By Adrienne Gwin, DVM
The sun is out and we are warming up! As you are aware, the weather in Austin goes from a mildly cool winter to a balmy spring to a burning hot summer. When the weather heats up, it’s important to remember that our pets often experience this weather shift a little differently than we do. We want to include our pets in our fun summer activities since it stays light outside later than in the winter and we have more time to be active. However, please remember to take a few precautions…
While it’s a great plan to keep your dog fit in the summer, the only appropriate time to go for a run (or even a long walk) is in the morning or less ideally, the late evening. Keep in mind that even if you can handle the heat, your dog is covered in fur and is running barefoot on the pavement. How hot is the pavement??? I’m glad you asked. Research has shown that when it is 95 degrees outside, blacktop can hit 140 degrees in the afternoon sun and the sidewalk is only slightly cooler at 135 degrees. Even grass can get up to around 105 degrees. At 120 degrees dogs and cats show signs of initial pain. At 140 degrees burns and permanent damage can occur in a minute and at 150 degrees blisters and rapid burns occur. Also, did you know that dogs cool off through their foot pads and by panting. If their foot pads are hot, that only leaves panting as a way to cool off and the body temperature rapidly increases. And one more thing… do not think your dog will tell you when she is through chasing the ball. She is so focused on all the fun and excitement she doesn’t stop to think that she is getting overheated and racing towards a life-threatening heat stroke.
Your dog would go everywhere with you if he could (and maybe your cat too). But leaving your pet in the car is just as dangerous as leaving your toddler in the car while you run inside. It may even be more dangerous since they lack the thumb they need to open the door. Also, while toddlers are allowed in stores and restaurants your pet is most likely not a welcome guest. If you think your dog cannot accompany you on your indoor adventure, it is safest to leave him home. Cars heat up FAST! Even on a 70-degree day after half an hour, your car can reach nearly 105 degrees and, in an hour, almost 115. Even in the shade, the car could reach 90 degrees. When the outside temperature is between 80 and 100 degrees your car can heat up to 130 to 170 degrees. No dog or cat is safe in a vehicle at those temperatures and a cracked window will not be enough to allow the heat to dissipate.
As with any exercise, it’s important to stay hydrated. Plan ahead and take plenty of FRESH water for both you and your dog. But… did you know that your pet can drink too much water? In the vet world, this is mostly seen when dogs are swimming or chasing balls and sticks in the lake or river. Think about how much water gets in their mouth as they swim back to you with their treasure. Now repeat 20-100 times. Your dog is still happy to chase the ball and may not be overheated but may be accidentally swallowing LOTS of water. This can cause big problems with shifts in the electrolytes and can lead to brain swelling. Now I’m not saying don’t to let your dog swim, but if you take your dog to the water, please make sure to let them rest and relax regularly on dry land and don’t overdo it. Signs of water intoxication include lethargy, vomiting, loss of coordination, drooling, pale gums, dilated pupils, and sometimes bloating. Extreme signs include seizures, coma, and even death. If you suspect water intoxication, please proceed immediately to the nearest veterinarian for treatment.
The most common life-threatening warm weather complication is heat stroke.
Signs of heat stroke include:
- Excessive panting
- Restlessness or pacing
- Red or purple tongue (tongue should be bubblegum pink)
- Pale OR red gums
- Difficulty breathing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Confusion or unsteady gait
- Twitching/ tremors
***If you think your dog is showing any of these signs please seek immediate veterinary care as soon as possible. Truly every minute counts. If you cannot get to the vet immediately, make sure that your pet is in an air-conditioned car or home or less ideally, a well-shaded yard with plenty of access to water. Do NOT submerge your dog in ice water. If you cannot get to the vet, you can wet your dog’s feet and fur with cool water and fan him to maximize the cooling effect.