By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
As the temperature continues to climb here in sunny Columbia, we need to not only think of ways to keep ourselves comfortable, but also our pets. While people complain about the heat, dogs and cats have much more to complain about! As humans we can always do things to avoid getting too hot. We can always adjust what we are wearing or just find a nice air conditioned place to hang out until it cools down. This makes the risk of humans overheating very small, but the risk of overheating very large for our pets since they are unable to do very much to get cool on their own. It is up to us, as owners, to educate ourselves on the potential risks of the heat and the signs to watch for and what to do in case of an emergency.
Some changes that we need to make to accommodate our pets in the heat are very simple. The best solution is to keep your pet inside where it is air conditioned and he has access to plenty of cool water. Other things we can do is to not ever leaving our pets in the car without you for any length of time, getting your pet groomed to get rid of as much hair as possible (even consider shaving them down), and only going on walks in the early morning or evenings. Changing the walk routine for dogs is important because they need some form of activity to keep them healthy and happy. Walking them when it is cooler helps them to not overheat since the outside temperature is cooler, but it also keeps them from getting contact burns on their feet if the pavement is too hot. If you must walk at another time, make sure that you walk on grass to protect the feet and that you have a collapsible water bowl with you so you can offer water frequently.
If you absolutely have to leave your dog outside during the hot months you are taking a risk every day that your pet could have a heat stroke. To try to prevent a heat stroke from happening there are several things you can do. You need to provide shelter in a cool place (a dog house under a tree), place a fan that will blow on your pet in that cool place throughout the day, provide as much drinking water as possible and add ice cubes to the water, and provide a baby swimming pool filled with water that your pet can get into if he wants.
If the worst case scenario happens and you pet suffers a heat stroke, get your pet to the veterinarian as soon as it happens. The elevated body temperature from the heat stroke can cause multiple organs to stop working and can even cause permanent brain damage. Heat strokes are more likely in long-haired or thick-haired dogs, overweight dogs, older animals, or brachycephalic dogs (dogs with short faces, like pugs). The signs you should look for that indicate your dog is overheating or having a heat stroke are panting, excessive salivation, breathing difficulties, seizures, muscle tremors, walking abnormally, or even becoming unconscious or non-responsive.
Most heat stroke pets need intensive care for several days at the veterinary hospital to prevent organ failure and death. As you are on the way to the veterinary hospital you can spray your pet with water or rub a wet washcloth over the dog or continuously apply rubbing alcohol on the foot pads. Even though it seems like a good idea do not use ice to try cool your pet, it can actually make things much worse. The best thing you can do for your pet is keep it indoors all year so there is no risk of illness secondary to the elements, but if it does occur please get your pet to the veterinarian immediately.