A man walks his doberman down the street early afternoon on a Tuesday in July. There is no shade. The dog, whose black coat gleams in the sunshine, acts as if their feet hurt.
The man and his dog pass a post office, where a woman promises her shih tzu that she will “be right back,” as she cracks the car windows and closes the door.
Meanwhile, across the street, a teenager tosses a ball uphill for a 9-month-old golden retriever, hoping to wear out the energetic young pet. The dog, who is clearly slowing down, and whose tongue is lolling, still fetches the ball.
These three scenes look different, but they all end up at the same place—the veterinary hospital. They represent a dangerous reality. Heat-related pet emergencies are everywhere, so Somerset Animal Hospital wants to inform you about heat-related stress and heatstroke, including the warning signs, how to react, and how to prevent this potentially tragic condition.
The doberman: Hot surfaces can burn
The doberman limps through the hospital door, favoring first a front foot, and then a rear foot. The owner says the dog was not limping earlier in the day, but reports that they may have become a little hot during their walk. The veterinarian realizes the dog is limping because of burns on his feet.
- Temperature — Asphalt in direct sun on a windless 77-degree day can reach a surface temperature of 125 degrees, according to a 1970 study on thermal surface temperature. At 87 degrees, the asphalt temperature can be 143 degrees. Hot surfaces—especially black asphalt—can burn your dog’s paw pads. The burns present first as blisters, and then the outermost skin layer of will shed. Before walking your dog in hot weather, check the pavement surface with the back of your hand. If you cannot maintain contact for seven seconds, it’s too hot for your dog’s feet.
- Time — Exercise your dog outside only in the early morning or late evening hours, to avoid the hottest times of day. Dogs cannot sweat, and thus cannot efficiently cool themselves. Panting is their only method of evaporative cooling, and is no match for the scorching temperatures of a hot summer day. Their body literally cannot keep up, and their internal systems can suffer and begin to fail. Also, always ensure that your pet has access to fresh water, because dehydration occurs quickly in hot weather.
The shih tzu: Hot cars can kill
A friend of the shih tzu’s owner was also at the post office, and the two started chatting. When the owner finally returned to the car 10 minutes later, the dog was not waiting in the driver’s seat, but was lying in the back, her eyes dilated and glassy, her panting tongue nearly covering her flat nose. She was in early stage heatstroke, like the golden retriever, below.
- Temperature and time — Parked cars and pets are a deadly combination. A parked car with the windows cracked can reach soaring temperatures in as little as 10 minutes. Every year, trapped pets needlessly suffer and die because owners assume that cracking the windows is sufficient. This video is a strong testament to how quickly temperatures rise inside a parked car. Leave your pet at home in warm weather.
Brachycephalic dogs (e.g., shih tzus, pugs, and French and English bulldogs) have an increased risk of heatstroke because of their flat muzzle and narrow trachea. Young, old, debilitated, and overweight dogs are also at high risk.
The golden retriever: Hot days and heatstroke
A puppy’s enthusiasm can get them into serious trouble. The golden retriever puppy’s zeal for fetching caused her collapse. Fortunately, the family rushed the puppy to the veterinary clinic, where the veterinarian diagnosed heatstroke.
- Temperature — The signs of heatstroke usually go unnoticed until they are extreme, although the early signs can be obvious when you understand a dog’s inability to effectively cool themselves. Heatstroke signs include:
- Excessive panting
- Elevated heart and respiratory rate
- Reddened gums
- Bloody diarrhea or vomit
- Lack of coordination
- Body temperature higher than 103 degrees
These signs indicate that the dog’s body is overwhelmed, and their high temperature can result in inflammation throughout the body and trigger a cascade of organ dysfunction and damage. If your pet is experiencing heatstroke, immediately move them indoors, and put them in a tub with cool—never cold—water. Cold water constricts the surface blood vessels and further interrupts circulation.
- Time — Again, try to avoid playing outside with your pet in the hottest time of day. However, if you do see heatstroke signs in your pet, cool them down as above, call us for further instructions, and bring your pet to the hospital immediately for evaluation. Since recovery is not guaranteed, timing is everything, and taking action at the first sign of heatstroke will give your pet the best chance for survival.
Let’s tell a different pet story
Thankfully, all three owners brought their pet to the veterinary hospital, and they all recovered. At Somerset Animal Hospital, we hope you never need us for a heat-related emergency, but we know accidents happen. If you suspect your pet has a heat-related problem, or you have heat safety questions, contact us.