Dogs love to get caught up with us in our summer fun. They live for these social activities and your companionship. Many times though they get so caught up that they surpass their own bodies ability to cool off and go into distress from heat exhaustion. At this time their bodies overheat past their capacity to cool themselves by panting. If this is let go unattended they can go from heat exhaustion to heat stroke, which could be deadly. Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion in your dog is critical to his well being.
When a dog is suffering heat exhaustion the first thing that you will notice is his tongue hanging out of his mouth to an unusual degree. His need to try to gasp for air and cool himself will cause his lips to pull back and expose his back molars. He will start to exhibit signs of stress which may show itself in pacing, circling, laying down and then getting right back up again, or a glazed over look in his eyes that denotes panic. He is panicking because his body is telling him that his temperature is rapidly rising to a point that he cannot cool himself.
You should always have a thermometer on hand when you own a dog so that you can tell if your dog has an ailment that you should be concerned with and needs immediate action and attention. Body temperature is the best indicator of wellness or distress in your dog. Normal temperature for a dog depending on age and outside temperature can range from 101 to 103 with the extreme ends being a bit high or a bit low depending on outside temperature and the stress that the dog is under at the time. A dog who’s temperature rises above these levels should be considered to be in danger and immediate action and veterinary care are called for.
In the case of heat exhaustion the dog’s temperature could go up quickly to over 104 to 105. This signals the danger of heat stroke, which could be fatal. Before loading the dog into a potentially hot car and speeding off to the veterinarian immediate action should be taken. This involves getting the dog cooled down quickly while at the same time not shocking the dogs system. This is best done by putting cool water on his belly (not his back) which is where his vital organs are located. Get an ice pack or a zip lock bag with ice in it and apply it to his belly. Get him into the coolest spot you can find (air-conditioned room or if outside under a shade tree) and begin to work on getting his temperature down. You will know this is happening when his tongue begins to slide back into his mouth a little as he breathes. When a dog has heat exhaustion he often will throw up his food. This is the bodies attempt to rid him of any extra baggage that will limit the body from cooling. Do not give him water right away as he will probably throw this up also. Wait until he starts to stabilize and then offer him a short cool drink.
If you need to rush him to the veterinarian make sure that the car is cooled down prior to putting him inside. A dog who is stabilizing could be put back into distress when loaded into a hot vehicle. Make sure that someone rides with him who can apply the ice pack to his belly in route to the hospital. This may not be necessary unless you cannot manage to bring his temperature down by the aforementioned methods. You don’t want to further shock the dogs system by throwing him into a cold pool or lake. You can walk him in to where his belly is cooled but do not throw him in as this could create shock that could cause a heart attack or further stress.
Whether or not your dog is prone to heat exhaustion has everything to do with his individual body makeup. Some dogs like people are better at cooling themselves than others. This could be due to body type, coat color, coat type, or being overweight, or due to physical malady. Paying attention to your dogs’ individual makeup is very important.
Ideas for keeping your dog cool and safe in the summer are many:
1. Provide adequate availability of cool fresh water that is kept in shaded areas.
2. Provide plenty of shade. Shade can be provided by overhead covers, trees, pop ups, solid fencing etc.
3. Provide a child’s pool with water in a shaded area for him to lay in.
4. Never leave him in a hot car or contained area where he cannot get to shade. Do not expect a crate or a dog house to provide shade. These enclosures can actually hold heat if left in the sun.
5. If the dog must work in the heat there are cooling pads, vests, and collars available on the market.
6. Always keep a thermometer on hand to take the dogs temperature if necessary.
7. Make sure you have ice packs in the freezer in case of emergency.
8. If the area the dog is in is too hot for you it is too hot for your dog!
9. If your dog is not allowed in the house at least crate train him so that you can bring him into an air conditioned laundry room or other room of the house out of the heat.
10. There are a number of items available to help cool yourself and your dog on the market. These include fans and mister systems that are easily installed and maintained.
11. Consider reversing your dog’s schedule in the summer. If he is crated at night during the winter, consider crating him during the day in the air conditioning in the summer and leaving him out at night.
12. Most important to the safety of the dog be AWARE of his condition and activity in the summer months.
Some of the recommendations above will seem like common sense to some people. It is important to note that although this SHOULD be true, it is often not the case. We have had clients pull up in the summer and leave dogs in a hot car. When called on it they will often say, “he’s a dog, he can handle it.” Just to have us come down on them to their amazement. They are amazed that we are bold enough to tell them to get the dog out of the hot car and we are amazed that they don’t know better. I’m not just talking about any old client; I’m talking about professional people who should know better.
If I could make one recommendation to dog owners it would be to have a simple store-bought digital thermometer. This is the best indicator to you as to whether you actually have an emergency or you are over reacting. This is true for heat exhaustion as well as many other possible maladies or virus situations. This one device could make the difference between life and death for your beloved canine companion.
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