Time, temperature, and humidity are key factors in the response of our dogs to the heat. What is the temperature on a given day? How humid is it outside, and for how long is your dog exposed to these factors?

The amount of water a dog has consumed, being in an enclosed space, obesity, age, cardiovascular disease, and exercise all increase the risk factors of heat stress. Lack of acclimatization or proper conditioning for various activities performed in the summer months also has a tremendous impact on the dog’s response to the heat.

  Even though summer is drawing to a close, all of us could benefit from a review of the signs and symptoms of heat stress and the measures we need to take if our dogs become seriously over-heated.  Most of us try to protect our dogs from the heat, but as I learned recently, we can be caught off guard and may well put our dogs at risk. 

  Recently I was practicing field drills with my 8 1/2 year old golden on a relatively mild day. The temperature was between 76 and 78 degrees, and it was not especially humid that day. After cheerfully and quickly retrieving bumpers for less than 10 minutes, the inside of Catch's ears seemed reddened, and he started panting a fair amount, so we decided to rest him in the shade. This type of drill work was not unusual for my boy. He had been conditioned to do multiple land and water retrieves and was declared in great physical condition at a recent check-up. I put my dog in a shady area under a tree where a nice breeze was blowing and went to get him a drink of water. As I turned to walk to my van, I noticed his one back leg jerk ever so slightly. An observer chuckled, saying he reminded her of someone with a "charley horse", but already my stomach started to churn with concern. Within the next 5 minutes, my golden's condition deteriorated rapidly. Suddenly a healthy dog was exhibiting signs of significant heat stress and we were 20 minutes from the nearest veterinarian. The next hour was agonizing --thankfully, I am fortunate and still have this special boy with me. There was no rhyme or reason for this to happen, but Catch succumbed to the heat that day.  I thought I was being careful to not cause undue strain to his system, yet something trigged this significant response. I thought I was "educated" and understood what to do in such an emergency situation, but in reality, I needed to be more knowledgeable and also wish I had prepared a better first aid kit. That is why I am writing this for Everything Golden. I think all of us need to understand heat stress more and need to be prepared if our dogs do become overheated. (Remember, I am not a veterinarian. However, from talking to two vets and reading multiple sources on heat stress, this is what I have surmised.)

Dogs do not have an efficient way to handle the heat because they do not sweat the way humans do. The only means a dog has of cooling himself is to move air over their moist tongue and airways by panting. Unfortunately, the system is not efficient, because the muscle activity involved in panting also generates some heat. In addition to panting, additional signs of heat stress may include flushed, red skin on the ear flap, deepening color of the mucous membranes (or gums may appear pale and dry), and a darkening, musky color and slight swelling of the tongue. As fluids are depleted from the body, the mouth becomes dry, the eyes become sunken, and the skin loses elasticity. (Lift the skin along the back. Normally, the skin should quickly snap back into place. If it does not, dehydration is present and treatment by a veterinarian is needed.)  As the stress increases, you may see a lurching gait or loss of balance, quivering and/or weakens of extremities, hyper-salivation, vomiting and/or diarrhea, decreased mental awareness, and convulsions.

Obviously, if you see signs that your dog is beginning to overheat, you need to stop all activity and get the dog to a cool, well ventilated area. Rest and a cool drink can help mild symptoms of heat stress. However, it is important to remember that the body temp may continue to increase for a time even after activity is ceased or the dog is removed from a confined area that has promoted over-heating.

  Heat stoke can occur if a dog's temperature goes above 104 degrees. The increased temperature causes a metabolic disturbance that triggers the release of chemicals that ultimately cause cell destruction. In heat stroke, the blood thickens causing stress on the heart as it attempts to pump the heavy blood through the system. Blood stagnates and eventually clots, causing tissue death. The brain, liver, and intestine are most prone to the effects of such cell destruction.

