How Do I Keep My Dog Safe in High Heat?
By: Dr. Amanda Landis-Hanna
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What a whirlwind month it has been! I am returning from Brooklyn, NYC where the Voyce team attended Barkfest. It was a great day, with hundreds of people and dogs in attendance. The only problem with the day was the heat. Sunday July 19th was the hottest day of the year so far, with air temperatures around 90 degrees, and a heat index of 100 degrees. UV testing of the ground (by our friends at Seek) read the ground at 160 degrees!
While we were happy to attend and participate, our entire team was worried about heat stress and exhaustion in dogs (as well as people). Dehydration is a severe risk in those kinds of conditions. We passed around flyers that doubled as fans to help keep people cool, as well as a few open tents with fans to help provide heat relief. As a veterinarian, my prime concern was heat stroke. We circulated team members screening for dogs in distress, while educating about heat stress and symptoms. Things that you want to watch for:
1—Dogs that seem agitated, depressed, lethargic or tired
2—Pale, bright red, or blue gums or mucus membranes
4—Puppies and geriatric dogs are at higher risk
Another risk for dogs in such high heat is damage to paws. My rule of thumb is the “bare feet test.” If you were to step on the ground in bare feet, does it make your foot uncomfortable? If your foot is uncomfortable, you should assume it is uncomfortable for your dog. A number of options are available to help alleviate discomfort. An easy option is to pour cold water on the ground, just keep in mind that the water may quickly evaporate or steam. If grass is available, it generally dissipates heat better than concrete or blacktop. And if you can prepare in advance, protective boots are a great way to go. We saw many dogs wearing booties at Barkfest yesterday.
Quick treatment for heat will help your pet recover faster. Water is the best fluid to provide, either in liquid or ice form. (Rumors often circulate on the internet that ice water causes health problems, these are incorrect.) Some dogs like to chew ice cubes. You may also wet a cloth with ice water and apply it to the insides of the ears, the armpits, the groin, and under the tail. These areas have less hair and evaporation works well from these locations. Additionally, cold water or ice water can be applied to the feet. Dog pads are thickened for protection, but the area between the toes is well not insulated, allowing for heat dissipation. At Barkfest, kid pools were available for dogs to lie in, but the water can quickly heat up in the sun, so the water should be changed frequently.
So what do you do if you are worried about your dog’s body temperature and health? The first step is to remove your dog from the hot environment, getting into shade with air conditioning. The next step is seeking veterinary attention immediately. Some dogs bounce back from heat stress quickly, while others can enter into heat stroke. Heat stroke means the body can no longer thermoregulate, or regulate their internal temperature. The body organs will begin to shut down in an effort to maintain energy and life. In these situations, the body temperature can vary between 103-110 degrees. Brain damage can occur at body temperatures over 105 degrees. Veterinary attention is needed to rehydrate your dog, stabilize her, and bring her temperature down safely. If her body temperature comes down too quickly, she could die, since she is no longer able to thermoregulate. In short, if you are worried, get your dog to the nearest veterinarian to assess her condition and provide care and recommendations.
Barkfest was a great event, and I’m glad I was there to participate. Though the heat was oppressive, the Voyce team was able to help several dogs, including Dimitri, a very handsome 4-month-old Weimeraner. His dad didn’t realize he was in heat stress until we talked about the symptoms, then we were able to work together to quickly treat him with ice and get him cooled off. Dog safety is my top concern, so we will be providing feedback and veterinary recommendations for future Barkfest events. Education and prevention are both key to preventing heat stress. If you are uncomfortable outside, they probably are too!