Dr. Pamela Clary is a veterinarian who comes when you call.
With a home base in the Central West End, she has been seeing cats and dogs in their home environments for 13 years. Before that, she worked ER and critical care in addition to a general practice. Prior to that, Dr. Clary worked with farm animals in a rural veterinary practice.
She loves what she does, and we appreciate the opportunity to share what we learned from her about taking care of your dog in the heat of summer.
First off, when are dogs at risk of overheating?
In this time of extremely high temperatures and humidity, we must watch our animals closely and be conscious of what they look like when and if they get overheated. It can happen in 15 minutes or in 5 hours. First, they will breathe harder and faster.
Panting is normal, so subtle changes in this are notable, such as: the tongue hanging out farther and the mouth open wider. The color of the gums and tongue may change to a duller pink, pale pink, white or even blue.
Inability to move is an obvious sign and needs to be distinguished from mere reluctance. At the point the pet is in trouble, there is wobbling and collapse. I have seen temperatures up to 106. At 104 we see organ melting. Normal body temp for a dog is 102.
What should we do if we see these signs?
Do not immerse the dog in cold water!
This causes peripheral vasoconstriction and exacerbates the condition. The body must be cooled from the inside.
But there are things you can do. Get some ice and put it behind a strong fan. Put the dog in front of the fan so he can breathe cool air. Wipe paws with alcohol to enhance sweating.
If you have the wherewithal, you may insert ice cubes into the rectum.
Mostly, go to the ER. If you can take a rectal temperature and it is over 103, go to the ER. The blood begins to clot in the veins at 103. This condition is called DIC, disseminated intravascular coagulation. Google that. It’s scary.
Are certain dogs more susceptible to overheating than others?
At risk breeds are those brachycephalic dogs of any size and shape. Otherwise know as scrunched-up faces, brachycephalic animals cannot pass air easily, therefore cannot cool it.
Obese animals fare far worse in the heat because they cannot radiate heat as easily.
Older animals are less able to conform to the heat.
And finally, any animal who lives in the air-conditioning and just goes out for walks is more susceptible to the shock of heat than an animal who goes outside regularly.
Hair coats on some breeds are insulating, but this shouldn’t be considered a cooling mechanism. The northern breeds are not very adaptable to high temperatures in general.
Even outdoor dogs who are in good shape can overheat, especially those ball and frisbee chasers who never want to quit. Watch for that tongue to be hanging WAAAY out.
What about walking around on the hot ground?
If the asphalt is too hot for your bare feet, it is too hot for the animals’ footpads! Booties, moccasins, sandals, anything open and lightweight can be protective, but try not to enclose the feet. This is the only place animals sweat, and while this is a small part of their cooling mechanism, they need it functioning fully.
Does swimming help?
Some breeds of dogs will swim incessantly thus cooling themselves. Other dogs won’t go near the water, still others want to swim but are conformationally challenged—meaning their bodies inhibit their abilities.
In general short legged, long-bodied, and certainly OBESE animals might not be so able to swim. Put a life jacket on them, or fashion some floatation device from noodles or ski-belts. Never put things around the neck and I recommend taking off collars if you are in the river or lake.
In pools, wear a harness and flotation device and stay with them. It is a good idea for smaller dogs to have some sort of accessible ramp to climb out. Make it stationary and teach the dog to get to and upon it. I recently saw a ramp for a yorkie that was made of a piece of mat with holes in it and pieces of noodle zip tied to it at just the right size and placement to let it sink down just a bit when the little guy put his front feet on it. Then he just floats his body over it and climbs up. It was firmly attached to the edge.
Dogs in the car?
Never ever leave the dog in the car. Ever!
Related to summer, how much food can we feed our dogs from our backyard barbecue?
In general, if your dog NEVER eats people food, don’t change the rules at the barbecue. If your dog gets scraps and treats from the table, then lean meat in small quantities can be ok.
They are carnivores. It is helpful to visualize the size of the dog’s stomach and try not to fill it with ‘treats’.
And my cardinal rule: Make sure daily food intake remains the same quantity as they normally eat. If you have trouble not treating the dog, then just let them lick your fingers. It is the attention they want anyway!
Thanks, Dr. Clary. This is a great reminder to take us through the rest of our summer.