Keeping cool in the heat
Pet Lyfe with Dr. Fyfe
July 21, 2022
Summer is here and many of us have animal companions who are more excited to get outside than we are! While there is nothing better than taking your dog for a hike or riding your horse in our beautiful mountains there are precautions to take and things to be aware of before venturing out in the sun.
When enjoying time outside it is important to remember that dogs can quickly develop heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Dogs are more sensitive to high temperatures than humans largely because of their inability to sweat. Dogs have sweat glands in their feet and they regulate their body primarily by panting rather than sweating.
Early signs of heat exhaustion in dogs are often hard to recognize. They include lethargy and mild confusion, heavy or noisy breathing, and shivering and trembling. Some dogs may seem confused in early stages of heat stress. You might notice that they don't respond to a regular command such as "Come" or "Sit."
More severe signs of heat stress are stumbling, excessive drooling with thick, sticky drool, red gums, vomiting, diarrhea and even seizures or collapse. It is important to know what your dog's normal gum color is- it should be a shiny light pink- so that you can recognize when it is abnormal.
If these symptoms occur, it is imperative that you try to cool your dog's body down in a cool bath or creek or with a garden hose. Offer lukewarm or cool water for them to drink and soak a towel and drape it over your dog's back. Cool water around their ears and paws is very helpful and if you are at home, put a fan in front of them.
If you are concerned that your horse is experiencing heat exhaustion, try to get them into a shaded, well ventilated area and sponge or hose down the large vessels along the insides of their legs, belly or neck. Cool, wet towels on a horse's neck can also be helpful.
At any time, with any animal, call your veterinarian for advice. Heat exhaustion can rapidly turn into a dire emergency leading to organ failure such as kidney or brain damage. If your pet seizes or collapses, you should get them to your veterinarian quickly.
During the summer heat, it is best to exercise your animals during the cooler morning or evening temperatures. Perhaps take your dog for a cool swim instead of a long hike and choose to leave them home instead of taking them out in the car for errands on a hot day. Dogs with thick, heavy double coats like Huskies or brachycephalic breeds with pushed-in noses, such as Boxers and Pugs and older or overweight dogs are more susceptible to heat exhaustion and stroke.
Fountains, cooling dog beds, safely installed fans in horse stalls and access to clean, fresh water are other ways to help prevent heat damage. Importantly, take care of yourself. If you are overheated or dehydrated, you may miss signs of heat exhaustion or be unable to care for your pet. Make a point to prepare in advance for any time spent outside with animals during the summer months.