I know, the title is heavy. But this issue is important because a harmless midday walk can easily turn into a life or death situation in a matter of minutes. And it can all be prevented.
As if getting our Sidekicks exercise wasn’t hard enough due to our hectic schedules, mother nature has to make it even harder. I know some of you may be used to taking your pooch out for a midday stroll during a lunch break or right after work, but with this Texas heat rolling in, it’s important to make other plans.
Before we get into all the details about heat stroke, I want to stress the importance of our role as our dogs’ owner, parent, caretaker, whatever you call yourself. WE are the humans with a forward-thinking mind. We have the mental capacity to contemplate the consequences of our actions before and after. Our dogs do not. They have no idea there is a risk in going for a walk. All they know when you grab that leash is that they get to spend time in the great outdoors with their favorite person. They can’t ask you “Hey, don’t you think it’s too hot out?” or tell you “You know, I’m really feeling the heat today.” It’s our duty to our furry best friends to make an educated decision if stepping out on the pavement is safe or not.
Lastly, we need to remember that our dogs feel the heat differently than we do and cool their bodies much differently than us. Here are some facts of comparison:
- Our average body temp is around 97.6-99.6*. A dog’s average body temp is 101-102.5*
- We produce sweat to cool down all over our body. Dogs only sweat (yes, they do sweat!) through their paw pads.
What is Heat Stroke?
Heat stroke occurs when the core body temperature rises too high due to prolonged heat exposure. For our dogs, that temperature is about 105*. Because the body is having a hard time cooling down, organs start to shut down and the body goes into shock. This can lead to brain damage as well as death. Before heat stroke, the body goes through a stage of heat exhaustion. While this phase isn’t good either, recognizing the signs and addressing them early could lead to a better outcome.
What are the Symptoms?
- Heavy, fast-paced panting
- Staggering or “tripping over” their own paws
- Excess drooling
- Extreme vasodilation- This is when the blood vessels expand to allow more warm blood to reach the surface to cool. This typically takes place in the tongue, gums and ears. So, if your pup’s ears, tongue or gums are a darker shade of pink, it’s time to cool down.
- Poor blood circulation- You can check this by checking your dog’s capillary refill time. Press on the gum right about the canine tooth for about 2 seconds. When you release, you should see a white print where your finger was. You want to count how long it take the whiteness to turn pink again. A good time is anything less than three seconds. Anything longer could mean your pup has poor blood circulation.
- Mental fog- your dog just isn’t acting right
How do I Avoid Heat Stroke?
Be smart and make wise decisions when thinking about taking your dog out for outdoor exercise.
- Walk early in the morning (before 10am) or later in the evening (around 7pm). These times may vary as we hit the hottest months.
- Check the “Feels Like” temperature- this reading takes into account the humidity level. If it “feels like” 80* or above, it might be best to sit it out.
- Hydrate!- It’s important that your dog gets plenty of water before, during and after being out.
- Keep things short- Any time spent outside should be short in length. Please keep in mind that your pets can overheat even if just hanging out in the backyard.
- Go for SNIFFING walks- your dog can get just as much, if not more, stimulation by just sniffing. Take a shorter walk with an emphasis on sniffing.
- Get a baby pool- they’re pretty inexpensive and provide a fun learning activity for your pup. If your dog is new to water, put just enough water to cover the bottom and throw some treats in. As your pup gets more comfortable, add more water.
- Get your pup a cooling vest- our favorite place with a great selection is Southpaw Waggery (http://southpawwaggery.com/).
- Be sure anyone else taking care of your pet knows the risk, severity and signs of heat stroke.
- Enrichment activities- we’ll post a whole new blog with a bunch of ideas next!
- Brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short, squishy noses) need extra attention. Because their noses are so short, they can’t breathe as well and have a harder time regulating body temperature via panting.
- Dogs with darker and/or thick coats also require extra attention. Darker colors absorb radiation and heat up faster. Thicker coats, while they insulate to delay overheating, can also delay the cool down process.
How Can I Regulate My Dog’s Body Temperature?
The earlier you recognize the signs, the better your chance of a good outcome. It’s important to cool your dog’s body down, but don’t do it too quickly as that can also cause shock (so difficult, I know!). If your dog is showing signs of heat stroke, contact your closest emergency clinic immediately and get en route!
- Run room temperature water (maybe from a hose after the hot water has run out) over your dog’s body, especially over the belly, thighs/armpits and paws.
- Apply Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) on paw pads.
- Allow a cool place to lie down like a tiled floor.
- Get into an AC area or room with a fan.
- Monitor your pup’s temperature (yup, the best way is through the booty) every 3-5 minutes and ensure temperature is dropping. If temperatures have been elevated 15 minutes or longer, contact your closest emergency clinic.
We hope that you guys can enjoy the great outdoors safely with these safety tips. It’s better to be safe, than sorry!
This blog is dedicated to the one and only Penny, the craziest St. Bernard I know. She sadly passed away from heat stroke but will forever be in our hearts.