It’s a hot summer’s day, and you plan to run a quick errand at a local store. Fido looks at you with his big brown eyes and begs to go along, and you acquiesce. After all, you’ll only be in the store for a minute or two. What could it hurt? The fact is, it could cost your dog his life.
While no agency keeps track of such things, the sad fact is that every year, many dogs die of heat stroke as a result of being left in hot cars. Heat inside a parked car can build up quickly to as much as 40 degrees above the outside temperature. For instance, on an 80-degree day, temperatures in a parked car can reach 120 degrees in as little as 10 minutes, especially if the car is in the sun. Even on what many of us would classify as a relatively cool, 70-degree day, a car parked in the sun can quickly heat up to over 110 degrees. Parking in the shade may slow the build up, but the temperature can still rise quickly and leaving the windows cracked doesn’t help much, especially if there’s no breeze. Humidity adds to the problem.
On hot or even warm days, you should leave your dog at home. This is also a time to be proactive. If you see a dog locked in a car on a hot day, don’t drive away shaking your head. Go into the store and have the owner paged, or call the police. They have the authority to break into the car if the animal is in distress. Don’t just assume the dog will be OK, because he is in danger of dying.
While being locked in a hot car is the biggest cause of doggy heat stroke, there are other causes. Our dogs wear a fur coat year round, and their system for cooling off doesn’t work as well as ours. Dogs have sweat glands only in their feet. They are forced to pant to breathe out the excess heat and cool their bodies. This is a less efficient method than ours, and makes them much more susceptible to heat stroke. Your dog can overheat in the midst of a game or a walk and the presence of water does not mean your dog will be cool. Wading pools and shallow ponds can become quite warm in the sun, so before you assume your dog is safe because he’s in the water, check the water temperature.
Outdoor dogs can be very prone to heat stroke as the temperatures soar. It is vital that you provide your outdoor dog with a shady spot in which to lie.
Remember that as the sun moves the amount of available shade changes, so be sure your dog can access shade throughout the day. It’s also important that your dog have access to fresh, cool water. Use a deep container for the water, and secure it in a way that prevents it from being knocked over. Water left in the sun heats up quickly, so be prepared to refill the container throughout the day.
A dog’s normal body temperature is between 101 and 102 degrees. If his temperature reaches 106 degrees, he is in danger. High temperatures cause chemical reactions that break down body cells, leading to dehydration and blood thickening. This puts extreme strain on the heart and causes blood clotting and tissue death. The liver, brain and intestinal cells are usually the first to be affected and this can occur quickly. Brain damage, vital organ failure and death can happen much faster than you would expect.
The symptoms of heat stroke include rapid, frantic panting; wide eyes; thick saliva; a bright red tongue; trembling; staggering; vomiting; diarrhea and coma. Heat stroke is a deadly emergency, and fast action on your part is critical for his survival.
Cool the dog off quickly. You can hose him off, after insuring the hose water is not hot; immerse him in cool, but not cold water; sponge the groin, stomach and paws with cold water; or place cold, wet, rolled up towels against his head, neck, stomach, and between his legs. It’s also critical that you get him to a veterinarian immediately, preferably in an air conditioned vehicle.
While you’re engaged in summer activities, remember the deadly effect the heat can have on your dog. Don’t leave him out of the fun, but do monitor his condition. Remember, he’s depending on you to keep him safe.