We Austinites love our dogs, and we love to take them wherever we go, to do whatever we do. The dogs love this, too — except when it gets hotter than heck out there.
Dogs can’t sweat the way we do, and between that and the fur coats they wear year-round, heat stroke is a real risk for them. As we all know, dogs cool themselves by panting. They also dissipate heat through the pads of their feet; that means if you’re running or playing on pavement, bare ground or rock, your dog is at greater risk of overheating.
Normal canine temperature falls between 100 and 102 degrees Fahrenheit; heat stroke occurs when it reaches 109 or higher. Overexertion is a common cause of heat stroke, and what might be normal activity for your dog easily becomes overexertion when it’s hot.
Dogs with short, squashy noses, such as boxers and pugs, are at greater risk for heat stroke, as are those with heavy coats, such as collies and chows, and overweight dogs, says Paula Baker, DVM, at Allandale Veterinary Clinic. Dogs who have previously had heat stroke have a higher risk, as do elderly dogs, out-of-shape dogs and those with certain health problems.
Always have access to plenty of water for your dog; on the hike and bike trail, carry a collapsible water bowl to take advantage of the many water fountains. Seek out shady spots for frequent rest breaks, too. Another idea: If your dog can swim, frequent dips in the water are a great way to keep him cool. Just let the swim be a cooling-off break, though, rather than a rigorous fetch-the-stick session.
It’s up to owners to watch for warning signs that their buddies are getting too hot. If your dog is panting aggressively and his tongue is hanging far out and spread wide like a soup ladle, chances are he is overheated and perhaps even in heat exhaustion (next stop: heat stroke).
A quick and easy test is to lift your dog’s lip and press your finger against the inner lip and gums. These should be pink, and when you press on them, should turn white, then back to pink within a second or two. If the inner lip and gums are darker, or take longer to return to a pink color, your dog is in trouble.
He probably doesn’t know it, though, and likely won’t stop whatever it is you’re doing unless you do. So, end your hike or run or game of fetch, get your dog out of the heat (or at least into the shade) as quickly as possible, and try to keep him still.
At this point, your dog likely feels not-so-great and may refuse to drink water (in fact, when the weather is hot, consider it a bad sign when your dog refuses to drink). Cool down his body by placing cool, wet towels over his head, neck, belly and pads of the feet; hosing him off; or putting him in cool (not cold) running water.
Then, get your dog checked out by a vet to avoid any complications. If your dog starts staggering, throws up, falls down or doesn’t want to walk, he is likely suffering from heat stroke. Stop, treat the pup (see above), and then get him to a vet as soon as possible. IV fluids can help at this point, Baker says, but are no guarantee.
So watch for those symptoms, she adds, and factor in plenty of breaks when outside. When your dog starts dragging behind you or pulls you toward shade or water, he’s staying “I’m hot!” You may be real tough and can keep going, but if you push it, your dog could end up dead.
Oh, and while Fido may look cute carrying his ball or throw toy while you run, this interferes with his ability to pant. It is sort of like if you had to run in sweat pants and a sweatshirt in 98 degree heat. Not such a good idea, huh? Go ahead and carry it for him. And keep an eye on that tongue.