By Tina Madden
Summer may be over, but in the West and Southwest – in places like Los Angeles where I live – extreme temperatures continue into September and October and are exacerbating the disastrous fires in our state even as I write this. This past year, California experienced several unexpected heat waves that none of us were prepared for.
I participate in a Facebook group for professional dog walkers. We all were shocked by the recent story of a dog who died on a pack walk with a dog walker, in 90 plus degree weather and 80% humidity. The dog was a St. Bernard and although I do not know the details of the incident, it was one of the hottest days of the year in Southern California. This tragic event – a nightmare for dogs, owners, and dog walkers alike – naturally prompted us all to re-evaluate our own safety precautions for the dogs we care for every day.
Since dogs do not sweat like humans, their primary source of heat exchange is through panting. They also sweat through their noses and their paws. My general rule of thumb is that if you are feeling hot, your dog is exponentially hotter. As responsible dog owners and caretakers, we all need to pay attention to making sure our dogs are safe and never get to the point of overheating.
Usually, I’m a big proponent of long walks as a hallmark of good dog ownership. But when temperatures rise, I advise my clients to make their walks much shorter – sometimes as short as a potty break if your dog is extra heat-sensitive, as are many heavy-coated dogs or brachiocephalic dogs like bulldogs. For most dogs, a short 10 or 15-minute walk around the block may be fine, as long as you avoid hot pavement. Watch out for direct sun. Remember, even dirt and grass can burn paws unless you have ample shaded areas. During our recent heat waves, I canceled all my scheduled hikes and adventures until they broke. For the core of regular dogs that I care for and know well, I usually still schedule my two-day a week play dates. I keep four large bowls of water in the shade and change them out each hour, so there is always cool water available. I also wet down the play area frequently, and mist the dogs with the hose, wetting their paws, ears, and underbelly with the cool water. If there are any signs of overheating, we pack up and head inside.
I keep my clients aware that I put these safety measures in place, to educate them about the effects of extreme heat on dogs and how to avoid disaster. Often, clients with high energy dogs ask me, “With shortened walks, what can I do to give my dog the exercise he needs?” My answer is simple: use the extra time that you deduct from your walk to work on some basic training inside: sits, stays, comes, or more complicated commands. You can also grab some interactive dog puzzles at your local pet store. Dogs actually use lots of energy to concentrate and learn, and it can even tire them out.
In closing, I will say it is better to err on the side of caution in extreme and even high temperatures than to try and give your dogs the long walks you and they usually enjoy.
Early Signs of an Overheated Dog:
- Excessive loud panting
- Extreme thirst
- Bright red tongue and pale gums
- Skin around neck does not snap back when pinched
- Thick saliva
- Increased heart rate
If your dog is experiencing any of these signs it is best to take into your vet or emergency clinic sooner rather than later, as internal organ damage can be fatal.
Things you can when out in the heat to help regulate your dog’s body temperature:
- Provide small amounts of cool water, especially if you suspect your dog is overheating. NEVER FORCE FEED WATER. Instead, take a washcloth soaked in water and squeeze onto the tongue. Wet the dog’s lips and gums as well as the paw pads. You can also try providing some beef or chicken broth, low sodium or no sodium if you have.
- Mist with a hose, using cool water only. Concentrate the paws, head, and tail. Remember, when you first use a hose on a hot day, the water is hot, so give it a few moments and make sure it has cooled down first. DO NOT SUBMERGE YOUR DOG IN WATER. This is dangerous and can short-circuit your dog’s natural body temperature-regulating system.
Again if you suspect your dog is overheating it is best to go to your vet or emergency clinic and have him or her checked out.
As Dog Whisperers, we are all responsible for our dogs’ health and safety.