Dog Days of Summer, Vol 3: Taking care of pets in summer heat

by Malcolm Butler

Hyperthermia. Heatstroke. Heat prostration.

Regardless of what you call it, it’s a concern for pet parents as the dog days of summer roll on in north Louisiana.

And according to Patrick Sexton, owner of Sexton Animal Health Center in Ruston, it should be a concern. However, Sexton is quick to say that if owners are aware of the risks and provide adequate accommodations then the extreme heat shouldn’t be a big problem.

“Shade. Water. And a fan if you have one,” said Sexton. “Those are the biggest things. Dogs handle more than we think they can, but you still don’t just turn them out in the back yard and hope they are okay. As long as they have shade, water and some sort of fan, then most dogs are okay.”

With temperatures climbing into the mid- to upper-90s for the majority of the last month, owners need to make sure they are providing the aforementioned elements for their pups.

But what IF something happens. How do you know if your dog has overheated and needs help?

“It would be extremes from what you normally see,” said Sexton. “They are panting and laying on their side … you can tell they have been out doing more than just laying in a dirt hole or under the carport. And then the inability to cool down is the biggest one, especially once you have gotten them inside.

“The best thing to do is take their temperature rectally. If its over 104 or 105, it’s a concern.”

Dogs temperatures are normally 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

So what do you do if your dog is overheated? Sexton suggested the following three things that can help to begin to bring their temperature down.

  • ice packs under their arm pits and groin area
  • rubbing alcohol on their foot pads
  • a fan in front of their face

“Their only natural cooling mechanism is panting,” said Sexton, who also mentioned that some dogs get similar symptoms when they are anxious.

Sexton did warn not to overdo it on cooling them down too quickly, such as throwing a dog in an ice bath.

“Be careful not to cool them down too quickly,” he said. “Their brain will get fooled because of the suddenness of cooling them down. And when it gets fooled, it will try to heat them back up. It’s okay to wet them down a little, but don’t throw the in an ice bath.”

He also said to monitor the process of cooling them down.

“If their temperature is 104 or 105, do try to get them to start cooling down fairly quickly. But continue to check their temp,” Sexton said. “Once you start to see their temperature drop, remove the cooling mechanisms. At that point the body has it covered. You have them in the AC. You can go too far and the brain will start to kick in, and they will try to heat the body up again.”

What about shaving pets due to the summer time heat? Well, Sexton said there are two schools of thought but he doesn’t recommend it.

“A lot of us feel that when you shave them you remove their natural mechanisms and are actually working against them,” said Sexton. “I don’t recommend shaving them for cooling purposes. It won’t matter. Their undercoat is so thick. It takes a lot to get the undercoat off.”

He also mentioned on rare occasions dogs coats won’t grow back properly which can cause other issues.

The good news is Sexton said he doesn’t see a lot of heat issues in the summer time, not as many as one may think.

“So many dogs are kept inside the house now,” he said. “Most of the time if there is an issue its because someone left their dog in the car or the dog got trapped in the pen outside and couldn’t get to shade or water.”

Sexton stressed not to leave dogs in the car, even if its just for a little while. One recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found that temperatures within a vehicle may increase by an average of 40 degrees Fahrenheit within one hour regardless of outside temperatures.

He also mentioned that humidity can play as big of a role with dogs as the actual temperatures.

“Sometimes not the heat it is the humidity,” he said. “When its 90 percent humidity, I don’t care if it’s 72 degrees. Humidity can play as big if not bigger role in heat issues with dogs.”

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