  Heat stress/stroke is an emergency situation. It is essential to immediately lower the body temperature!!!  Keeping your wits about you in such a situation is not easy! (The age of cell phones allowed me to be in contact with my vet during this cool down process. Although I was near hysteria and wanted nothing more than to be in his office with access to immediate medical help, the vet reminded me that the most important thing for the safety of my dog was to cool him down before attempting to transport him, particularly since I was a 30 min distance from his office.)  Delaying the cooling process (particularly if you are more than a few minutes from a vet) can increase the risk of long term effects or even death.

  Move the dog to a well-ventilated, shady area to allow evaporation of water and cooling. (If shade is not available, place the dog in a vehicle with the air conditioning turned full force.) You can offer and encourage a drink of water, but do not force fluids.  A dog that has a significant rise in body temperature may not freely take fluids as they cannot swallow properly . If the dog will drink, be sure to give fluids in small frequent amounts. A bit of water can keep the mouth wet, thus making panting more effective. However, water in the stomach does not help cool a dog and can even cause a bloating effect during heavy panting as air is drawn to the stomach.  If the dog is alert and will take fluids on his own, powdered electrolytes mixed in water (available from Nupro) , Pedialyte, or Gator Aid can help replenish depleted electrolytes.

Check your dogs temperature!!!!!! Start the cooling down process. The best method is to run cool water over the dog. A hose is ideal, as is immersion in cool, running water, but realistically most times that our dogs overheat, these are not available.  Be sure the water used to cool the dog comes in contact with the skin (If you wet only the coat of the dog, water is trapped there, gets warm, and can act as insulation rather than a coolant.)  Pouring water over the belly and the groin area is ideal because of the rich supply of superficial blood vessels.

If a supply of cool water is not available, some use alcohol to initiate cooling. This can help if poured on the belly, in the groin, and on the ear flaps, and the pads of the feet. However, alcohol causes rapid evaporation, and therefore is not as effective as a "cool water wash". Ice is also less effective than cool water, because it causes constriction of the blood vessels, and thus does not promote the most efficient exchange of heat. However, sometimes you are caught in a less then ideal situation and cool packs purchased from the drug store can be better than nothing. Cool packs are best applied to the inner thighs, under the arm, under the tail, and under the ear flaps.

Check your dog's temperature every three to five minutes. Once the temperature starts to drop and reaches about 103 degrees, stop all cooling efforts because the body temperature will continue to drop for a time.  (You do not want to bring the temperature down too far, thus causing hypothermia.)  Transport your dog to the closest veterinarian for emergency evaluation and treatment.

My vet and certain sources consulted agree that some effects of heat stroke may not be evident for several hours or even days. (It is best to consult you veterinarian about what to watch for.) In some cases, there can be long term or permanent consequences. Several sources also agree that a dog who has experienced heat stroke is more likely to succumb to the heat more quickly and with an even greater response in the future. Obviously, prevention is the best course of action.

  Mary Meador gave some great ideas for keeping a dog cool when traveling in the last issue of Everything Golden. Here are some additional items that I recommend you keep on hand if you participate in physical activity during the summer months or travel frequently with your dog's).


·                     THERMOMETER

·                     Pedialyte (Gatorade and/or Nupro electrolytes are also helpful)

·                     Alcohol

·                     Plenty of water

·                     Ice in a cooler (water may become warm when left outside)

·                     Cool packs/ice packs

·                     3-4 Aqua Dry cloths soaked in water and ice (These soft, absorbent cloths can be purchased in the automotive section of stores like Target and Wal-Mart)

·                     Bucket (handy if a source of cool water, but not a hose is available)

In addition remember to provide

·                     Frequent rest periods

·                     Frequent drinks of water. (During hot humid days when you see visible panting Gatorade or Nupro Electrolytes may be of value)

·                     Shade covers (woven covers that allow flow of air)

·                     Crate fans (obviously, an electric fan can move more air and provide better circulation, but when electricity is not available, a battery operated fan attached to the crate will circulate some air)

·                     Cool pads for the bottom of your dog's crate (or frozen bottles of water attached to the sides of the crate)

·                     Open wire crates for any dog left in a vehicle (and, remember, if you plan to leave your dog for any length of time in warm weather, it is best to place the crate outside the vehicle in a shady area)

  Remember, prevention is the best defense !!!!

Pat Quinn

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