Take Special Care of Your Canine Exercise Buddy During the Dog Days of Summer

Patient Expert

One of my workout buddies got my attention last week - and not in a good wayI've been trying to walk the dogs fairly regularly, but have really had to resort to going fairly early in the morning since our afternoon temperatures have been topping out in the high 90s and the heat index has been around 105 degrees.

I slept in a bit Saturday morning, thus missing our early morning walk. But Noel, who's a three-year-old terrier mix, and Austin, who's a 10-year-old Miniature Schnauzer, would not be dissuaded.   At their insistence, I stuck my head out the door and thought, "It's not that hot." So I put the dogs' harnesses and leashes on and we set out on our walk around mid-morning. Less than a third of the way around our one-mile walk, I noticed the dogs were panting. We kept going, stopping periodically in shady areas to let the dogs cool off a bit. I knew from experience that Noel would lay down if she got too hot, but I wasn't too sure about Austin. When we reached the two-thirds mark, both dogs' tongues were hanging out of their mouths.

And sure enough, when we finally made it home, I found out my worry about Austin may have been well-founded. Austin seemed a little out of it, and then a bit later threw-up twice. He then stretched out, seeming rather weak.   He eventually recovered his perkiness thanks to the air conditioning, but that situation got me thinking about the effect of summer's extreme heat on many people's canine exercise partners.

So what is canine heat stroke? According to Robert Newman on DogChannel.com, "In simple terms, heatstroke occurs when a dog loses its natural ability to regulate its body temperature. Dogs don't sweat all over their bodies the way humans do. Canine body temperature is primarily regulated through respiration (i.e., panting). If a dog's respiratory tract cannot evacuate heat quickly enough, heatstroke can occur."

The signs that a dog may be suffering from heat stroke include:

  • Rapid panting
  • Bright red tongue
  • Red or pale gums
  • Thick, sticky saliva
  • Depression
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting - sometimes with blood
  • Diarrhea
  • Shock
  • Coma

So what should you do if your beloved dog exhibits any of these signs? Newman recommends the following:

  • Pay attention to your dog so you can recognize the symptoms and respond quickly.
  • Seek the shade if you think your dog is suffering from heatstroke.   "Apply cool water to the inner thighs and stomach of the dog, where there's a higher concentration of relatively superficial, large blood vessels. Apply cool water to the foot pads, as well," he said.
  • Use running water from a faucet or hose. Newman warned, "Never submerge your dog in water, such as in a pool or tub - this could cool the dog too rapidly, leading to further complications, including cardiac arrest and bloating."
  • Use cool water instead of cold water. Cold water is counterproductive to use because it causes the blood vessels to constrict, thus slowing the blood flow. This effectively slows down the cooling process.
  • Don't cover the dog or else the water can't evaporate. Do not use a wet towel or blanket, which can cause a sauna effect. Also, don't put an overheated dog that is wet into an enclosed area since that will reduce the airflow that helps with the cooling process. Newman recommends sitting with the wet dog in a running car with the air conditioner blowing.
  • Keep the dog moving or standing. "This is because the circulating blood tends to pool in certain areas if the dog is lying down, thus preventing the cooled blood from circulating back to the core," Newman explained.
  • Allow the dog to drink small amounts of cool water, but realize that hydration is the second priority; cooling is the first. If the dog drinks too much water, it could experience vomiting or bloat.
  • Don't give your dog human performance drinks, which aren't formulated for canines. Instead, offer chicken- or beef-based broths if you can't get your dog to drink water.
  • Once the dog's temperature begins to drop, stop the cooling efforts and take the dog to the veterinarian.

As we start to get into the dog days of summer, make sure you take special care of your canine exercise buddy. If your dog is like Noel and Austin, they're up for any sort of romp.   However, that fun walk could prove to be deadly.