So far this spring we have been experiencing cooler than normal temperatures, which human and furry friends alike have surely been enjoying. However, we can expect the month of May to bring warmer days, which will likely also encourage more outdoor activities, in which most of us will want to enjoy with our pets. With the increase in heat and activity, the possibility of heat exhaustion and heat stroke becomes a real concern.
Dogs can only dissipate heat from a small area in their feet, where sweat glands are located, as well as through their oral cavity by panting. To add to this, many family dogs are thick coated and/or overweight, which further insulates them and impedes heat loss. Because of the dogs methods of heat dispersion, it is obvious that dogs are better designed for working in colder climates. However, even then they are at risk of overheating. It was reported that dogs suffered heat exhaustion during the Alaskan sled race, the Iditarod, a few years ago because the air temperatures that year stayed around the low 30′s. This is a testament to the amount of heat a working dog can generate, even in freezing temperatures and snow.
There has been an apparent trend over the past 4-5 years where the majority of heat stroke/exhaustion cases present in the month of May and June. The easiest explanation for this is due to unfit, unconditioned pets who have been taking the winter months off and are starting to get out and be active again. It should also be noted that day time temperatures typically jump 15 to 25 degrees over a short period of time. The rise in ambient temperatures combined with out of shape pets is the perfect formula for heat exhaustion/stroke.
The normal temperature of a dog at rest is usually between 100 and 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Exercise induced temperatures can safely range between 102 to 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat exhaustion becomes a concern when temperature climb above 104 degrees, and heat stroke is seen when temperatures exceed 105 to 106 degrees. The internal temperature of the pet is only one component involved when assessing overheating related cases. Overall hydration and length of time at elevated temperatures play into the larger picture and/or severity of the episode.
There are several symptoms of heat exhaustion/stroke to watch out for in your pet while enjoying the great outdoor this summer: Bright red gums, hyper salivation and thickening of the saliva, disorientation, weakness, laying down and reluctance to get back up.
If you think your pet may be over heating…
- Get them into a shady, cool spot immediately.
- Use cool, but not cold, water and wet their entire body.
- Allow them to drink small amounts of water, you can even drip cool water in their mouth, and on their feet. Be careful when using wet rags and towels, as they can act as an insulator, trapping the heat next to the animals body. Do not cover the entire animal with the wet towel/rags and change them often to keep them cool.
- If possible, monitor the pets temperature using a rectal thermometer. It is best to stop the cooling process when the body temperature hits 103 to 103.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Excessive cooling efforts can sling shot the pet into hypothermia and again restrict blood flow to tissues.
- As soon as possible, get the pet to veterinary care where iv fluids can be started and organ function and overall well being can be evaluated.
The best way to protect your pet against overheating is to prevent it.
- Start exercising them slowly and gradually to help build physical fitness.
- Avoid the hottest times of the day and take them out during the early mornings or late evenings, which are typically the coolest times of the day.
- Be sure to carry adequate fresh water for yourself and your pet, unless you are certain there is accessible, safe, fresh drinking water available along your route.
It is our goal to not see any heat exhaustion or heat strokes cases this year. Help us reach this goal by being safe with your pets: plan ahead before you get out and exercise, walk, hike, or work your dogs this summer.
If you have any questions or want to discuss over heating problems further, feel free to give us a call.
Matt Thompson DVM