Each summer, dogs are hospitalized and even die due to hypothermia or heatstroke. Hypothermia is very easy to prevent but difficult to treat, according to Susan Bertram, DVM. Dogs need a shady place in the yard where they can dig to find cool earth. Children's pools provide a great escape on hot days. Dogs do not sweat the same way people do. Although they do perspire some through their feet, panting is their primary way of keeping their bodies cool. Their heat tolerance is less than ours.
Naturally, an endless supply of fresh water is essential. Rinse the water dishes daily to clean out bugs and other foreign objects and refill with fresh, cool, (not cold) water.
A dog that runs every day will be more able to maintain an exercise program through the hot summer. A couch potato should not go on a long hike on a hot day. Generally, weather conditions that are comfortable for us are fine for our pets. Heavier bodied, short nosed or heavily coated breeds, or dogs with heart and lung problems or any dog that is overweight is more susceptible to heatstroke.
According to Dr. Bertram, symptoms of heatstroke include sudden onset of vomiting or diarrhea, difficulty breathing, brick-red gums, a rectal temperature over 104 degrees, depression, grogginess, seizures, collapse and coma. If your dog shows signs of heatstroke, get him out of the sun immediately into a shady, cool spot. Place damp cool towels around his neck, chest and limbs. If possible, put the dog in front of a fan for an evaporative cooling effect. Never immerse an overheated dog in cold water as this actually increases core body temperature. Offer only small amounts of water or ice chips to an overheated dog. Even if he improves, take him to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Hypothermia can damage vital organs including the brain and kidneys and requires prompt, aggressive medical therapy.
Many owners of heavily coated dogs think they are being kind if they shave the dog during the summer. There is some controversy regarding summer clips but it is never good to shave a longhaired dog, The long coat provides insulation and the skin under a heavy coat is more sensitive because it is not normally exposed to the elements. Sunburn is a problem for shaved dogs and for light-skinned and white-haired dogs. Use a waterproof sunblock for the bridge of the nose and ear edges of light colored dogs.
Dogs who walk a lot all year have tougher footpads than indoor dogs. Either way, hot road surfaces and sidewalks can burn feet.
Dogs should not be left in hot cars. It is painful to leave a dog at home when he so loves to go along, but it is just not safe during the summer if you will be parked for more than a few minutes. Even for a few minutes, leave all four windows open several inches and park in the shade. And always have water available in the car.
It is always dangerous to have a dog in the back of a pickup. However, in the hot summer sun, it is downright cruelty. If your dog travels in a kennel in the back of a pickup, cover it to provide shade while allowing air to circulate. Shade screen is a great product for covering kennels and providing safe shade. It is sold by the foot at hardware and building supply stores.
Other summer precautions include: Be careful with toxins of any kind in the garden or yard. Poison baits or traps can be pet hazards. Antifreeze can kill a dog so watch for leaks and store harmful products out of reach.
Summer is a great time to be out with your dog playing, hiking and going on picnics. Pack water and a small dish in your backpack. Stop and rest in the shade. Let the dog determine when he has had enough. Common sense is the best judge of what is OK for summer fun and outdoor activities.
(Excerpts taken from the June 2003 Dog Fancy magazine, "Sunshine Safety" by Susan Bertram, DVM.)
Christy Wrather is a columnist for the Payson Roundup. She can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by snail-mail at HC1 Box 210, Strawberry, AZ 85544.