on your dog when they are outdoors in hot or humid weather. Don’t ever leave your dog outside without any way to cool himself off. Your dog doesn’t have to be exercising to suffer from heatstroke.
- Provide cool, clean water for your pets at all times. Be aware that metal bowls left in the sun will become hot and heat the water.
- Keep them in the shade as much as possible.
- For an extra treat, get a kiddie pool and let your dog play in the water. Some dogs don’t like to get wet but some just love to splash around!
- Walk your dog only in the early morning or in the evenings, after the sun has gone down.
- If your dog starts to lag behind – STOP WALKING OR RUNNING. Allow your dog to rest, and pour water over them to help them cool down.
- Plan your walking route so that you are not too far from home if your dog needs to get into the cool air quickly.
Away From Home:
- When you’re out with your dog, take along frozen water bottles. If your dog starts to get too hot, you can wrap the bottles in a towel and let your dog lie on them.
- It’s easy to get caught up when socializing with friends, but keep an eye on your dog at all times. He could be panting, drooling, frothing at the mouth, or trying to get out of a hot spot because his feet are burning.
- Never, EVER, EVER-EVER-EVER leave your pet in a parked car, even for only a few minutes. Even if the car is in the shade and the windows are cracked. Don’t do it. If you need to run errands, leave your dog at home.
Warning for Short Nosed (Brachycephalic) Dogs
If you have a Pug, Bulldog, Pekingese, Boxer, or any dog with a “short face,” be aware that they are at a higher risk of overheating.
The structure of their airways means that they are unable to pass air quickly over the tongue through panting to keep their bodies cool. These dogs take special care, and that means absolutely no exercise outdoors in hot or humid temperatures.
Don’t forget: Watch your dog’s paws!
Concrete, asphalt, and sand can get very hot and scorch a dog’s paws. Not only is this painful, but it affects their ability to cool themselves off.
A good rule of thumb is, hold the back of your hand firmly against the pavement or sand for 7 seconds (or even better, go barefoot). If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog.
If you have to stand with your dog on a hot surface, you have a few options:
- Pick your dog up.
- Pour water on the ground to cool it off. This is only a temporary solution and water will need to be reapplied frequently.
- Put your dog in a stroller or cart with a towel.
If none of these options are possible, get him off the hot surface immediately. It only takes a few minutes for dog paws to begin to burn.
Dogs cool themselves through their paw pads and mouth. Do not use “booties” to protect your dog’s paws, as they will trap the heat in. And don’t use a muzzle either; it will hamper them from being able to pant to cool themselves off.
Signs of heatstroke
Learn to recognize the signs of heatstroke, so that you can act quickly to cool your dog off.
The #1 sign when walking your dog is that the dog starts to lag behind you. Other signs include:
- Rapid breathing
- Bright or dark red tongue
- Red or pale gums
- Thick, sticky saliva
In Case of Heatstroke:
- Move your dog to a shaded/cool area. If possible, take his temperature and record it. Remember, temperatures over 103 are considered dangerous.
- Cool your dog by pouring water over his neck, stomach, back, and feet. Place them in front of a fan, or begin fanning them down. (Ask for help if needed.)
- Take your pet to the nearest vet immediately. Keep the number to the nearest emergency vet stored in your phone so you can call ahead to alert the staff that you are bringing in a dog in heat distress.
- Ask for help! If others are around, ask them to bring water, or fan your dog, or help you get him into a car or cool space.
- DON’T use ice water to cool your pet down. It could send them into shock. Use cool or tepid water.
- DON’T force water down your dog’s mouth. It could cause vomiting and increase their heart rate, and thus, their body temperature. Keep in mind that many dogs won’t drink water once they are extremely overheated, so that’s a sign to get them to the vet pronto.
- DON’T leave your pet alone — ask someone to watch your pet while you go get your car.
- DON’T panic. Every second counts, so stay calm and work to help your dog.
Please be sure to exercise caution this summer. And spread the word to fellow dog owners!