Heat stroke and thermal injuries are a common concern for dog owners in the warm summer months. Unlike humans, dogs do not have the ability to “sweat” to relieve heat through their skin. Instead, they release heat in the form of panting and can also relieve heat through their paw pads. When they are unable to relieve all of their heat through panting and their paw pads their internal temperature will rise and this can become dangerous quickly.
As pet owners, we need to be proactive and realize when it is too hot for our dogs to be outdoors and how to manage summer activities appropriately depending on the daily temperature and weather conditions.
The asphalt in the summer can be more than twice as hot as the outdoor temperature – making it extremely hot on the paw pads of our canine friends. Dogs do not show pain the same way that we do and will continually walk on a hot surface until they physically cannot – that is why it is our job to be their advocates! It is very important to protect your dog’s paw pads from these extreme temperatures to avoid paw burns. A good rule of thumb is that if you cannot hold your hand against the pavement or sand for more than 7 seconds than it is likely too hot for your dog’s paws as well. Although – a better recommendation would be to avoid the asphalt during the peak sun hours of the day and to walk your dog on cool grass or a shaded area when able. A good suggestion is also re-adjusting the times you take your dog for a walk to reduce the thermal effects of the outdoors; Early morning and late evenings are perfect times to avoid the heat. If you notice that your pet may be suffering from a thermal paw pad injury, please apply a cool clean cloth to the area as long as there are no open wounds and call your veterinarian right away for further advice and recommendations.
Heat Exhaustion and Heat Stroke
Prolonged heat exposure is also a concern. This includes long outings on a hot day, and dogs being left in cars, among others. Generally, most dogs can handle conditions up to about 20 degrees Celsius depending on the breed and health status of the dog. When the temperatures rise above 20 degrees Celsius it is important to exercise caution when taking your pet outdoors. Many dogs should be okay outside in temperatures under 24 degrees Celsius as long as they are not over-exerting themselves, have access to shade, cool water and are not outside for too long (keeping walks under 30 minutes). That being said, dogs who are overweight, geriatric, under 6 months of age, larger in size, possess a thicker coat, or have short noses and flat faces are less likely to thrive in these warm temperatures and are more prone to developing heat related complications. Shorter, more frequent walks are recommended in the hotter weather – ideally dogs should be walked in the early morning or late evening if temperatures are supposed to be high for the day. Taking your pet outside when the weather is above 25 degrees Celsius can be dangerous if care and consideration are not taken – please refer to your veterinarian for advice on taking your dog outside during the summer if you are unsure on what is safe and what is not safe for their specific health status.
If your dog is staying at home without air conditioning, make sure they always have access to fresh water and a cool place to lay such as an area away from direct sunlight or an area with a fan running.
NEVER leave your dog alone in a car during the summer months. Cars magnify heat, meaning the internal temperature of a vehicle that has been turned off will rise VERY quickly in the heat. Even leaving a pet for 5-10 minutes when the weather is over 20 degrees celsius can be very dangerous. The risk of dehydration, heat stroke and possible death are of high concern if a pet is left in a hot car. Leaving the windows open it will not be enough to thoroughly keep a pet cool on a warm day – it is always safest to NEVER leave your pet alone in a vehicle during the summer. 10 minutes may seem like a short amount of time to leave a pet alone, although the effects can be devastating.
To sum everything up: Over exertion, too much time spent in the sun, leaving your pup in the car or long walks during the heat can cause dehydration, heat exhaustion and/or stroke. Heat stroke is a very severe and acute condition that needs to be addressed IMMIDIATELY as it is an emergency. It is important to be aware of the signs of heat stroke so action can be taken promptly if ever required.
Signs of heat stroke:
- Panting excessively
- Loss of coordination and/or acting confused
- Excessive drooling
- General discomfort
If you are out on a hot day and your dog is stopping frequently, slowing down during walks, seeking water or panting excessively this may be an early sign of heat stroke. Please bring your dog home and actively cool them with a cool towel, offer cool water (but make sure that it is not ice water or too cold of temperature) and call your veterinarian for advice if needed. Do NOT give any medications without first contacting your veterinarian.
Please give our clinic a call anytime if you have any questions or concerns regarding this topic or would like further advice tailored to your pet! Our phone number is 519-893-8937.