This summer I am going to go out to play in the sun, and I always prefer my dogs riding co-pilot. If I stop and think, my dogs may be safer and more comfortable at home as the mercury moves up the thermometer. Even with windows ajar and the temperature in the mid-teens, a car parked directly in the sun becomes dangerously hot in minutes. Everyone has had that “one-minute pop in to do an errand” turn into ten minutes and the most conscientious owner might misjudge their timing leading to a potentially fatal consequence. Calgary bylaw officers can and will fine people leaving pets in hot cars.
Dogs cannot sweat to maintain their body temperature like you and me. Dogs do sweat very minimally through the pads of their feet. Mostly they pant. As the dog pants and air moves across mucous membranes and water evaporates and cools the body. This means adequate water is also critical for a dog to maintain its body temperature. If the dog is unable to lower its temperature hyperthermia develops. Initial signs of a problem include disorientation, stumbling, and weakness. This gradually progresses to convulsions, loss of consciousness, and death. Dogs saved in the final stages of hyperthermia may still suffer permanent brain damage.
Treatment in a veterinary clinic would include intravenous fluids and medications for shock. To treat hypothermia elsewhere, move the dog to a cool place, and immerse in cool or tepid water, not cold water, and apply cool—not cold—wet towels to the dog’s groin, belly, inside the ears, and around the neck. Cold water or ice may cause the peripheral blood vessels to shut down and would not facilitate the loss of heat from the body.
To prevent hyperthermia, exercise your dog in the cooler early mornings or late evenings and always have water handy to keep your pet well hydrated. Dogs confined outside must be able to escape to shade, and shade with some ventilation for air movement. When I competed with my dogs in obedience and field trials, I had a closed crate for winter and air-conditioned facilities, and an open wire crate for summer. Milk jugs with frozen water around the crate also supply a source of cold water. If you’re camping, have the crate in the shade and make sure that shade doesn’t disappear as the sun moves. Different breeds and sizes of dogs have different heat tolerances. A Saluki bred for the desert would tolerate far greater temperatures than an Alaskan malamute. Brachiocephalic dogs with short muzzles, like boxers and bulldogs, are particularly sensitive to becoming overheated, as are elderly pets. Do not count on your dog to know its own limits. Some Labrador retrievers will chase a ball thrown on a hot day until they collapse.
Be conscious of the air quality. Smoke from forest fires to the west of Calgary can add to heat problems making a dog more susceptible to hyperthermia.
So, steel your heart to those big brown eyes asking to come with you and if it is in your dog’s best interests leave him at home and please never leave your dog or children in a closed car in the sun for even one minute. Have a wonderful summer.