Too Much Heat and the Dog Days of Summer

The summer weather here in Upstate New York and New England can be deadly for our pooches and other four-legged friends if precautions are not taken.

In Part 2 of a two-part series titled Keep Your Dog Cool This Summer; Heat Stroke, Part 1 and Part 2, dated December, 2014, Dr. Justine A. Lee — a board certified Emergency and Critical Care veterinarian who writes for the online magazine Pet Health Network – shared more prevention tips. 

Dogs are in the danger zone when their body temperature rises above 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius). The danger can escalate quickly as air temperatures rise.

“The higher the body temperature, the more life-threatening it is to your dog,” states Lee. “As core body temperature approaches greater than 106-degrees F (41-degrees C), the sooner death can occur.”

It’s important to remain vigilant for signs of fatigue or heat stroke in your dog no matter what the temperature is. The sooner you notice these signs, the sooner you should stop any form of exercise, cool down your dog, and seek veterinary attention, according to Lee. 

Signs of heat stroke include:

  • Constant panting
  • Dragging behind (e.g., in other words, on a leash lagging several feet behind you)
  • Dry gums that feel sticky to the touch
  • Dark red gums
  • Vomiting
  • Acting wobbly or walking drunk
  • Collapse
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Feeling warm to the touch, with red, flushed skin
  • Seizures
  • Dark, concentrated urine

As previously mentioned, heat stroke can quickly progress and be deadly to your pet. In its more advanced stage these life-threatening signs may appear:

  • Seizures or tremors
  • Dark red-wine colored urine
  • Bloody or black, tarry diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing
  • A racing heart rate (due to arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythms)
  • Collapse
  • Death

Stop any activity immediately if you observe any of the above and quickly take the following steps:

  • Transport you pet to a veterinarian right away
  • Move your dog IMMEDIATELY to a shaded area or to a water source and begin cooling him down; even if this means dousing your pooch with water bottles from random strangers)!

Dr. Lee noted that in its advanced stages heat stroke is often fatal because it causes damage at the cellular level.

“Even with aggressive IV fluids, plasma transfusions, antibiotics, cooling measures, anti-vomiting medication, anti-vomiting medication, anti-seizure medication, oxygen therapy, and 24-hour, continuous critical care monitoring, organ failure can still occur,” she states.

Prevention is the best course of action to avoid the danger and costs associated with treating your pooch for heat stroke, said Lee. 

Here are a few preventative tips to avoid heat stroke:

  • Always check with your veterinarian to see if your dog is healthy enough – or a breed that is safe – to exercise with you.
  • Avoid exercising between 10 am and 3 pm. During these hours the heat index is at its highest.
  • Exercise in shade whenever possible.
  • HYDRATE! Be sure to carry a water bottle or Camelback for your dog. If your water supply gets low, save that water for your four-legged friend!
  • Avoid fast-paced exercise when temperatures soar, such as rollerblading.
  • Overweight pets are predisposed to overheating.

Lee summed it all up like this: When in doubt, STOP. No workout is worth losing your pet to heat stroke.